Conflicts of Interest and Abuses of Power: Sexual or Romantic Relationships with Students

Reason for Policy: 

This policy addresses sexual or romantic relationships between a faculty member and student or between a staff member and student in order to foster a learning environment characterized by professional behavior and fair and impartial treatment.

Entities Affected by this Policy: 

All UO employees and students.

Enactment & Revision History: 

Technical revisions enacted by the University Secretary on September 4, 2015.

Became a University of Oregon Policy by operation of law on July 1, 2014.

Former Oregon Administrative Rule Chapter 571 Division 4 Section 0007.

Policy: 

Conflicts of Interest and Abuses of Power: Sexual or Romantic Relationships with Students

(1) The University is committed to fostering a learning environment characterized by professional behavior and fair and impartial treatment.

(a) A sexual or romantic relationship between a faculty member and a student or a staff member and a student can involve a conflict of interest, an abuse of power, compromised judgment and impaired objectivity when the faculty member or staff member has supervisory, evaluative or other power over the student. The power differential in the relationship may even make a student's consent to a sexual or romantic relationship suspect.

(b) Moreover, the relationship may create an apparent or actual conflict of interest that can adversely affect other members of the University community. It places the faculty member or staff member in a position to favor the interest of the student in the sexual or romantic relationship at the expense of third parties. Even if consensual, the relationship may be disruptive of the collegiality and mutual trust that are essential for the effective functioning of an academic unit.

(c) THEREFORE, it may be a conflict of interest and abuse of power for: faculty members to engage in sexual or romantic relationships with students enrolled in their classes or otherwise subject to their direct supervision or evaluation; staff members to engage in sexual or romantic relationships with students subject to their direct supervision or authority; work supervisors to engage in sexual or romantic relationship with students subject to their direct supervision or evaluation. This conflict of interest and abuse of power can occur even when both parties have consented to the relationship.

(2) Faculty/Student Sexual or Romantic Relationships.

(a) Within the instructional context: No faculty member should initiate or acquiesce in a sexual or romantic relationship with a student who is enrolled in a course being taught by the faculty member or whose academic work (including work as a teaching assistant) is supervised or evaluated by the faculty member. Should such a sexual or romantic relationship occur, notwithstanding this policy, a faculty member who fails to make prompt appropriate arrangements creates an apparent or actual conflict of interest. "Appropriate arrangement" is defined in (9)(a).

(b) Outside the instructional context: A sexual or romantic relationship between a faculty member and a student outside the instructional context may result in a conflict of interest and an abuse of power, particularly when the faculty member and student are in the same academic unit or in units that are academically allied. If such a situation should develop, notwithstanding this policy, the faculty member should immediately distance himself or herself from any decision that may reward or penalize the student with whom he or she is sexually or romantically involved. Failure to take this action constitutes a violation of the faculty member's professional obligations.

(3) Staff/Student Sexual or Romantic Relationships: A sexual or romantic relationship between a staff member and a student may lead to a conflict of interest when the staff member has supervisory, evaluative or other power over the student. Failure to withdraw from such a relationship or to make prompt appropriate arrangements (defined in (9)(a)) constitutes unwillingness to perform satisfactorily the responsibilities of the position and demonstrates unfitness for the position.

(4) Complaint process: Complaints by students with standing to allege a violation of this policy shall be handled in accordance with procedures set forth in UO Policy 571.003(L). Complaints may be initiated by the student in the sexual or romantic relationship OR by third parties who are also in an evaluative relationship with the faculty or staff member and who allege they have been specifically adversely affected by the relationship. Complaints initiated by the students in the sexual or romantic relationship must be filed within 365 days of the end of the supervisory or evaluative relationship. Complaints initiated by third parties must be filed within 30 days of the end of the third party's evaluative relationship. The President can also initiate formal proceedings under UO Policy 580.021.0300-470(H)UO ; nothing in this policy shall preclude such action by the President.

(5) Basis for findings: In assessing the evidence in a complaint:

(a) Initiated by the student in the sexual or romantic relationship, the decision maker may only base his/her finding of a violation of this policy upon no less than a preponderance of evidence that the sexual or romantic relationship occurred and that prompt appropriate arrangements were not made;

(b) Initiated by a third party, the decision maker may only base his/her findings of a violation of this policy upon clear and convincing evidence that a sexual or romantic relationship occurred and that prompt appropriate arrangements were not made, leading to actual injury or prejudice;

(c) Consent to the sexual or romantic relationship does not obviate a conflict of interest as defined by this policy.

(6) Abuse of Process: Complaints found to have been intentionally dishonest or made with willful disregard of the truth may subject the complainant to appropriate disciplinary proceedings and the full range of sanctions available therein.

(7) Sanctions: Only the party with evaluative, supervisory or other power is subject to sanction for violating this policy. For faculty, imposition of sanctions under UO Policy 580.021.0300-470(F), et seq., typically involves a hearing panel of peers. Documentation (defined in (9)(c)) of arrangements believed to be appropriate will be taken into account in assessing whether a conflict of interest has occurred, whether it has been mitigated, and in determining the severity of sanction, if any. The following list of sanctions that may be imposed is not intended to be exhaustive, and more than one sanction may be imposed for any single offense: written reprimand placed in the personnel file of the faculty or staff member; reassignment of duties (e.g., teaching, administrative, or service duties); reduction in salary; suspension without pay; dismissal.

(a) Written reprimand may be imposed at the discretion of the appropriate Vice President.

(b) Reassignment of duties, reduction in salary, suspension without pay, or dismissal may be recommended by the appropriate vice president, but may be imposed only after completion of appropriate proceedings:

(A) For faculty members, for cause proceedings are outlined in UO Policy 580.021.0300-470(F), et seq., provided that in the case of a proceeding predicated upon a third-party claim, the evidence to support a sanction must be found to be clear and convincing.

(B) For classified employees, sanctions will be imposed in accordance with applicable collective bargaining agreements.

(8) Assistance/Intervention: Any member of the University community who enters into a sexual or romantic relationship that may constitute a conflict of interest or abuse of power as described above is encouraged strongly to seek the assistance of his or her unit director, department head, dean, supervisor, or the Director of the Office of Affirmative Action & Equal Opportunity in making appropriate arrangements and providing documentation of those arrangements. If, prior to or during the course of a sexual or romantic relationship, doubt exists about whether this policy would apply, the party is encouraged strongly to consult with the unit director, or, department head, dean, supervisor, or the Director of the Office of Affirmative Action & Equal Opportunity. Disclosure during such consultation shall be confidential to the extent possible. No action will be taken that could result in sanctions unless and until a complaint is filed.

(9) Definitions: As used in this policy:

(a) "Appropriate arrangement" means an action reasonably calculated to remove or substantially mitigate a conflict or a potential conflict of interest or abuse of power, taking into account the interests of the University, the parties to the relationship, and others actually or potentially affected. These actions may include, but are not limited to: moving a student to another section of the same class; appointing a different faculty member to serve on a thesis, dissertation, or other evaluative committee; establishing alternative means of evaluation of academic or work performance; moving a student employee to another position of the same or comparable status and duties.

(b) "Conflict of interest" means incompatibility of the interest of the University in securing detached, objective performance of instructional, supervisory, or other duties with the personal interest of the faculty or staff member involved in a sexual or romantic relationship with a student he or she supervises or evaluates.

(c) "Documentation" includes but is not limited to a written, dated, and signed description of the actions taken filed with a unit director, department head, dean, supervisor, or the director of the Office of Affirmative Action & Equal Opportunity. For those not willing to use a third-party repository, it may still be advisable to retain a written, signed, and dated declaration of the mitigating actions taken.

(d) "Faculty" or "faculty member" means all those employees who hold academic appointments, including officers of administration and graduate teaching fellows, and anyone else who teaches classes at the University and/or supervises the academic work of students.

(e) "Power" means the real or objectively apparent authority or ability of an employee to confer or influence the academic, employment or other benefits of a student including, but not limited to: giving grades, evaluating performance, awarding financial benefits, or provision of University services or activities.

(f) "Standing" means that a student has a supervisory or evaluative relationship with a faculty or staff member and is specifically injured by a conflict of interest as defined by this policy.

(g) "Staff" or "staff member" means all University employees who do not hold academic rank.

(h) "Supervisor" or "employee with supervisory responsibility" means all employees who exercise responsibility for provision of University services, assigning work, evaluating performance, or otherwise making decisions that affect the terms and conditions of a student's employment or academic experience at the University.

Chapter/Volume: 
Responsible Office: 

For questions about this policy, please contact Human Resources at 541-346-3159.

Original Source: 
Oregon Administrative Rule