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Office of the Dean

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.

Proposed Prose for the Policy [11/20]

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 and/or sexual relationships between instructors and students risk the integrity of that mission. Professional and institutional power differentials raise questions as to the student’s ability to refuse advances or freely leave the relationship. There are added concerns when those involved have different perceptions of the underlying power differential.

Even where fully consensual, such relationships can create lasting harm to the overall academic environment. They risk compromising the instructor’s 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 through real or perceived 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.

This policy is concerned with more than just relationships between students and instructors. It applies to romantic and/or sexual relationships in which one party is a student, post doc, or veterinary resident and the other party has the power to affect the academic progress, professional progress or employment possibilities of that person. Thus, the individual with authority may be a faculty member or any academic title holder, a teaching assistant or grader, an administrator or a coach, or in fact, any member of the staff.

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Last Updated: December 5, 2017 at 2:50 pm


  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.

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