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C23.0 Policy on Circumstances When Consensual Relationships Must Be Mitigated


This policy applies to all regular and temporary faculty and staff, administrators, graduate assistants, and student employees. It pertains to actions that affect any student, employee, or guest of the university.


The university’s goal to produce innovative, creative graduates who are well-prepared for their chosen careers is achieved, in part, by engaging students, faculty, and staff in stimulating and collaborative experiences.  In doing so, the university is committed to creating learning environments and working relationships in which students, faculty, and staff trust and respect one another.

Consensual relationships in which there are reporting or evaluative relationships between the parties can pose significant challenges to achieving the desired learning environments and working relationships and therefore must be addressed.

  • These relationships give rise to the potential for conflict of interest, favoritism, and bias, and therefore undermine the real or perceived integrity of the evaluation or supervision given.

  • Due to the reporting and evaluative nature of the relationship and the uneven power inherent therein, it is possible that such relationships could become exploitive.

  • These relationships may harm the academic or work environment, providing grounds for complaints by third parties when the consensual relationship gives undue access or advantage, restricts opportunities, or creates the perception of these problems.

  • These relationships may be less consensual than the individual whose position confers power or authority believes.  Due to the imbalance of power, conflicting interests, and perceptions of unfair advantage, the student or employee’s actual freedom of choice may be greatly diminished. 

  • The relationship is likely to be perceived in different ways by each of the parties to it, especially in retrospect.  Furthermore, circumstances may change, and conduct that was previously welcome may become unwelcome.  Even when both parties have consented at the outset to a romantic involvement, this past consent does not remove grounds for a complaint based on subsequent unwelcome conduct.

  • Anyone who enters into a romantic or sexual relationship where a professional power differential exists must realize that, if a complaint of sexual harassment is subsequently lodged, it is exceedingly difficult to sustain a defense on grounds of mutual consent. 

For these reasons, the university strongly discourages these relationships.


For the purpose of this policy, a consensual relationship is a mutually acceptable, romantic and/or sexual relationship between an employee with supervisory, teaching, evaluation, or advisory authority and an employee, student, and/or student employee who is directly supervised, taught, or advised by that employee.

Policy Statement

Consensual relationships are prohibited in circumstances in which one party has professional influence or direct authority over the other, unless all three mitigating actions are taken by the accountable parties:

  • Recusal.  Where such a relationship exists, or existed in the recent past (two years or less), the party in the position of greater authority, power, or influence (hereafter referred to as the party with greater authority) is accountable to ensure that he or she relinquishes all supervisory or evaluative functions over the other party in the relationship.

  • Disclosure.  The party with greater authority discloses the conflict of interest due to the existence of the relationship, at the beginning of the relationship, to his or her supervisor.  Although the party with greater authority is accountable, the party in the position of lesser authority, power, or influence (hereafter referred to as the party with lesser authority) may also disclose the relationship to the appropriate supervisor.

  • Resolution of Conflict of Interest. After consultation with Human Resources, the supervisor of the party with greater authority resolves the conflict of interest.  If, for example, the party with lesser authority is a student, a resolution might be to reassign the student to another class. If, for example, the party with lesser authority is a junior member of the faculty, a resolution might be to remove the other party from the individual’s tenure and promotion committee.  If, for example, the party with lesser authority is supervised by the other party, a resolution might be to change one of the reporting relationships to eliminate direct supervision.

It is the duty of employees to consult with the appropriate supervisors or Human Resources if there are questions about the application or effect of this policy to an existing or potential relationship in which they are or may become involved, or in which employees they directly or indirectly supervise are or may become involved.

Policy Violations

An individual is considered in violation of the policy when, upon verification of the consensual relationship, the mitigating actions for which he or she is accountable have not been taken.  Suspected policy violations shall be reported by anyone in accordance with university reporting procedures, or to the director of Human Resources or any university supervisor for further investigation.  The director of Human Resources will coordinate the investigation in conjunction with the appropriate college and/or division supervisors.  If any of these individuals are included in the complaint, they are excluded from the investigative process and determination.  Individuals found to be in violation of the consensual relationships policy are subject to disciplinary action, up to and including immediate termination for staff, or the initiation of dismissal for cause proceedings for faculty.

Responsible Office:
Questions about this policy or its related procedures can be communicated to the director of Human Resources. 

Effective Date:
Approved April 12, 2010, by University Council

Policy History


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