Faculty Code Revision Provides Guidance on Permissibility of Intimate Faculty-Student Relationships
by Karen Rohrbauck Stout, Faculty Senate President and Sue Guenter-Schlesinger, Vice Provost for Equal Opportunity & Employment Diversity
Having identified a need to provide clearer guidance regarding the appropriate parameters of consensual intimate relationships between students and faculty, the Faculty Senate formed an ad hoc committee last Spring to review Section 7 of the Faculty Code of Ethics. Working with the Equal Opportunity Office, the ad hoc committee researched and viewed consensual relationship policies from other higher education institutions and received input from the faculty. Realizing the old Section 7 really covered two distinct issues, the Ad Hoc Committee brought back to the Senate for review a new Section 7 dealing with conflicts of interest resulting from family or intimate personal relationships in employment situations and a new Section 8 on consensual intimate personal relationships between faculty and students. After additional input, discussion, and revision, the Faculty Senate passed these revisions to the Faculty Code on January 23, 2012.
Regarding potential conflicts of interest in employment situations, revised Section 7 states: “When employees discover that their duties will lead to making decisions that directly affect the condition of employment at the university for family members or partners in an intimate personal relationship, they will promptly inform their immediate supervisors . . . and request that those duties be assigned to different employees.”
The new Section 8 provides clearer language regarding relationships between faculty and students: “intimate personal relationships between faculty members and students currently in the faculty member’s class or under that individual’s supervision are prohibited and considered a violation of the Code of Ethics.” This includes instances where faculty “have power over students through grading, evaluating creative and scholarly endeavors, making recommendations for further studies or future employment, or conferring any other benefits.” Further, Section 8 explains, “[w]hen a power disparity exists in the academic or employment association of the individuals in the intimate personal relationship, the academic or employment interests of the student must be protected.”
This revised policy is in line with policies that many other higher education institutions have had in place for some time, and provides faculty with specific guidance about the prudence of avoiding intimate relationships with students. Because of the inherently unequal power differential in faculty-student relationships, Section 8 recognizes that romantic and sexual relationships between faculty and students “may result in claims of sexual harassment because the voluntariness of the consent is legally questionable.” Section 8 further explains that “other students and faculty may be affected by such unprofessional behavior because it places the faculty member in a position to favor or advance one student’s interest at the expense of others and implicitly makes obtaining benefits contingent on continuing the intimate personal relationship.”
Questions about this revision to the Faculty Code of Ethics may be directed to Karen Stout, Faculty Senate President, or Sue Guenter-Schlesinger, Vice Provost for Equal Opportunity and Employment Diversity.