When individuals involved in a consensual romantic or sexual relationship are in positions of unequal power at the university, such as faculty-student, graduate assistant-student, supervisor-supervisee, advisor-advisee, coach-student, senior faculty-junior faculty, senior staff-junior staff, or faculty-staff, there is the potential for a conflict of interest, favoritism, and exploitation. These relationships may be less voluntary than the person with greater power perceives, or circumstances may change and conduct that was once welcome may become unwelcome. The fact that a relationship was initially consensual does not insulate the person with greater power from a claim of sexual harassment. Further, a party’s professional or academic reputation may suffer due to perceptions of favoritism or exploitation. Moreover, such relationships may lead to restricted opportunities, or a perception thereof, for others in the work or academic environment.
For purposes of this policy, “direct supervision” includes the following activities (on or off campus): course teaching, examining, grading, advising for a formal project such as a thesis of research, supervising required research or other academic activities, serving in such a capacity as Director of Undergraduate or Graduate Studies, and recommending in an institutional capacity for admissions, employment, fellowships, or awards. “Teachers” includes, but is not limited to, all ladder and non-ladder faculty of the University. It also includes graduate and professional students and postdoctoral fellows and associates only when they are serving as part-time acting instructors, teaching fellows, or acting in a supervisory capacity or in similar institutional roles, with respect to the students they are currently teaching or supervising. “Students” refers to those enrolled in any and all educational and training programs of the University. Additionally, this policy applies to members of the Yale community who are not teachers as define above, but have authority over or mentoring relationships with students, including athletic coaches, supervisors of student employees, advisors and directors of student organizations, Residential College Fellows, as well as others who advise, mentor, or evaluate students
Finally, all members of the University community should be aware of power asymmetries in their relations with others. What constitutes “power” varies across contexts and individuals. For example, although the University’s formal rules would not explicitly recognize a student in an extracurricular organization to have power over a student who would like to join that organization, one or both of the students in question may perceive their relationship to be affected by a power dynamic. As members of a community characterized by multiple formal and informal hierarchies, it is incumbent on each of us to be sensitive to the ways in which we exercise power and influence and to be judicious in our relations with others.
Beyond these prohibited relations, all romantic or sexual relationships between individuals of different University status require heightened awareness. For example, a faculty member may wish to initiate a personal relationship with an individual over whom he or she has no current professional supervisory responsibility. This faculty member should, however, be sensitive to the possibility that he or she may unexpectedly be placed in a position of responsibility for that individual’s instruction, supervision, or evaluation. In addition, others may speculate that the personal relationship has given the individual professional advantage, even if it has not. Even when both parties have consented at the outset to a romantic or sexual relationship, the person in the position of greater authority, by virtue of his or her special responsibility and role in the core educational mission of the University, bears responsibility for any adverse professional consequences that arise.
In the academic context, Prohibited Conduct under this policy often involves the inappropriate personal attention by an individual who is in a position to exercise professional power over another individual. This could include an instructor who determines a student’s grade or who can otherwise affect the student’s academic performance or professional future; a tenured professor whose evaluation of a junior colleague can affect the latter’s professional life; or a coach who can affect the participation of a student-athlete. Taking advantage of one’s power, supervision or authority over another is unacceptable and may create a hostile environment for the individuals involved and the community at large that seriously undermines the atmosphere of trust essential to the academic enterprise.
Amorous relationships that might be appropriate in other circumstances have inherent dangers when they occur between an instructor or officer of the University and a person for whom they have a professional responsibility (i.e., as instructor, advisor, evaluator, supervisor, coach, mentor). Implicit in the idea of professionalism is the recognition by those in positions of authority that in their relationships with students, faculty or staff there is an element of power. It is incumbent upon those with authority not to abuse, nor to seem to abuse, the power with which they are entrusted.
Faculty member exercises academic or professional authority over a student by: enrolling the student in a course given by the faculty member; evaluating the student outside of a course by, for example, grading qualifying exams or serving on defense committees; supervising or advising the student on a project such as a thesis or independent research; formally mentoring the student; co-authoring papers or working collaboratively on a project; supervising any administrative assignment given to the student, either for compensation or without pay; providing the student with a recommendation for a job, internship, clerkship, fellowship, prize, award or other honor; participating in departmental or school decisions affecting the student on admissions, financial aid, teaching assignments or access to institutional resources available for academic purposes, such as travel funds or study carrels; or otherwise, participating in any program or activity with respect to the student that judges performance, recognizes achievement, confers benefits, rewards work, or sanctions conduct.
There are special risks in any sexual or romantic relationship between individuals in inherently unequal positions, and parties in such a relationship assume those risks. In the university context, such positions include (but are not limited to) teacher and student, supervisor and employee, senior faculty and junior faculty, mentor and trainee, adviser and advisee, teaching assistant and student, principal investigator and postdoctoral scholar or research assistant, coach and athlete, attending physician and resident or fellow, and individuals who supervise the day-to-day student living environment and their students.
Because of the potential for conflict of interest, exploitation, favoritism, and bias, such relationships may undermine the real or perceived integrity of the supervision and evaluation provided. Further, these relationships are often less consensual than the individual whose position confers power or authority believes. In addition, circumstances may change, and conduct that was previously welcome may become unwelcome. Even when both parties have consented at the outset to a sexual or romantic involvement, this past consent does not remove grounds for a charge based upon subsequent unwelcome conduct.
Such relationships may also have unintended, adverse effects on the climate of an academic program or work unit, thereby impairing the learning or working environment for others – both during such a relationship and after any break-up. Relationships in which one party is in a position to evaluate the work or influence the career of the other may provide grounds for complaint by third parties when that relationship gives undue access or advantage, restricts opportunities, or simply creates a perception of these problems.
For all of these reasons, sexual or romantic relationships–whether regarded as consensual or otherwise–between individuals in inherently unequal positions should in general be avoided and in many circumstances are strictly prohibited by this policy. Since these relationships can occur in multiple contexts on campus, this policy addresses certain contexts specifically. However, the policy covers all sexual and romantic relationships involving individuals in unequal positions, even if not addressed explicitly in what follows.
Faculty members exercise power over students, whether in giving them praise or criticism, evaluating them, making recommendations for their further studies or their future employment, or conferring any other benefits on them. All amorous or sexual relationships between faculty members and students are unacceptable when the faculty member has any professional responsibility for the student. Such situations greatly increase the chances that the faculty member will abuse his or her power and sexually exploit the student. Voluntary consent by the student in such a relationship is suspect, given the fundamental asymmetric nature of the relationship. Moreover, other students and faculty may be affected by such unprofessional behavior because it places the faculty member in a position to favor or advance one student’s interest at the expense of others and implicitly makes obtaining benefits contingent on amorous or sexual favors. Therefore, the University will view it as a violation of this Code of Academic Ethics if faculty members engage in amorous or sexual relations with students for whom they have professional responsibility, as defined in number 1 or 2 below, even when both parties have consented or appear to have consented to the relationship. Such professional responsibility encompasses both instructional and non-instructional contexts.
1. Relationships in the Instructional Context. A faculty member shall not have an amorous or sexual relationship, consensual or otherwise, with a student who is enrolled in a course being taught by the faculty member or whose performance is being supervised or evaluated by the faculty member.
2. Relationships outside the Instructional Context. A faculty member should be careful to distance himself or herself from any decisions that may reward or penalize a student with whom he or she has or has had an amorous or sexual relationship, even outside the instructional context, especially when the faculty member and student are in the same academic unit or in units that are allied academically.
Ohio State University
An imbalance of power is inherent in the teacher-student relationship, as well as the relationship between a student and a staff member. The student may defer to the teacher or staff person as an expert, a respected figure whose authority is unassailable. This power imbalance can be further exacerbated by the existence of other factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, international student/scholar status, command of the English language and previous sexual victimization.
Those who abuse their power in the context of an Amorous Relationship where there is Educational or Employment Supervision and Evaluation violate their duty to the University community. Voluntary consent by the student or subordinate in a romantic or sexual relationship is difficult to determine given the asymmetric nature of the power structure in the relationship. Because of the complex and subtle effects of the power differential in the relationship, the individual with power may perceive the existence of consent that may not exist or not exist at the level perceived by the individual with power. The possibility exists that, if the relationship sours, these individuals may be subject to a claim of sexual harassment.
Virginia Commonwealth University
In cases where one person uses a position of authority to induce another person to enter into a romantic and/or sexual relationship, the likely harm to the induced person and to the institution is clear. Even in cases where the relationship is deemed “consensual” by the involved parties, significant potential for harm remains when there is a power differential between them. There are special risks in any sexual or romantic relationship between individuals in inherently unequal positions of power (such as instructor and student, supervisor and employee). Clear examples of cases of power differential are romantic and/or sexual relationships between a faculty member/instructor and a student, an academic advisor and advisee, or a supervisor and a student worker. Such relationships create obvious dangers for abuse of authority and conflict of interest whether actual, potential, and apparent. Such relationships may be less consensual than the individual whose position confers power believes. Such relationships can be perceived in different ways by each of the parties to it, especially in retrospect.
Last Updated: October 19, 2017 at 10:13 pm