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Policy 6.X Consensual Relationships
Reasons for Policy
As an institution where any person can find instruction in any study, Cornell demands ethical and conscientious behavior from all who are engaged in its mission of teaching, research, service, and outreach. Romantic or sexual relationships between faculty and students can jeopardize the integrity of that mission. Professional and institutional power differentials are part of academic life, but it is unacceptable when they become instruments of coercion, making it difficult for a student to refuse an advance or leave a relationship. Problems are magnified when there are different perceptions of the underlying power imbalance and that is likely to be the case when the individuals involved have different levels of university experience.
Even where fully consensual, romantic or sexual relationships between students and faculty can harm the overall academic environment by compromising the instructor’s professional judgment and impartiality then and in the future, impacting grading, distribution of resources, academic or professional recommendations, and more. They often undermine collegial dynamics among the students themselves because of rumored or actual favoritism. They can tarnish the academic reputation of the instructor, the student, the field, and Cornell itself. When these relationships end, or when favoritism becomes apparent, they raise the specter of legal action against the instructor and Cornell. Regardless of their outcome, their presence can linger within the careers of both parties, potentially driving the student from their discipline or hampering their lifelong academic and professional progress.
Terminology and Scope
This policy is about sexual and romantic relationships that are consensual and have a dynamic that involves power imbalance. This means that one individual in the relationship (the authority) can influence the academic or professional progress of the other (the subordinate). More
Throughout this policy graduate students are students who have an undergraduate degree. Post-doctoral fellows, post-doctoral researchers, visiting critics, visiting fellows, and veterinary interns are post-graduates. All other academic title-holders are faculty from the standpoint of this policy, including those whose titles are modified by “visiting,” “courtesy,” “acting,” “adjunct,” or “emeritus.” More
The policy applies only to those situations where the subordinate is either an undergraduate student, a graduate student, or post-graduate. The authority is typically a faculty member, but it can also be a post-graduate, a graduate student, an undergraduate student, or a member of the non-academic staff.
In this context, sexual harassment becomes an issue and Policy 6.4 becomes relevant when academic authority is used coercively to initiate or maintain a romantic or sexual relationship with a subordinate against the wishes of the subordinate. A central aim of the Consensual Relationships Policy is to prevent situations that lead to sexual harassment. More
Rights and Restrictions
It is the responsibility of the faculty to guarantee that every undergraduate has the freedom to pursue their academic and professional interests across campus in an environment that is free of preferential treatment, unfair advantage, discrimination, and bias. A faculty member who chooses to engage in a romantic or sexual relationship with an undergraduate is calling into question that responsibility. All undergraduates have the right to take courses and participate in research throughout the university based solely on their academic abilities. Any interference with that dynamic runs counter to the Cornell principle of “any person any study.” Therefore, all romantic or sexual relationships between faculty and undergraduate students are prohibited under this policy
A romantic or sexual relationship between a faculty member and a subordinate who is either a graduate student or post-graduate is prohibited under this policy if the faculty member has authority to make decisions that can affect the academic progress or professional advancement of the subordinate. This includes faculty members who hold administrative positions in the subordinate’s department, school, college, center, field, laboratory, or research group. More
Romantic or sexual relationships among staff members, undergraduate students, graduate students, or post-graduates are prohibited whenever one party can make decisions that can affect the academic progress or professional advancement of the other party. More
There are situations not covered by the above restrictions where the disclosure of a consensual relationship is necessary in order to maintain an academic environment that is free of bias, discrimination, and conflict of interest. Disclosure is the responsibility of the authority in the consensual relationship. Its purpose is to set in motion a plan that guards against the potential misuse of academic authority.
Disclosure in a timely manner is required by a faculty member who has (or has had) a consensual relationship with a graduate student or post-graduate in the same department, graduate field, center, or research group:
- The disclosure should be made to either the 6.x Office or the individual who is responsible for the academic workplace that is shared by the faculty member and the subordinate, e.g., the director of the student’s graduate program or the chair of the faculty member’s department.
- After consulting with the 6.x Office and the Dean of Faculty, the recipient of the disclosure develops a Recusal Plan or determines that one is unnecessary. The Recusal Plan identifies situations where participation by the faculty member is limited because of the potential for conflict of interest, thus mitigating the academic power imbalance.
- The Recusal Plan is signed by the faculty member, forwarded to the 6.x Office, and enforced by the recipient of the disclosure. It must be renewed every year.
- The subordinate is contacted by the 6.x Office shortly after the disclosure is made to inform them of the disclosure and of relevant resources.
Certain consensual relationships that do not involve faculty must also be disclosed. For example, consensual relationships involving academic power imbalances between undergraduate students, graduate students, and post-graduates (e.g. supervising in research groups or grading as a T.A.) must be disclosed to the faculty member in charge. It is the faculty member’s responsibility to develop a Recusal Plan to ensure that all formal and informal channels of academic authority are free from bias, discrimination, and conflict of interest.
Any subordinate or third party who believes that their academic or professional pursuits are in jeopardy because of a past or current consensual relationship should contact the 6.x Office. They can be reached anonymously, by email, or in person.
There is frequently an understandable reluctance to consult with individuals who know and/or regularly interact with the authority. Nevertheless, there are “local options” that can be pursued at the discretion of the subordinate:
If the authority is a faculty member, then the director of the subordinate’s degree program or the chair of the authority’s department can be contacted.
If the authority is a member of the staff, then the authority’s supervisor can be contacted.
If the authority is not a faculty member or staff, then the individual who is the supervisor or advisor of the authority can be contacted.
Procedures for faculty, students, and staff are in place to handle allegations of sexual harassment and coercion and other forms of misconduct that are prohibited under Policy 6.4.
Violations of this policy by an authority include: failure to disclose in a timely manner, failure to adhere to the recusal plan, participation in a prohibited relationship, and retaliation against a subordinate who, while acting in good faith, provides information about a suspected violation of Policy 6.x.
These procedures should conclude within six months so as to give the respondent and the subordinates and/or complainants involved a timely resolution to the situation.
In all cases, the power imbalance must be mitigated. Any harm rendered to a student that results from a violation of this policy must be remedied by “the group” that is identified by the procedure.
The 6.x Office will maintain records of violations of the policy. Non-punitive corrective action and sanctions will reflect prior violations, with the most extreme corrections and sanctions reserved for the most severe or for repeated violations of the policy
When enforcing this policy, “the group” should be alert for instances of academic or research misconduct that unfairly benefits or detriments a subordinate and should report that behavior to the appropriate office.
Last Updated: March 29, 2019 at 3:18 pm