Professional Conduct Committee - Consensual Relationships Policy

Approved 2005

  1. The Principle and Basis for the Policy on Consensual Relationships
    The integrity of the teacher-student relationship is the foundation of the University’s educational mission. This relationship vests considerable trust in the teacher, who, in turn, bears authority and accountability as a mentor, educator, and evaluator. The unequal institutional power inherent in this relationship heightens the vulnerability of the student and the potential for coercion. The pedagogical relationship between teacher and student must be protected from influences or activities that can interfere with learning consistent with the goals and ideals of the University. Similarly, the University is committed to the principle of protecting the integrity and objectivity of its staff members in the performance of their University duties.

    It is therefore fundamental to the University’s overall mission that the professional responsibilities of its faculty and staff be carried out in an atmosphere that is free of conflicts of interest that compromise these principles.
  2. Conflict of Interest
    Although conflict of interest issues can be resolved, in a consensual romantic or sexual relationship involving a power differential, the potential for serious consequences remains. A faculty or staff member who enters into a relationship with a student, or a supervisor with a subordinate, where a professional power differential exists must be aware that:

    • the reasons for each party's entering such a relationship may be a function of the power differential;
    • if a charge of sexual harassment is alleged, it will be exceedingly difficult to defend against such a charge on grounds of mutual consent;
    • the individual with the power in the relationship will likely bear the burden of accountability.
    Power differentials between the parties in a consensual relationship may give rise to other serious problems even when conflicts of interest are avoided or resolved. The student or employee with lesser power may fear reprisals even when no specific threats are made. Conversely, the student or employee with lesser power may hope for rewards even when no specific promises are made. All University of Nebraska at Kearney faculty, staff and students should be fully aware that sexual harassment is prohibited by institutional policy.
  3. Policy
    The Standards of Professional Conduct are set forth in the University of Nebraska at Kearney Professional Conduct Committee - Rules and Procedures, Section 2 "Standards of Professional Conduct Subject to Committee Jurisdiction" (Adopted by the University of Nebraska at Kearney Faculty Senate, December 5,1991.revised, January, 1995 and November, 1999)

    Enumerated within the Standards of Professional Conduct is the following:

    Professional Staff or Faculty Member:
    Shall recuse herself/himself from all circumstances in which the professional staff member bears primary authority and accountability as a mentor, educator, evaluator or supervisor over any student, faculty or staff with whom the professional staff member is involved in a consensual romantic or sexual relationship.

    Although the University of Nebraska at Kearney does not prohibit consensual romantic or sexual relationships between faculty and student or supervisor and employee, it strongly discourages them. All faculty, supervisors and other employees should understand that there are substantial risks in even an apparently consensual relationship where a power differential exists. That is, one of the parties is likely to have influence over the other's assignments, grades, or terms of employment. The inherent power differential between the parties may compromise freedom of choice. Furthermore, perceptions of favoritism may cause third parties to believe they are being disadvantaged by a consensual romantic or sexual relationship between a faculty and student or supervisor and subordinate employee regarding assignments, grade, or terms of employment

    The University of Nebraska at Kearney reaffirms the generally accepted ethical principle that situations in which one makes official evaluations of individuals with whom they are intimate should be avoided. If a close relationship with emotional ties develops, the faculty member or supervisor bears a special burden of accountability.
  4. Recusal Responsibility
    To that end, UNK policy requires recusal (the relinquishment of the supervisory role) when supervisory or evaluative relationships exist between members of the university community who share sexual, romantic, or domestic relationships. This policy covers, but is not limited to, persons in the following professional relationships:

    • All faculty (regardless of tenure or contract status) and their students;
    • Supervisors and the employees they supervise; and
    • Student or employee and administrator, coach, advisor, counselor, or residential staff member who has supervisory responsibility for a student or employee.
    Should a personal relationship develop between members of the UNK community who are also in a supervisory or an evaluative relationship, the person in the position of greater authority shall recuse herself/himself; that is, shall relinquish (with or without explanation) the supervisory or evaluative role and make suitable arrangements for the objective performance or academic evaluation of the other. When recusal occurs, the person whose work is being supervised must be informed of the recusal in writing.
  5. Resolution of Conflict
    1. The responsibility for declaration of recusal lies with the person in the position of greater authority in the relationship. The declaration shall be made to that person's immediate administrative supervisor (department or program chair/director, dean, or vice chancellor). Resolution of the conflict will normally be accomplished at the first level of administration (department/program). If resolution is not accomplished at this level, resolution will be sought at each successive level of UNK administration up to and including the appropriate Vice Chancellor.
    2. Any person who is aggrieved by a consensual romantic or sexual relationship (and/or the negative conditions presented as a result of such a relationship) may seek resolution by presenting her/his concerns to the administrative supervisor (department or program chair/director, dean, or vice chancellor)) of the faculty or staff member who is subject to recusal. This is the first level of resolution.

      With recognition that reporting and/or complaint circumstances may be intimidating or harmful to the aggrieved party, the complainant is encouraged to seek assistance through the University of Nebraska at Kearney's Ombudsperson who will provide policy interpretation and guidance to the complainant. Depending on circumstances, the Ombudsperson may determine that it is in the complainant's best interests for the Ombudsperson to make initial efforts at conflict resolution with the appropriate administrative supervisor on behalf of the complainant.
    3. In the event that either one of the two following conditions does not remove the conflict associated with a consensual relationship, any person aggrieved by this lack of resolution may file charges of professional misconduct with the Professional Conduct Committee against a person who fails to recuse herself/himself or to establish an objective oversight process in accordance with these procedures. The conditions are:

      1. Recusal actions associated with a consensual relationship do not resolve the conflict; or
      2. Resolution of the conflict created by a consensual relationship is not accomplished by recusal or appeal to successive higher administrative offices.
  6. Conditional Oversight
    In the event of unique and unusual circumstances where as described would seriously and adversely disadvantage the academic or professional future of the person under supervision or evaluation, the supervisory or evaluative relationship may as a last resort be retained when specific provision is made with the next higher administrative officer (Department Chair or Director, Dean, Vice Chancellor) for objective oversight of the performance.