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, or 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.