Consensual Relations Policy

At a Glance

There is created an actual or apparent conflict of interest as well as opportunity for exploitation, favoritism or bias when two employees or an employee and a student engage in a consensual sexual or a romantic relationship that coexists with supervisory or academic authority.

Policy Detail

The object of this Policy is to assure the University is kept free of bias or favoritism, or its perception.

All members of the Fairleigh Dickinson University community should be aware that when two employees or an employee and a student engage in a consensual sexual or a romantic relationship that coexists with supervisory or academic authority, there is created an actual or apparent conflict of interest as well as an opportunity for exploitation, favoritism or bias. In this manner, those relationships can undermine such important values as respect and trust among members of the University community and the integrity of the institution. Furthermore, the power potential inhering in the supervisory or evaluative role makes suspect the relationship’s voluntary nature.

Consensual sexual or romantic relationships that undermine the values described above are therefore inconsistent with University policy. When such a relationship develops between members of the University community that is accompanied by a supervisory or an evaluative role, the persons in the relationships (a) should themselves terminate the sexual/romantic or the supervisory/evaluative aspects of the relationship forthwith or (b) if they find that impossible, they must immediately notify a supervisor of the involved employee,[1] so that appropriate and effective steps can be taken to resolve the inconsistency with this policy.


The University recognizes that an institutional policy such as the foregoing could affect the personal lives of employees beyond the workplace or campus. There may be some aspects to the Policy that are not immediately apparent from the words above. Therefore, this explanation puts the Policy in context and defines some important terms. Employees and students should be guided by the explanation.

1. Between Employees and Students

A. Introduction

For the purposes of the Policy, “employee” means members of the teaching staff, full-time and part-time, and Professional Staff:[2] i.e., those persons in a position to control or confer on particular students an educational, economic or extra-curricular benefit or advantage. The term thus includes administrators, coaches, program directors, and advisors or counselors, like financial aid staff members or residential life staff members. “Students” includes all active part-time and full-time undergraduate and graduate students. The relationships that are the subject of the Policy include those of a sexual nature, but it also includes those in which romantic feelings may exist without physical intimacy that when acted upon are inconsistent with the professional boundary that should exist between Faculty or Professional Staff and Students. To amplify the last sentence of the Policy’s second paragraph, employees and students should be aware that relationships that began as “consensual” have often ended in allegations of sexual harassment that seriously implicate the employee with supervisory or evaluative responsibility and the University as the employer. The University’s further concern is parallel to professional codes of ethics that forbid romantic or sexual relationships with clients. These kinds of relationships serve to undermine the integrity of the University and the trust among members of the Faculty or Professional Staff and Students. The actual or apparent conflict of interest to which the Policy refers includes, for example, decisions on grades, discipline, the award of financial aid or an assistantship, career opportunities, letters of recommendation and playing time on the athletic field. In classroom settings or on the athletic field, evaluations are typically made in a comparative or competitive context. To allow a situation in which an employee might favor a student with whom he or she is involved in a consensual relationship creates an appearance destructive of the impartiality and objectivity upon which rests the educational experience and the university experience as a whole. The asymmetry of a sexual or romantic relationship between a Faculty member and a Student remains whether a Faculty member is or is not currently the Student’s instructor. The potential for a conflict of interest not only arises because the Faculty member may instruct and grade the Student in the future, but also because the Faculty member’s colleagues in the department may be aware of the relationship. Their awareness may lead other students to perceive that the student involved in the relationship is receiving favored treatment. Or, conversely, when a romantic or sexual relationship with a Faculty member ends, the Student may feel as though he or she will be retaliated against by the Faculty member’s colleagues. The parallel situation applies to members of the Professional Staff. As a general matter, the University does not condone and, in fact, strongly discourages consensual relations between a Faculty or a Professional Staff member and any Student.

B. Explanation of the Statement of Policy

The consensual relationships described herein that are a primary focus of the Policy are those with a student on whom the Faculty or Professional Staff member can confer a particular Title IX benefit[3] that is not generally available to others. The Policy of the University thus requires a Faculty or Professional Staff member to remove himself or herself from any supervisory, evaluative, advisory or other role involving the Student with whom he or she has had or currently has a consensual relationship. Because these steps may deprive the particular Student of educational, advising or career opportunities, both parties to the relationship should be mindful of the potential costs to the Student. In cases in which it proves necessary, the Chair/Director of the relevant Department, School or Program — in consultation with the Dean of Students and the Dean[4] of the Student’s College — will evaluate the Student’s situation and take measures to address a possible deprivation of educational services or career opportunities. Thus, it is the obligation of the Faculty member involved in the relationship to call to the Chair’s/Director’s attention a situation in which the Student may be deprived of educational services or career opportunities. Should a Faculty member have any questions about the application of the Policy, he or she should seek advice from the Dean of the College in which the Faculty member teaches; a Student should seek advice from the Dean of Students on the campus on which he or she attends classes. A written record of the resolution of a situation covered by this policy shall be maintained in the files of the Dean (with a copy having been sent to the campus Provost).

2. Between Supervisors and Employees

A. Introduction

Sexual or romantic relationships between supervisors and employees present a similar type of asymmetry that is present in the sexual or romantic relationships discussed above. These supervisor/employee relationships present the same type of conflicts and concerns to the University. For the purposes of the Policy, a supervisor is any person, part-time or full-time, in the position to hire, retain, make employment or compensation decisions, or control the work of the employee involved. An employee is any person, part-time or full-time, who is responsible to the supervisor directly or through the chain of command. The University’s concern is with those consensual relationships in which a supervisor is in the position to exercise the type of authority described above over an employee. Faculty members will be covered by this section of the Policy in those instances in which a consensual relationship develops between senior and junior Faculty members or with a staff member over whose work the Faculty member has sole or shared control. Department chairpersons or program directors should refer these situations to the College Dean for resolution.

B. Explanation of the Statement of Policy

A conflict of interest, or the appearance of a conflict of interest, will occur if favorable treatment (i.e., promotions, raises, work assignments) is given to an employee engaged in a consensual relationship with his or her supervisor. When such a relationship begins to develop, both employees are obliged to make appropriate disclosure immediately to the supervisor’s supervisor so that the appearance of a conflict of interest can be neutralized. In most cases and if feasible, the situation will require one of the employees in the relationship to be transferred to another position so as to eliminate the direct authority the supervisor exercises over the employee. In entering the relationship, both employees should be aware they are deemed to consent to the possible changes in job functions at the initiative of the University. A written record of the disposition of the situation covered by this policy shall be kept in the files of the Vice President in charge of the area or the Provost, as appropriate. It is possible that individuals in the University community began a consensual relationship before the promulgation of the Policy. The disclosure requirements set forth above apply to any relationship, even those that began before the promulgation of the Policy.

3. How the Policy will be Implemented

No policy can deal specifically with all the relationships that potentially can occur. Furthermore, the Policy does not impose upon the University the obligation to police the behavior of members of this community. The University trusts that all Faculty and Staff members recognize the implications of the asymmetries in power relationships and the departures from professional standards discussed above.[5]

[1] Or the most senior employee in the case of a relationship between two employees.

[2] Public Safety’s internal departmental policy prohibits fraternization between its personnel and students. “Professional Staff,” for these purposes, includes Support Staff who supervise students, for example, through the work-study program.

[3] Title IX refers to a piece of federal legislation that is generally applicable to the University, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The “benefits” directed to Students described in that Act (and implementing regulations) include academic, extracurricular, research, and occupational training programs or activities, or residential status, or financial aid eligibility.

[4] For Professional Staff members, the Vice President or other senior administrator in the area in which they work shall be considered the equivalent of the Dean for purposes of the Policy.

[5] Should disciplinary action be initiated under The Faculty Handbook or procedures applicable to other employees, a violation of the Policy may constitute adequate cause for seeking the full range of discipline.