Consensual-Relationships Policy


The Academic Council of the faculty has approved new guidelines for relationships between supervisors and employees and between faculty members and students. The Duke policy does not prohibit such consensual relationships and does not include punishment for engaging in them. Instead, it addresses the conflicts of interest created by such relationships and focuses on steps the supervisor or faculty member should take to eliminate the conflict of interest.

The policy is in two parts: The first addresses employee relationships and the other looks at faculty-student relationships. Most of the council's discussion focused on the academic side of the policy.

"No faculty member should enter into a consensual relationship with a student actually under the faculty member's authority," the policy states. A faculty member would be in a position of authority if he or she supervised a student's research, was responsible for the student's grades, or employed a student as an assistant.

If these situations arise, the policy lists several measures the faculty member can take to end the conflict of interest. The student could withdraw from the class or transfer to another section, or another faculty member or teaching assistant could take over the position of authority. This effort must be taken with the informed consent of the faculty member's superior--normally the department chair or dean.

While the policy doesn't prohibit faculty-student dating, it warns that such dating often causes problems. The policy compared faculty-student dating to relationships between counselors and clients and between doctors and patients, in which personal relationships can interfere with professional dealings. "There are certain situations in which consensual relationships are particularly inappropriate and inherently dangerous," the policy says. "Because of the trust integral to these relationships, the damage that can result is especially severe."

The policy was proposed by Sally Dickson, vice president in charge of the Office of Institutional Equity. Dickson says there was no particular incident prompting the proposal but that her office has received enough complaints to warrant putting a policy in writing.

In adding the consensual-relationships policy to the Faculty Handbook, Duke joins a growing number of colleges and universities that have written guidelines for consensual relationships, particularly those in which a faculty member is dating a student. While other policies include a list of punitive measures for inappropriate behavior, Duke's policy doesn't include possible punishments.

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