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  Cornell University

The University Faculty

Office of the Dean

Other Schools (Q1)

Color Key: High level mission statement, risk of power differential, dangers of consensual relationships, legal ramifications, ethics


The relationships between students and their teachers, advisors, coaches, and others holding positions of authority over them should be conducted in a manner that avoids potential conflicts of interest, exploitation, or personal bias. Given the inherent power differential, the possibility of intentional or unintentional abuse of that power should always be borne in mind. For example, a conflict of interest arises when an individual evaluates the work or performance of a person with whom he or she is engaged in a romantic or sexual relationship.


The integrity of the teacher-student relationship is the foundation of the University’s educational mission. This relationship vests considerable trust in the teacher, who, in turn, bears authority and accountability as a mentor, educator, and evaluator. The unequal institutional power inherent in this relationship heightens the vulnerability of the student and the potential for coercion.The pedagogical relationship between teacher and student must be protected from influences or activities that can interfere with learning and personal development.
Whenever a teacher is or in the future might reasonably become responsible for teaching, advising, or directly supervising a student, a sexual relationship between them is inappropriate and must be avoided. In addition to creating the potential for coercion, any such relationship jeopardizes the integrity of the educational process by creating a conflictof interest and may impair the learning environment for other students. Finally, such situations may expose the University and the teacher
to liability for violation of laws against sexual harassment and sex discrimination.


The integrity of the educational process depends upon the maintenance of a professional relationship between Instructors and Staff members, on the one hand, and the students whom they supervise or advise, on the other. Where an Instructor or Staff member uses a position of authority to induce a student to enter into a non-consensual romantic or sexual relationship, the Instructor’s or Staff member’s conduct violates law and College policy and can subject both the individual and the College to legal liability. Even where the relationship is consensual, however, the conduct of a romantic or sexual relationship between an Instructor or Staff member and a student he or she supervises or advises may raise issues of conflict of interest or abuse of authority, with potential to adversely impact not only the student involved in the relationship but other students as well. Such situations may diminish confidence in the College and place it in a legally vulnerable position. For these reasons, the College has adopted this policy concerning Instructor-student and Staff-student consensual relationships.


A sexual or romantic relationship between a faculty member and a person for whom he or she has professional responsibility (i.e., as a teacher, adviser, evaluator, or supervisor) is inherently problematic. With professional responsibility comes power. It is incumbent on faculty members not to abuse, nor to seem to abuse, the power with which they are entrusted.

University of Pennsylvania

The relationship between teacher and student is central to the academic mission of the University. No non-academic or personal ties should be allowed to interfere with the integrity of the teacher-student relationship. Consensual sexual relations between teacher and student can adversely affect the academic enterprise, distorting judgments or appearing to do so in the minds of others, and providing incentives or disincentives for student-faculty contact that are equally inappropriate.


Columbia University’s educational mission is promoted by the professionalism of its faculty-student relationships. This professionalism is reflected not only in the quality of the intellectual exchange between faculty and students but also in the nature of their interactions as members of a community of scholars. The academic freedom traditionally accorded to members of the faculty imposes a correlative obligation of responsible self-discipline, one which acknowledges the power they exercise over students and the importance of protecting against its abusive or exploitative use.

Consensual romantic and sexual relationships between faculty and students pose a threat to academic professionalism in situations where they compromise, or appear to compromise, the faculty members’ judgment of students.  A similar threat exists when they lead or are perceived to lead to preferential treatment of one student over another.  In these circumstances, they can be detrimental to the affected individuals, including students outside of the relationship, and can injure the University and its reputation.  Further, because of the power differential, consensual romantic and sexual relationships between faculty and students are highly susceptible to being characterized as non-consensual or coercive, especially when they end, opening up the possibility of a charge of sexual harassment or sexual assault.


The Faculty at Rice are committed to sustaining both a positive environment for teaching and learning and the highest possible ethical and professional standards in all their activities. We presume that faculty will take personal responsibility and appropriate action to resolve conflicts of interest that result from sexual or romantic relationships between individuals of similar status within the university community. However, sexual and romantic relationships between individuals in inherently unequal positions (between teachers and the students they teach or evaluate, for example) have the potential for such serious consequences that they justify a specific faculty statement. In an academic setting such romantic or sexual relationships conflict with the implicit trust we encourage our students to enjoy vis-a-vis their professors, may negatively impact the university environment when they begin to affect third parties, can result in emotional and psychological damage, and always have the potential for an abuse of power that constitutes unprofessional conduct. We hold that consensual romantic or sexual relationships between faculty and undergraduate students, and between faculty and graduate students over whom the faculty member has direct or indirect professional responsibility, violate professional ethics and may be subject to disciplinary action, including such severe sanctions as suspension or dismissal. In those cases where an amorous relationship between a faculty member and a student violates the university’s sexual harassment policy, resolution should be made under the guidelines of that policy. Where a relationship does not violate the university’s sexual harassment policy, it may nonetheless be cause for sanction under this statement or the university’s policies or standards regarding expectations of professional conduct.


Sexual behavior that is welcome or consensual by all involved parties does not constitute Prohibited Conduct. However, consensual sexual relationships in situations where one individual has power or authority over another may result in claims of Prohibited Conduct, and/or may give rise to complaints by others of disparate Treatment. Examples of such relationships may include: a professor and his/her Student, a supervisor and a subordinate Employee, or a coach and team member. If such a consensual relationship occurs, any situation of authority should be discontinued immediately.


The relationship between teacher and student is the foundation of the academic mission of the University. This relationship vests considerable trust in the teacher, who, in turn, bears the responsibility to serve as mentor, educator, and evaluator. In discharging this responsibility, teachers are accountable for behaving in a manner that reflects the highest levels of professional responsibility, recognizes the dignity and worth of each person at the University, and protects the integrity of the student-teacher relationship.


Duke University is committed to maintaining learning and work environments as free as possible from conflicts of interest, exploitation, and favoritism. Where a party uses a position of authority to induce another person to enter into a non-consensual relationship, the harm both to that person and to the institution is clear. Even where the relationship is consensual, there is significant potential for harm when there is an institutional power difference between the parties involved, as is the case, for example, between supervisor and employee, faculty and student, or academic advisor and advisee. Such relationships may cast doubt on the objectivity of any supervision and evaluation provided. Having consensual relationships with subordinates is likely to interfere with the ability of a superior to act and make decisions fairly and without favoritism. Even if the superior is able to avoid being biased, the other people in the workplace or learning environment are likely to see themselves as being less favored and as disadvantaged by the personal relationship. In addition, the damage can continue long beyond the actual time span of the relationship and can make people suspicious of any future professional interactions between the parties.

The following policy is articulated in two parts, the first directed to employee relationships, the second to faculty–student relationships. Although these categories have many elements in common, the student–teacher relationship represents a special case, because the integrity of this relationship is of such fundamental importance to the central mission of the university. Students look to their professors for guidance and depend upon them for assessment, advancement, and advice. Faculty–student consensual relationships create obvious dangers for abuse of authority and conflict of interest actual, potential, and apparent. Especially problematic is such a relationship between a faculty member and a graduate student who is particularly dependent upon him or her for access to research opportunities, supervision of thesis or dissertation work, and assistance in pursuing job opportunities. Duke University has adopted a consensual relationship policy for the following reasons: to avoid the types of problems outlined above, to protect people from the kind of injury that either a subordinate or superior party to such a relationship can suffer, and to provide information and guidance to members of the Duke community. Most of all, this policy seeks to help ensure that each member of the Duke community is treated with dignity and without regard to any factors that are not relevant to that person’s work.


Brandeis University is committed to maintaining a fair and professional work environment in which members of the faculty and staff carry out their responsibilities in a way that is both respectful to those over whom they have authority and conducive to the development of a just and flourishing academic community. Romantic and sexual relationships between faculty members and their students, as well as romantic and sexual relationships between members of the staff and students—even if consensual—undermine the possibility of such a community by introducing the specter of favoritism, abuse of power, and conflict of interest, all of which compromise the ability of faculty and staff to carry out their responsibilities to both students and the University as a whole.

Such a relationship, which the University views as impermissible, may also cause harm. A student in such a relationship may suffer undue pressure as a result of the need to maintain or end the relationship. Other students may see themselves as disadvantaged by the relationship and claim unfairness. The relationship itself may cast doubt on the integrity of the institution, damage morale, threaten the quality of education, and place the university in a legally vulnerable position. Moreover, it may do so even in cases where the relationship is consensual.


At a university, the role of the teacher is multifaceted, including serving as intellectual guide, mentor, role model and advisor. This role is at the heart of the University’s educational mission and its integrity must be maintained. The teacher’s influence and authority can extend far beyond the classroom and into the future, affecting the academic progress and careers of our students.

Accordingly, the University expects teachers to maintain interactions with students free from influences that may interfere with the learning and personal development experiences to which students are entitled. In this context, teachers include those who are entrusted by Stanford to teach, supervise, mentor and coach students, including faculty and consulting faculty of all ranks, lecturers, academic advisors, and principal investigators.  The specific policies on teachers outlined below do not apply to Stanford students (undergraduates, graduates and post-doctoral scholars) who may at times take on the role of teachers or teaching assistants, policies for whom are addressed in a separate section.

As a general proposition, the University believes that a sexual or romantic relationship between a teacher and a student – even where consensual and whether or not the student is subject to supervision or evaluation by the teacher – is inconsistent with the proper role of the teacher.  Not only can these relationships harm the educational environment for the individual student involved, they also undermine the educational environment for other students.  Furthermore, such relationships may expose the teacher to charges of misconduct and create a potential liability, not only for the teacher, but also for the University if it is determined that laws against sexual harassment or discrimination have been violated.

Why are romantic relationships between non-peers discouraged or prohibited?

Risks: These relationships have the potential to involve

  • Conflict of interest
  • Exploitation
  • Favoritism
  • Bias

Realities: such relationships may

  • Erode the trust inherent in mentor-mentee relationships.
  • Be less consensual than the more “powerful” person believes.
  • Be perceived in different ways by each of the parties, especially in retrospect.
  • Undermine the real or perceived integrity of the supervision or evaluation.
  • Change over time. Complaints my surface if behavior that was once welcome becomes unwelcome.
  • Give rise to third-party complaints when one party appears to have an unfair advantage and/or more access to the senior individual.
  • Have unintended, adverse effects on the climate of an academic or work environment, which may be impaired for others, either during the relationship or after a break-up.

University of Michigan

The teacher-student relationship lies at the foundation of the educational process. As a matter of sound judgment and professional ethics, faculty members have a responsibility to avoid any apparent or actual conflict between their professional responsibilities and personal relationships with students.

Romantic and/or sexual relationships between a faculty member and a student have the potential to pose risks to the faculty member, the student, or third parties. In such relationships, voluntary consent by the student is suspect because of the inherently unequal nature of the relationship. A romantic and/or sexual relationship between a faculty member and a student can lead to a complaint of sexual harassment when the student feels that he or she has been exploited. In addition, other faculty members, staff members, or students may express concerns about undue access or advantage, favoritism, restricted opportunities, or unfavorable treatment as a result of the relationship. These concerns are damaging whether the favoritism is real or perceived. They also arise in cases where the relationship between the faculty member and the student remains amicable, as well as in cases that lead to accusations of exploitation. For all these reasons, the University strongly discourages romantic and/or sexual relationships between faculty members and students.

University of Colorado

The university does not wish to interfere with private choices regarding personal relationships when these relationships do not interfere with the goals and policies of the university. For the personal protection of members of this community, relationships in which power differentials are inherent (faculty-student, staff-student, administrator-student) are generally discouraged.

Consensual romantic or sexual relationships in which one party maintains a direct supervisory or evaluative role over the other party are unethical. Therefore, persons with direct supervisory or evaluative responsibilities who are involved in such relationships must bring those relationships to the timely attention of their supervisor, and will likely result in the necessity to remove the employee from the supervisory or evaluative responsibilities, or shift the student out of being supervised or evaluated by someone with whom they have established a consensual relationship. This includes RAs and students over whom they have direct responsibility.

While no relationships are prohibited by this policy, failure to self-report such relationships to a supervisor as required can result in disciplinary action for an employee.

University of Washington

The following are examples of why the University’s responsibilities to the public and to individual members of the University community may be compromised if employees do not avoid such conflicts of interest:

  • The possibility of allegations of sexual harassment may arise when an employee in a position of authority over a student has a romantic relationship or makes romantic advances toward that student and if the employee’s immediate power to influence the student’s access to educational programs and services, academics or professional progress, and/or work experience or opportunities brings into question the ability of the student to consent to the relationship;
  • The possibility of a hostile or offensive academic or work environment may arise if the employee’s romantic interests or advances are or become unwelcome by a student and the employee fails to separate personal interests from his or her professional decision-making;
  • The possibility of impeding a student’s access to educational programs and services, academics or professional progress, and/or work experience or opportunities may also arise if the employee is already in a position of decision-making authority with respect to the student or may be so in the future, since the employee must then abstain from participation in such decisions, thereby denying the student access to the employee’s professional assessment and/or decision-making authority; and
  • Romantic relationships between employees and students may also infringe on the rights of other students or colleagues because there may be actual or perceived bias, partiality, or influence.

University of Virginia

As a matter of sound judgment and professional ethics, faculty members have a responsibility to avoid any apparent or actual conflict between their professional responsibilities and personal interests in terms of their dealings or relationships with students. It is the responsibility of faculty members to avoid being placed in a position of authority – by virtue of their specific teaching, research, or administrative assignments – over their spouses or other immediate family members who are students at the University. It is also the responsibility of faculty members to avoid engaging in sexual relationships with or making sexual overtures to students over whom they are in a position of authority by virtue of their specific teaching, research, or administrative assignments. [NOTE: In this context, the term “faculty members” broadly includes all full-time and part-time University personnel who hold positions on the academic or general faculty, as well as all graduate teaching assistants, graders, and coaches.] These professional constraints derive from AAUP ethical standards and the University’s policy prohibiting conflict of interests, in order to ensure that the evaluation of students is conducted fairly and without any perception of favoritism or bias. Perhaps less obvious, but equally compelling, is the interest in avoiding potential harm to students as well as the liability that could occur, for example, if facts regarding a sexual relationship or sexual overture are demonstrated that support a legal claim of sexual harassment by either party.

University of Texas

The University recognizes that consenting individuals associated with the University should be free to enter into personal relationships of their choice. At the same time, such relationships must not put at risk the fundamental interest of every member of the University community to participate in University activities free from conflicts of interests, favoritism, and/or exploitation. Romantic relationships between certain categories of individuals affiliated with the University risks undermining the essential educational purpose of the University and can disrupt the workplace and learning environment.

Last Updated: October 31, 2017 at 6:29 am