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December 7, 1995

Draft policy on "Consensual Relationships Between Faculty Members and Students"

The University of Pittsburgh's education mission is promoted by professionalism in faculty-student relationships. Professionalism is fostered by an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Trust and respect are diminished when those in positions of authority abuse, or appear to abuse, their power. Those who abuse, or appear to abuse, their power in such a context compromise the integrity of the educational process.

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. Amorous relationships between faculty members and students are problematic when the faculty member has 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. Even voluntary consent by the student in such a relationship is suspect, given the fundamentally asymmetric nature of a relationship. In addition, this type of relationship could lead to a possible sexual harassment charge. 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. It is the responsibility of faculty members to avoid sexual relationships with, or making sexual overtures to, students over whom they are in a position of authority by virtue of their specific teaching, research or administrative assignments. Therefore, the University will view it as unethical if faculty members engage in amorous relations with students enrolled in their classes or subject to their supervision, even when both parties appear to have consented to the relationship.

Consensual relationships in the instructional context: The University requires a faculty member to remove himself or herself from any supervisory, evaluative, advisory or other pedagogical role involving a student with whom he or she has had or currently has an amorous relationship, consensual or otherwise. Thus, no faculty member may have an amorous 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 being supervised by the faculty member.

Consensual relationships outside the instructional context: Amorous relationships between faculty members and students occurring outside the instructional context may lead to difficulties. Particularly when the faculty member and student are in the same academic unit or in units that are academically allied, relationships that the parties view as consensual may appear to others to be exploitative or to give the student an unfair advantage. Further, in such situations (and others that cannot be anticipated), the faculty member may face serious conflicts of interest and thus must withdraw himself or herself from any decisions that may reward or penalize the student involved.

In both of the above contexts, the removal of traditional academic responsibilities from the faculty member may deprive the student of educational, advising, and career opportunities. The University does not condone, and in fact strongly discourages, consensual relationships between faculty members and students.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 28 Issue 8

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