Chapter 5 – Consensual Relationships Involving Students

(President 7/28/87; amended 7/1/02; 9/20/10; 1/14)

Note: This chapter is one of several that address conflicts of interest of various types at The University of Iowa. Others include: II-18 Conflicts of Commitment and Interest, which addresses time conflicts, role conflicts in the workplace, and financial conflicts of interest; and III-8 Conflict of Interest in Employment (Nepotism), which addresses role conflicts when there is a direct reporting line between two employees. See also II-18.7 Other University Policies Related to Conflict of Interest for a complete list of policies that address or are related to conflicts of interest.

5.1 Rationale

The integrity of the University's educational mission is promoted by professionalism that derives from mutual trust and respect in instructor-student relationships. Similarly, the University is committed to the principle of protecting the integrity and objectivity of its staff members in the performance of their University duties. It is therefore fundamental to the University's overall mission that the professional responsibilities of its instructors be carried out in an atmosphere that is free of conflicts of interest that compromise these principles.

Romantic and/or sexual relationships where one member of the University community has supervisory or other evaluative responsibility for the other create conflicts of interest and perceptions of undue advantage. There are also special risks in any sexual or romantic relationship between individuals in inherently unequal positions of power (such as teacher and student, supervisor and employee). Such relationships may undermine the real or perceived integrity of the supervision and evaluation provided, and the trust inherent particularly in the instructor-student relationship. They may, moreover, be less consensual than the individual whose position confers power believes. The relationship is likely to be perceived in different ways by each of the parties to it, especially in retrospect.

Moreover, such relationships may harm or injure others in the academic or work environment. Relationships in which one party is in a position to review the work or influence the career of the other may provide grounds for complaint when that relationship gives, or creates the appearance of, undue access or advantage to the person involved in the relationship, or when it restricts opportunities or creates a hostile environment for others.

Such relationships also have the potential for other adverse consequences, including the filing of charges of sexual harassment and/or retaliation under II-4 Sexual Harassment if, for example, one party to the relationship wishes to terminate the relationship to the other party's objection. In those circumstances when sexual harassment is alleged as the result of a romantic and/or sexual relationship, the existence of the relationship is not a per se violation of the Policy on Sexual Harassment. However, the apparent consensual nature of the relationship is inherently suspect due to the fundamental asymmetry of power in the relationship and it thus may be difficult to establish consent as a defense to such a charge. Even when both parties consented at the outset to a romantic involvement, this past consent does not remove grounds for or preclude a charge or subsequent finding of sexual harassment based upon subsequent unwelcome conduct.

Sexual or romantic relationships between a student and a faculty or staff member who functions in an instructional context with the student are prohibited by this policy. Other relationships, such as a relationship between a faculty member and a student in the same department or college but where no instructional context exists, while not prohibited, may present the appearance of a conflict of interest or may run the risk of developing into an actual conflict of interest which would place the relationship in the prohibited category.

This policy applies to consensual romantic and/or sexual relationships between individuals of the same sex or of the opposite sex. Regardless of who initiates the relationship, the instructor is responsible for complying with this policy.

5.2 Definitions

For the purposes of this policy only, the terms set forth below are defined as follows:

  1. "Instructor" means all those individuals, paid or unpaid, who teach, coach, evaluate, supervise, allocate financial aid to, or guide research by students in the instructional context as defined below, including but not limited to:
    1. faculty;
    2. graduate students with teaching responsibilities;
    3. academic advisors;
    4. coaches;
    5. residence hall professional staff; and
    6. other instructional personnel.
  2. "Student" means all individuals who receive instruction under the auspices of The University of Iowa, including but not limited to:
    1. those who have matriculated into an educational program at the University, whether or not the student is currently enrolled (e.g., students who have matriculated but have not yet registered for classes, students who decide not to enroll for a period of time, and doctoral degree candidates who are not registered);
    2. postdoctoral fellows;
    3. medical residents; and
    4. participants served by internships, practicum experience, outreach, and summer programs and camps.
  3. "Instructional" or "instructional context" means a context that involves instruction or evaluation or supervision, direct or indirect, of a student's academic work or participation in University programs. These terms also include employment situations where the primary motivation for participation by the employee is instructional. Such situations include, but are not limited to, the employment of medical residents, postdoctoral fellows, teaching assistants, and student research assistants.

5.3 Prohibited Relationships — Policy Statement

For the foregoing reasons in II-5.1, any romantic and/or sexual relationship between an instructor and a student in an instructional context is prohibited at The University of Iowa. This means that an instructor who is currently instructing, evaluating, or supervising, directly or indirectly, a student's academic work or participation in a University program will not propose or enter into a romantic and/or sexual relationship with the student. Moreover, an instructor who has a pre-existing romantic and/or sexual relationship with a student is prohibited from instructing, evaluating, or supervising, directly or indirectly, his or her partner's academic work or participation in a University program. For definitions of "instructor," "student," and "instructional context," refer to II-5.2 above.

This policy applies only to relationships involving students. However, romantic and/or sexual relationships in other contexts — between faculty members, between faculty and staff, or between staff members, where one person supervises the other — also may be problematic, and are governed by III-8 Conflict of Interest in Employment (Nepotism). Complaints alleging sexual harassment directed at a student, faculty, or staff member are resolved under II-4 Sexual Harassment. Because the Policy on Sexual Harassment prohibits unwanted behavior of a sexual nature, the scope of the Policy on Sexual Harassment and the scope of this Policy on Consensual Relationships are mutually exclusive. In those cases where a complainant alleges both unwanted behavior of a sexual nature and consensual sexual relations within an instructional context, the two complaints are considered separate allegations and ordinarily are resolved consecutively rather than concurrently, starting with the sexual harassment complaint, which must be investigated under the procedures set forth in the Policy on Sexual Harassment before the consensual relationships complaint is considered.

5.4 Examples of Prohibited Relationships Between Instructors and Students

The following examples are provided for illustrative purposes only. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of situations in which this policy applies.

  1. Student B is in a class taught by Professor A. The Policy on Consensual Relationships prohibits a romantic or sexual relationship between these two parties in the instructional context. When the class has concluded and Professor A has submitted the final grades, this policy continues to prohibit Professor A from engaging in a romantic or sexual relationship with Student B, if Professor A continues to instruct, evaluate, or supervise, directly or indirectly, Student B's academic work or participation in a University program.
  2. Professor A and Student B, a graduate student in Professor A's department, are involved in a romantic relationship. Because they are involved in a romantic relationship, this policy prohibits Professor A from instructing, evaluating, or supervising, directly or indirectly, Student A's academic work or participation in a University program.
  3. Graduate Student C and Graduate Student D are married and enrolled in the same academic program. This policy prohibits D from enrolling in a class taught by C (as instructor, teaching assistant, or grader) and vice-versa. If C (or D) were to complete his or her graduate program and acquire the status of faculty member (or other instructional personnel) in the same department, this policy would apply as in paragraph b above.
  4. Graduate Student C has been working in Professor A's research laboratory since C enrolled at The University of Iowa. In order to comply with the Policy on Consensual Relationships, Professor A planned to wait until C had completed the graduate degree program before considering a romantic relationship with C. If Student C were to receive a postdoctorate research appointment, this policy would still prohibit Professor A from becoming involved in a romantic relationship with Student C if Professor A is involved in instructing, evaluating, or supervising, directly or indirectly, Student C's postdoctorate research work or participation in a University program.
  5. Coach A is romantically attracted to Student B, an athlete (scholarship or walk-on) on the team for which Coach A is an assistant coach. Under this policy, Coach A is considered to be an instructor and is prohibited from engaging in a romantic or sexual relationship with any member of the team coached or otherwise overseen.
  6. Professor A from Department Z is dating Student B, who is majoring in Department Y. Student B is not enrolled in a course taught by Professor A. However, Student B has applied for a collegiate scholarship that is awarded by a committee on which Professor A is serving. Under this policy, Professor A must self-disclose the relationship to the scholarship committee chair and is prohibited from evaluating Student B's scholarship application.
  7. Student X, who is enrolled in a course taught by Professor A, schedules a meeting with the DEO of Professor A's department in order to report that Professor A is apparently engaged in a consensual relationship with another student (Student B) in the class. During the interview, Student X tells the DEO that he or she overheard Professor A tell Student B that Professor A would give Student B an "A" grade for the course if Student B agreed to have sexual relations with Professor A. The DEO realizes that the apparent "quid pro quo" fact pattern alleges a violation of the Policy on Sexual Harassment, which takes precedence over the Policy on Consensual Relationships allegations. Thus, according to University policy, the DEO is required to investigate first Student X's complaint under the Policy on Sexual Harassment procedures. Once the sexual harassment complaint is resolved, the consensual relationships allegation is revisited and resolved under the Policy on Consensual Relationships procedures.

These examples illustrate the application of this policy, which (as stated in II-5.3 above) applies only to relationships involving students. However, romantic and/or sexual relationships in other contexts may also be problematic and are governed by III-8 Conflict of Interest in Employment.

5.5 Procedures

  1. Self-disclosure by instructor.
    1. The instructor is expected to make timely notification when an instructional context includes both the instructor and a student with whom the instructor has a romantic and/or sexual relationship. Such notification may be made to any of the following recipients:
      1. the neutral supervisor of the instructor;
      2. the DEO/director of the department;
      3. the dean/vice president of the college/division in which the instructor is employed; or
      4. the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity.
  2. Bringing a complaint.
    1. A complaint alleging a violation of this policy may be brought by any person, including a third party.
    2. In addition, any of the following offices may initiate a complaint:
      1. the Office of the Provost of the University (for relationships involving faculty);
      2. University Human Resources or (for relationships involving staff); or
      3. the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity.
    3. Complaints alleging a violation of this policy may be made to any of the following recipients:
      1. a neutral supervisor of the instructor;
      2. the DEO/director of the department;
      3. the dean/vice president of the college/division in which the instructor is employed;
      4. the Office of the Provost; or
      5. the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity.
  3. Resolution of a complaint or a self-disclosure by an instructor.
    1. Once a recipient receives a complaint or a self-disclosure, the recipient determines whether the policy applies. The instructor is given an opportunity to respond to the allegation if there is a complaint.
    2. If the recipient determines that the policy applies to the particular instructional context, then a neutral supervisor develops a plan for management of the instructional context that ends the evaluative, supervisory and, where possible, the instructional functions causing the conflict.
    3. Significant or repeated violations of this policy may result in discipline imposed on the instructor in addition to or in lieu of the management plan.
      1. In those cases where the instructor is a faculty member, discipline shall be imposed only after consultation with the Office of the Provost. Such discipline may involve III-29 Faculty Dispute Procedures and the portion of the procedures dealing with faculty ethics (III-29.7).
      2. In those cases where the instructor is a staff member, discipline shall be imposed only after consultation with the respective Senior HR Leadership Representative. Such discipline may involve III-16 Ethics and Responsibilities for University Staff, and the applicable discipline and/or grievance procedures (see III-28 and/or relevant collective bargaining agreement).
      3. In those cases where the instructor is a graduate assistant, discipline related to their employment shall be imposed by the dean of the employing college and only after consultation with the Office of the Dean of the Graduate College. Discipline related to student status shall be imposed by the Office of the Dean of Students, after consultation with the Office of the Dean of the Graduate College.
    4. A statement of the determination of a policy application, a copy of the plan, and a proposal for dissemination is directed to the appropriate office designated below:
      1. In those cases where the instructor is a faculty member, the plan is forwarded to the DEO, dean, and Office of the Provost.
      2. In those cases where the instructor is a staff member, the plan is forwarded to the Senior Human Resources Leadership Representative and University Human Resources.
      3. In those cases where the instructor is a graduate assistant, the plan is forwarded to the dean of the employing college, the Graduate College, the Office of the Dean of Students, and the Office of the Vice President for Student Life.
    5. Upon approval, a copy of the plan is directed to the instructor.
    6. The person responsible for development of the plan reviews it annually and reports to the respective office as designated above.
    7. The instructor may take any of the following actions:
      1. comply with the plan, in which case the matter is resolved; or
      2. challenge the determination that a policy violation occurred or any discipline imposed by:
        1. accessing III-29 Faculty Dispute Procedures and the portion of the procedures dealing with faculty ethics (III-29.7), when the instructor is a faculty member.
        2. accessing applicable University policies, including III-16 Ethics and Responsibilities for University Staff, and the applicable discipline and/or grievance procedures (see III-28 and/or relevant collective bargaining agreement), when the instructor is a staff member.
        3. accessing the portion of the procedures dealing with graduate assistant employment (III-12.4) for employment related discipline, and the applicable procedures in the Code of Student Life for discipline related to student status, when the instructor is a graduate assistant.
    8. The recipient notifies the complainant that a management plan is in place or that no policy violation occurred.

5.6 Confidentiality

  1. In order to encourage instructors to self-disclose consensual relationships prohibited under this policy and to empower members of the University community to voice concerns and bring complaints, the University will make every reasonable effort to conduct all proceedings in a manner that will protect the confidentiality of all parties. The University of Iowa cannot guarantee confidentiality in all cases, however.
  2. Anyone (student or others) who wishes to consult with someone about a specific situation on a confidential basis or to learn more about enforcement of the policy may contact any of the following offices or organizations:
    1. Office of the Ombudsperson (for faculty, staff, or students), C108 Seashore Hall;
    2. Employee Assistance Program (for faculty or staff), 121-50 University Services Building;
    3. University Counseling Service (for students), 3223 Westlawn;
    4. Women's Resource and Action Center (for faculty, staff, or students), Bowman House.
  3. The University treats as confidential information received in the course of resolving a complaint. Parties to a complaint are expected to observe the same standard of strict confidentiality. This practice is in the best interests of all parties to the complaint. A party's failure to maintain confidentiality may be regarded as retaliation. Reasonable effort will be made to maintain the confidentiality of the persons who assist the resolution of alleged violations of this policy. Nevertheless, such individuals must understand that it may become necessary to disclose their identities, either directly or indirectly, in the course of resolving the complaint.

    Dissemination of documents relating to a complaint, other than as necessary to pursue an appeal, grievance, or other legal or administrative proceeding, is prohibited and may lead to disciplinary action.

  4. To the extent possible, all information received in connection with a management plan will be treated as confidential except to the extent necessary to disclose particulars in the course of its planning and/or implementation, as approved according to II-5.5c(4) above. All community members involved in the management plan process should observe the same standard of discretion and respect for the reputation of everyone involved.

(See also II-4 Sexual Harassment.)