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Q1. Why is it Important to Have an Effective Policy?

What Other Schools Have to Say
Review of Terminology

Talking Points

The lead paragraphs that justify having a consensual relationships policy  should have these properties:

  1. They should be succinct and engaging regardless of the reader’s personal opinions.
  2. They should connect to the high level mission of the university
  3. They should say something about the risk of power differentials that extend into the future.
  4. They should say something about the risk of consensual relationships
  5. They should mention legal and reputational ramifications to the university
  6. They should say something about inspiring ethical behavior
  7. They should make clear that there are workplace ramifications beyond the parties involved.
  8. They should make clear whether or not the policy applies to the reader.


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Last Updated: January 24, 2018 at 7:22 am


  1. Aside from faculty-student relations, many
    problems result from graduate students dating within their own department. This can be disruptive to collaborations both within and between research groups, and can have broad negative consequences for departmental climate.

    Having worked in male-dominated fields my whole career, my impression
    is that dating within one’s department has especially negative consequences for female grad students and for the attitudes of men within the department toward them. This can be profoundly unfair to
    the female students, and the males need educating, but that won’t make the problem go away.

    If graduate students are in any meaningful sense employees of the university, should they be educated about issues involved in dating within the workplace, and should there also be rules for relationship disclosure and management that apply to them as well?

    It would seem that setting clear policies and guidelines for avoiding, disclosing, and managing romantic relationships of all kinds between all “employees” within the workplace – where the workplace is not just your own research group but includes a broader “sphere of influence” – would help train our graduate students – our future faculty – in appropriate behaviors. Let’s up the professionalism of the whole environment.

    Also, if we do want to minimize relations within departments, we need to provide ample opportunities for social interactions outside departments to both grads and faculty. This is more important in Ithaca because of the absence of pools of credible non-Cornell partners.

  2. The president has indicated that she will bypass both the Faculty Senate and the University Assembly in creating a new policy. This violation of the formal responsibilities and rights of the Cornell community is unacceptable. There is no reason why anyone should participate in a process that is clearly illegitimate.

    1. Hear, hear!

    2. No, President Pollock is to be commended for insisting that the Cornell community work together to craft a new, stronger policy. The Faculty Senate and UA have had many chances to work on/draft a new policy but they failed to act. As a community, we cannot allow outspoken faculty opposed to keeping all faculty-student relationships purely professional to continue put our students at risk. Period.

    3. This position features a degraded, despicable concept of what faculty rights are and why faculty have rights. I’ll lose my shit and my job to protect what I think of as the rights of faculty — but I think it’s risible for you to crow about your “formal right” to put your hands on your graduate students without consequence.

      I encourage you to immediately cease participation in the process. You’re demonstrating why faculty can’t be trusted to self-police or do the right thing.

    4. I’ve heard this too. But, President Pollock is also the person who has charged this committee with creating a new, more just, transparent and easily navigate-able policy that will have the backing of the students and the faculty. The committee is working hard to ensure that a solid policy is created.

  3. There should be a policy in effect as it pertains to students as well as staff as to relationships in the workplace,I’ve heard of instances of staff dating students/and or student staff workers,yes it should be assumed that staff shouldn’t date the student staff,as per dating in the workplace amongst staff and there co-workers( not students) I think it should be between the 2 persons that are thinking of dating and possibly look and see if there is any policy against dating in the workplace

    1. I believe if the staff have a supervisory role over the student or some academic affiliation that could cause conflict of interest staff-student relationships would be prohibited in these cases. However, relationships that do not involve trainees (students/postdocs) fall outside of the scope of this policy.

  4. It’s not just the relationship between A and B, but also the impact on other classmates and members of the community, particularly where competitive and comparative grading is essential to the program of education. Thus a transparent, consistent policy is essential.

    1. I agree!

  5. Unfortunately, on occasion it is about the cliché “The heart feels what the heart feels”; causing faculty, residents, students, staff to simply hide relationships. I believe the policy should not be about whether they are permitted or not; (as I believe that would be pointless) but what the consequences are about when they are not consensual. I believe all employees know dating a student is frowned upon.

    1. Seemingly consensual relationships can actually not be when there is a power differential involved. Having faculty-student relationships can also affect the future academic freedoms of the student involved or can turn sour when they end which could also affect a students future, especially if that faculty is within the same field. Also, consensual relationships can often lead to favoritism or other conflicts of interest which can effects students outside the relationship, therefore it is not only about the academic freedom of the student that is involved in the relationship but also about protecting the academic freedom of they’re peers. Consequences of not abiding by the policy will be outlined and will be determined by due process.

    2. I certainly agree with this comment. People will still feel that they feel as you’ve stated, and instead of being “proud” of what they have together, they will resort to hiding it.
      I have seen a few comments about power differentials, and I agree that it plays a significant role in how sexual relationships evolve between a faculty member and a student, but I also believe that those are implicit powers. And whether or not there is a policy explicitly stating that relationships of this type are not permissible, the student will still feel the pressure and most likely still cave in depending on the situation.
      if the policy is to be effective, everyone has to know about it and the consequences for non-consensual relationships has to be grave and non-negotiable.

  6. I think this approach is wrong-headed on many levels. It’s one thing to discourage predatory behaviors and abuses of power; that’s the right thing to do. But by declaring ALL possible variations of one particular type of relationship to be predatory and abusive, this policy goes far beyond that valid concern. Instead, it seeks to blanket-punish and police a wide range of somewhat randomly selected behaviors between two very large, very diverse, and very variously involved groups of people, most all of whom are legal adults who make their own decisions, including about whom they get involved with and to what extent. I think it’s clear that direct supervisors of any type should not date, harass, pursue, become romantically involved, intimately befriend, have sex with, partner with, or marry their direct subordinates IF that supervisory power is ongoing and IF (in the case of a consensual, benevolent relationship) they have not taken steps to remove all direct control of the supervisor over the future of the supervised, for example by being transparent with a department chair, course supervisor, etc. about the relationship and asking for a third party to scrutinize any work assessments for bias. That is normal workplace procedure. But policing ALL relationships of ALL those types is wrong. While they can sometimes go poorly and become damaging (like all relationships of any type, anywhere), quite a few — and I would suggest, the majority of them — can be (and largely are) benevolent, freely consented to, meaningful, and in no way abusive. They are also very common. Such a policy, for example, retrospectively condemns a large number of faculty, staff, student, and alumni relationships, marriages and partnerships that begun as instructor/TA/RA/lab supervisor/internship supervisor-student relationships and are healthy, long-lasting, ongoing, and entirely benevolent. To what end? Moreover, apart from restricting adults’ sexual agency on naive blanket ideological grounds, it is clear that this policy will unfairly target certain groups while privileging others. One assumes, for example, that a romantic relationship between an instructor and a student who are already married to each other will continue to be allowed. Meanwhile, a group like the LGBQT community, who are historically less likely to get married, or just simply more secular people who don’t want to, or people from cultures that view meaningful commitment differently, would fall under official sanction for the same behaviors that others display in their marriages. That is the opposite of diverse, tolerant, and inclusive. Additionally, this type of policy is shockingly blind to the basics of the human condition. Nowhere, at no point in time, have two people interested in having sex, becoming romantically involved, or otherwise attracted to each other desisted from acting on it because it was against a rule. Nor have currently involved people broken it off because such a new rule recently took effect. Half of world literature deals with people breaking or ignoring such a rule, and ennobles them for it. Either, those people become excellent at hiding it — although I would argue that Cornell does not really want to become a place where people have to cower in fear of being turned in by informers devoted to a puritanical ideology to frowning authorities that will discipline and punish. Or one of the two involved people will leave the rigid community in order to continue the sex or the relationship from the outside. Inevitably, this will be the less materially invested, less already successful of the two: usually, the student, the woman, the younger person, and those from less stable, less affluent, and less privileged backgrounds. Rather than do good, this type of policy, whatever its intention, does not practically improve the campus climate for all. Instead, it does more harm than good. In practical terms, it will forcibly impose a rigid sexual code that privileges traditional, often religiously motivated moral strictures like marriage and “proper” relationships as defined by third parties through ideological, puritanical, and traditionalist lenses, along with social structures based on aggressive moral and ideological judgment, on informing on others, and on fear. Predatory behaviors and power imbalances of all types must be addressed, and those with power must be made sensitive to the harm they can potentially cause. That includes sexual and romantic relationships, and it includes training that helps the more powerful parties better see the less powerful parties’ perspectives, strictures, disadvantages, and concerns. But classifying entire types of relationships as predatory because it’s easy, and because it plays on a popular stereotype about age differentials and non-traditional sexual and romantic arrangements — that is simply wrong. It’s immoral, unrealistic, damaging, oppressive, perpetuates repressive power structures, and creates a toxic, fearful, intolerant, restrictive campus climate. I urge Cornell to find a better way.

    1. “Nowhere, at no point in time, have two people interested in having sex, becoming romantically involved, or otherwise attracted to each other desisted from acting on it because it was against a rule. ”
      So let me guess –you’re a male in a position of relative power, probably a faculty member, right? Some of us practice something called restraint, where we do NOT engage in relationships that are inappropriate or against the rules. You seem oblivious to the nuances of power imbalance, where the more powerful partner (such as a faculty member or supervisor) is romantically interested in an underling, and may actually believe that a relationship is fully consensual, while the underling (grad student, lab assistant, etc) feels coerced. Coercion is often implicit, resulting from fear (of job loss, poor grades, being blackballed in one’s chosen profession, etc) rather than explicit threats of retribution. The very nature of power imbalance means that a supervisor and supervisee cannot engage in a relationship without these overtones, which is why some of us feel so strongly that such relationships should not be condoned. I’m glad that you understand that “those with power must be made sensitive to the harm they can potentially cause,” but I think you may not fully understand that power imbalance= implicit coercion by its very nature, and that it’s NOT OK for a supervisor to make a pass at a supervisee. Times have changed from the old days when lawyers married their secretaries and doctors married their nurses–in today’s world, permanent pair-bonds are statistically much more likely to occur between EQUALS. I think it is pretty obvious from recent lawsuits that male faculty members are often completely oblivious that actions they may view as flirtatious are viewed as harassment by their female grad students, and that relationships viewed as consensual by a faculty member are sometimes viewed as coercive by their students. This is why we need a strong policy!

      1. I second this comment. I suspect that if most male faculty of a certain age could visualize what would have happened if _their_ graduate advisors had asked to borrow money from them, or to hide a handgun for them, or even just to falsify a citation for them, they’d get a clearer idea of what it feels like when a powerful supervisor makes a pass at a student.

        If you’re tempted to say “my advisor was a prince among men and would never do such a thing,” then I suspect you support this policy at heart — you know that a good teacher does not use their students to fulfill their needs.

      2. I third this rebuttal to Mr. “No one ever has controlled their urges because of rules.”
        Women throughout history have had to police their own actions and response to others in order to conform to societal rules about romantic and sexual relationships. We do it constantly, almost without thinking., because we are generally the ones to suffer the consequences of anyone finding out the rules have been broken.
        More bluntly: The original longwinded “but my URGES” post reads like it was written by one of the many Harvey Weinsteins on this campus who are now worried about exposure.

      3. I agree with the responses below. The policy can and should be nuanced to deal with degrees of power differential–for example, faculty/student relationships in unrelated fields do not need to be sanctioned. But, even the original poster seems to agree that some romantic or sexual relationships, for example, those between an advisor and an advisee, are unjustifiable. A good mentor will avoid the conflict of supervising a student in the case that they–or their student–could not avoid acting on their feelings of attraction. This is both for the sake of that student, and for other advisees. Making this policy seems wholly unobjectionable. Pretending that such policies will result in “Cornell [becoming] a place where people have to cower in fear” is silly.

      4. In response to: “Meanwhile, a group like the LGBQT community, who are historically less likely to get married, or just simply more secular people who don’t want to, or people from cultures that view meaningful commitment differently, would fall under official sanction for the same behaviors that others display in their marriages. That is the opposite of diverse, tolerant, and inclusive.”

        All relationships that were initiated prior to this policy will be made exceptions to it with disclosure agreements that that try to mitigate conflicts of interest resulting from this policy. This will not be restricted to legal partnerships nor marriages but all consensual romantic relationships that happened prior to implementation of the policy.

  7. A clear policy on this topic is essential for multiple reasons: 1.) Cornell is home to students, faculty and staff from many cultures (both inside and outside the US) that have varied understandings about the use of power, the role of men and women in society, and human sexuality. People are not recruited/admitted/hired based on a common set of understandings about these areas and, once here, behave in ways consistent with their own culture. Given that we know the negative impact of such relationships (and we do), we need to make certain that people understand how this area is treated and the consequences for choosing to behave otherwise BEFORE they begin to do what we recruited, admitted, or hired them to do. 2) Yes, policy may drive certain people underground, but the existence of clear policy language empowers those who know what is happening to speak to or report those that do. If we have no policy, those made uncomfortable by behaviors of this type, feel they have no ground to stand upon if they take issue. 3)There will be exceptions. People may arrive at Cornell with pre-existing marriages, engagements etc. These exceptions need to be clarified or a process for negotiating should be part of the policy. 4)Federal, State and local law provides a context for Cornell policy. our policies need to demonstrate this and uphold the values of the institution at the same time. This policy will move our institution into the current legal understanding of US culture.

  8. I am concerned about the process for moving this topic from its current stage into policy. It makes sense that Cornell gather input from all parties impacted by the policy. The committee has done a good job of clarifying how long the body will take comments. There is still a decision-making process. Please be clear about who is making decisions about final language (or whether there is a policy at all). Be very cautious about communicating that input equates to decision authority. We all love to have input–I could certainly talk all day about this topic, and it would be helpful to know how my input will factor into decision-making. My sense is that this is ultimately the President’s call, with the guidance of faculty and with the abundant input and wisdom provided by this committee. But clarify.

    1. The committee is made up of faculty, students, staff and trainees and we are drafting the policy with the input of other faculty, students, trainees and staff by meeting with multiple organizations on campus and seeking input by other means like these online comments. We take everyone’s input quite seriously. While I believe the final call will come down to the president, we are hoping to draft a policy that has the backing of all of those it effects that is likely to pass these final decisions.

  9. Romantic relationships between a faculty member (including administrators with faculty appointments) and any of their employees and any of their students (both graduate and undergraduate) are clearly unethical. Exceptions would be relationships that exist at the time of hiring. But even there, an alternative evaluation arrangement would need to be in place that would minimize the the direct authority of the faculty over students or employees they are involved with.

    If a faculty member is so compelled by love that they can not resist beginning or continuing such a relationship, then the only honorable course would be to resign from the University, or transfer to another part of the University where that individual would have no authority over the student or employee in question.

    If the faculty member does not resign, transfer or end the relationship, then the University should terminate that faculty member’s appointment.

  10. Protecting the educational environment is paramount. Establishing a strong policy that prohibits intimate relationships between persons of authority and “junior” persons is critical, not only for the junior person, but for others who are in the same program or department.

  11. A policy regarding consensual relationships is important first and foremost to protect those who may not be in consent but feel compelled to participate for reasons outside of their control. The policy must not only outline what is and is not acceptable, but put in place actionable consequences for those found guilty of non-compliance. In addition, the policy is important to protect both those involved in the relationship as well as the university. If there is no policy in place, those participating in a relationship, even consensual, are subject to the opinions of others regarding the appropriateness of that relationship and could be put in a negative position. The reputation of a university is subject to the reputation of the individuals which make up the whole. If majority opinion is the rule, the slant of that opinion will dictate how positive or negative an impact that will have on those reputations. A university the caliber of Cornell must do everything in its power to protect that reputation, and protecting the individuals by providing clear guidance is the best way to do that. Our reputation must be that of having an opinion on a given matter, not that of choosing to avoid possible confrontation by ignoring the topic.

  12. Honestly, the policy should only prescribe what will happen to people of authority initiating and continuing non-consensual relationships, direct supervisor and supervisee relationships should be prohibited as well.
    We are in Ithaca, the dating pool especially among graduate students is too small, we spend most of our time at work, making it harder to meet people.
    If we want people who have a well balanced life, we should strongly discourage superior/subordinate dating and leave the others alone.

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