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Improper Relationships between Students and Employees

Introduction

On March 15, 1996, The University of North Carolina Board of Governors adopted a system-wide Policy that prohibits amorous or sexual relationships between faculty or staff employees and (1) students they evaluate or supervise by virtue of their teaching, research, administrative, or other employment responsibility and (2) students who are minors below the age of eighteen. The Policy also states that faculty or staff employees may not supervise or evaluate students to whom they are related by blood, law, or marriage.

Because the Board’s Policy stipulates that violations be addressed in accordance with measures prescribed by individual constituent institutions, the following guidelines were developed to insure that both employees and students understand the provisions of the Board of Governors’ Policy, particularly those pertaining to amorous relationships, as well as understand appropriate procedures for addressing concerns about violations of the Policy that may occur at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I. Prohibited Conduct

A. It is misconduct, subject to disciplinary action, for a University employee, incident to any instructional, research, administrative or other University employment responsibility or authority, to evaluate or supervise any enrolled student of the institution with whom he or she has an amorous relationship or to whom he or she is related by blood, law or marriage.

B. It is misconduct, subject to disciplinary action, for a University employee to engage in sexual activity with any enrolled student of the institution, other than his or her spouse, who is a minor below the age of 18 years.

II. Definition of Terms

A. “Employee” means any faculty or staff member who engages in instructional or evaluative activities of any student who is enrolled in a course being taught by that individual or whose academic or non-academic work, including work as a teaching or research assistant, is being supervised or evaluated by that individual. For the purposes of the Board of Governors’ Policy, graduate or undergraduate students are considered employees by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when they are performing official University supervisory or evaluative roles with respect to other students.

B. An “amorous relationship” exists when, without benefit of marriage, two persons as consenting partners (a) have a sexual union or (b) engage in romantic partnering or courtship that may or may not have been consummated sexually.

C. “Evaluate or supervise” means (a) to assess, determine, or influence one’s academic performance, progress, or potential or one’s entitlement to or eligibility for any institutionally conferred right, benefit, or opportunity, or (b) to oversee, manage, or direct one’s academic or other institutionally prescribed activities.

III. Process and Sanctions

Because of the sensitive nature of such relationships, every reasonable effort should be made to resolve alleged Policy violations on an informal basis if possible. Concerns about problems related to this Policy may be taken to the administrative official most directly involved, excluding the person alleged to have violated this Policy, or to one of the individuals listed below in Section VI.

Any remedial actions taken by the administrative official most directly concerned, excluding the person alleged to have violated this Policy, will depend on the totality of the circumstances.

Efforts should be made to be constructively educational for concerned parties and to be corrective rather than punitive if a Policy violation is found: an acknowledgment of the violation and a commitment not to violate the Policy in the future, along with a warning or other appropriate action directed toward the faculty or staff member, may be sufficient resolution. In cases where further action is deemed appropriate, sanctions may range from a letter of reprimand to dismissal, all in accordance with applicable University procedures.

IV. Appeals

If not satisfied with the administrative official’s decision, the faculty or staff member alleged to have violated the Policy may proceed, in accordance with established procedures at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to the grievance or hearings committees to which he or she otherwise has access.

V. Abuse of this Policy

Complaints found to have been intentionally dishonest or made in willful disregard of the truth may subject the complainant to disciplinary action, with possible sanctions ranging from a letter of reprimand to dismissal.

VI. Resources for Assistance and Information

Questions concerning the Board of Governors’ Policy and these Guidelines may be addressed to the Dean of Students Office (966-4042), the Vice Chancellor for Human Resources (962-1554), Employee & Management Relations in the Office of Human Resources (843-3444), Office of the University Counsel (962-1219), or the Equal Opportunity/ADA Officer (962-3576).

Individuals in these offices are prepared to help people understand what the Policy and Guidelines mean and what options for resolution are available if they believe they have experienced a problem related to the Policy in connection with their academic study or work at the University.

Copies of the Policy are available from Department Chairs and from the offices listed above.

VII. Rationale for Policies Prohibiting Amorous Relationships Between Faculty or Staff Employees and Students They Evaluate or Supervise

The University’s educational mission is promoted by professionalism in faculty or staff employee relationships with students they evaluate or supervise, and professionalism is fostered by an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Actions of employees that harm this atmosphere undermine professionalism and hinder fulfillment of the educational mission. Trust and respect are diminished when those in positions of authority abuse or appear to abuse their power.

Faculty or staff employees who supervise or evaluate students exercise power over them, whether in giving them praise and criticism, evaluating their work, making recommendations for their further studies or future employment, or conferring other benefits on them. Because it may easily involve or appear to involve a conflict of interest, an amorous or sexual relationship between a faculty or staff member and a student presents serious ethical concerns when the faculty or staff member has professional responsibility for the student.

Voluntary consent by the student in such a relationship is difficult to determine with certainty, given the fundamentally asymmetric nature of the relationship. Because of the complex and subtle effects of that power differential, relationships may well be less consensual than the individual whose position confers power believes, and the faculty or staff member bears a special burden of accountability in any such involvement.

Further, amorous relationships in which one person is in a position to review the work or influence the career of another may provide grounds for complaint by others outside of the relationship when that relationship appears to give undue access or advantage to the individual student involved in the relationship, or to restrict opportunities or create a hostile and unacceptable environment for those outside the relationship. Other students and faculty or staff may be affected by behavior that places the faculty or staff member in a position to favor or advance one student’s interests at the expense of others’ interests and implicitly makes or appears to make obtaining benefits contingent on amorous or sexual favors.

VIII. Amorous Relationships within the Instructional Context

In April 1995, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill adopted a policy stating that faculty or instructional staff should not initiate, pursue, or be involved in amorous relationships with any student whom they are in a position to evaluate or supervise by virtue of their teaching, research, or administrative responsibilities, and the University remains committed to a prohibition of any such conduct.

Friendships or mentoring relationships between faculty or staff employees and students are not proscribed, nor is it the intent of the University that such non-amorous relationships be discouraged or limited in any way.

IX. Amorous Relationships outside the Official Supervisory or Evaluative Context

Amorous relationships between faculty or staff employees and students occurring outside of an official supervisory or evaluative context may also lead to difficulties. Particularly when the individual and the student are in the same academic or non-academic unit, or in units that are allied, relationships that the involved parties view as consensual may be disruptive to unit activities and appear to others to be exploitative. Further, in these and other situations, the faculty or staff member may face serious conflicts of interest. In any such situation, therefore, faculty or staff employees should be most careful to remove themselves from involvement with any decisions that may reward or penalize the student.