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

Policy Number: 
571.004.00
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.

Responsible Office: 

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

Enactment & Revision History: 

Temporary policy enacted by President Schill on January 30, 2018.

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 is a Conflict of Interest and abuse of power for: (1) faculty members and staff to engage in sexual or romantic relationships  (Relationships) with students enrolled in their classes or otherwise subject to their supervision or evaluation; (2) staff members to engage in sexual or romantic relationships with students subject to their supervision or authority; and (3) work supervisors to engage in sexual or romantic relationship with students subject to their supervision or evaluation. Conflicts of Interest can occur even when both parties have consented to the relationship. As defined and explained below, the University of Oregon prohibits Conflicts of Interest.

(2)  Examples of Conflicts of Interest: Faculty/Student Relationships.

(a) Within the instructional context: No faculty member should initiate or acquiesce in a 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. Faculty members in Relationships that pre-date the course start date or the supervisory or evaluative relationship must make prompt Appropriate Arrangements,” as defined below.

(b) Outside the instructional context: A Relationship between a faculty member and a student outside the instructional context is a Conflict when the faculty member and student are in the same academic unit or in units that are academically allied and the faculty member has the power to make decisions that may reward or penalize the student with whom he or she is in a Relationship.  Faculty members in Relationships that pre-date the supervisory or evaluative relationship must make prompt Appropriate Arrangements, as defined below. Failure to make prompt Appropriate Arrangements may result in discipline.

(3) Examples of Conflict of Interest: SEIU/Student Relationships: A Relationship between an SEIU employee  and a student is a Conflict when the staff member has supervisory, evaluative or other power over the student. SEIU members in Relationships that pre-date the supervisory or evaluative relationship must make prompt Appropriate Arrangements, as defined below. Failure 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 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 Relationship must be filed within 365 days of the end of the supervisory or evaluative relationship.  Any person may report an alleged violation of this policy to the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity and when appropriate, it may also initiate an investigation.

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

(a) 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 Relationship occurred and there was a Conflict. If the Relationship pre-dated the Conflict, then the decision maker will also consider whether prompt appropriate arrangements were made;

 (b) Consent to the 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 unrepresented faculty, imposition of sanctions under UO Policy 580.021.0300-470(F), et seq., typically involves a hearing panel of peers. For represented faculty, discipline shall be imposed in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement. For officers of administration, discipline will be imposed pursuant to applicable OA policies and procedures. 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, to the extent possible, 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 unrepresented faculty members, for cause proceedings are outlined in UO Policy 580.021.0300-470(F), et seq. For represented faculty, the collective bargaining agreement applies and for officers of administration, the OA policies and procedures apply.

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

 (9) Definitions: As used in this policy:

(a) "Appropriate arrangement"  is defined as prompt notification of the Provost or the Provost’s designee and action, approved by the Provost or the Provost’s designee, 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.  For purposes of this section, prompt means within two weeks of the supervisory or evaluative Relationship beginning. Appropriate arrangements  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" is defined by the examples above and also 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 the Provost of the Provost’s designee.

(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.

(10) Nothing in this policy shall be construed as modifying an employee’s reporting obligations under other UO policies including but not limited to, the student sexual and gender-based harassment and violence complaint and response policy.

(11) Employees, students and campus community members who make good faith reports under this policy or who participate in an investigation initiated under this policy shall be protected from retaliation based on their report or participation.

Chapter/Volume: 
Original Source: 
Oregon Administrative Rule