Peer, rival universities discourage romantic relationships between faculty, students

Joshua Fechter

A brief survey of some peer institutions’ policies regarding consensual romantic relationships between university employees and students found that universities discourage student-employee relationships even if they do not prohibit them.

In January, Beverly Kearney, former women’s track and field head coach, resigned after the University told her they were prepared to fire her for having a relationship with a student-athlete in her program about 10 years ago. 

Last month, an open records request by The Daily Texan found that football co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite engaged in “inappropriate, consensual behavior” with an unnamed student in 2009.

According to the University Policy Office, UT “strongly discourages” consensual relationships between University employees and the students or student employees they supervise, which may create a conflict of interest.

“Such relationships also contain the potential for exploitation of the subordinate employee, student or student employee and the possible professional or academic disadvantage of third parties, and can subject both the University and individuals to the risk of liability,” the policy states.

Some peer institutions have instituted similar policies concerning consensual relationships between students and university employees. Each policy is concerned with preventing conflicts of interest brought about by relationships between employees in supervisory roles and students in subordinate positions, though most do not expressly prohibit them.

In 1995, the American Association of University Professors adopted a policy advising faculty to be aware of their professional responsibilities and take any measures necessary to avoid actual and perceived conflicts of interest. Similar to UT, it does not prohibit these relationships.

“When a sexual relationship exists, effective steps should be taken to ensure unbiased evaluation or supervision of the student,” the AAUP policy states.

In 2005, Texas A&M University clarified its policy regarding consensual relationships between employees and students to align it with the association. A&M’s policy condemns the practice of supervisors engaging in amorous relationships with those who they supervise.

Some policies are more strongly worded than others.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill prohibits consensual relationships between university employees and students who are enrolled in a course taught by those employees or who are in a position that requires employees to supervise them or evaluate their performance.

In contrast, the academic personnel manual at the University of California system, which includes UT peer institutions such as the UC-Berkeley and UC-Los Angeles, discourages consensual relationships between faculty and students but does not prohibit them. 

“Whenever a faculty member is responsible for academic supervision of a student, a personal relationship between them of a romantic or sexual nature, even if consensual, is inappropriate,” the policy states. “Any such relationship jeopardizes the integrity of the educational process.”

Published on February 27, 2013 as "Reviewing relationship policies".