POLICY ON CONSENSUAL SEXUAL OR ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS

Revised July 8, 2017

1. INTRODUCTION

Georgetown University is committed to providing a safe, equitable, and hospitable academic and work environment for all members of our community.  Sexual or romantic relationships between members of the University community in unequal positions of power or authority can undermine this commitment and raise significant legal, administrative, and ethical risks.   

There are many ways problems can arise when members of the University community in unequal positions of power engage in a sexual or romantic relationship.  When one person has the ability to grade, advance, promote, recommend, or otherwise influence the employment or academic status of the other, there is the possibility that what appears to be a consensual relationship is not so.  Some recipients of sexual advances may fear that refusal will result in loss of an employment or academic benefit, and thus enter into such a relationship even though it is in fact unwelcome.  Such situations may constitute sexual harassment, which is illegal. 

The person in the position of greater authority who may desire a sexual or romantic relationship also has strong reasons to avoid it, since what seems initially to be consensual may turn out to be unwelcome or coercive from the perspective of the participant with less power.  The fact that a relationship was initially consensual or that the person with greater power genuinely thought it was consensual does not insulate that person from a sexual harassment grievance or lawsuit.

Even when such a relationship is genuinely consensual (and therefore does not constitute sexual harassment), the relationship can cause problems for both parties and harm the academic and work environment at the University. There is the appearance and often the reality of a conflict of interest on the part of both parties to the relationship, and the relationship could lead to damaging claims or concerns of favoritism or exploitation.

Accordingly, the University has established this Policy to protect the members of its community and the integrity of its academic and work environment from the conflicts of interest and disruptions that can arise from consensual sexual or romantic relationships involving members of the University community in unequal positions of power or authority.

2. DEFINITIONS

For the purposes of this Policy:

  1. Faculty means all faculty members, including but not limited to tenure-line, non-tenure-line, part-time and full-time faculty.
  2. Staff means all staff, Academic and Administrative Professional Employees (“AAP’s”), and Fellows.  Staff shall not include student-employees or others whose primary relationship with the University is that of a student.
  3. Direct Authority means direct academic, financial, evaluative, counseling, supervisory, or formal mentoring authority over any individual (and in addition, direct extracurricular or co-curricular authority over the individual, if the individual is a student).
3. STANDARDS AND PROCEDURES
  1. Relationships between Faculty and/or Staff

    No faculty or staff member shall enter into a sexual or romantic relationship with another faculty or staff member over whom he or she has Direct Authority.  Conversely, no faculty or staff member shall exercise Direct Authority over any other faculty or staff member with whom he or she has, or previously had, a sexual or romantic relationship. 

    If such a situation preexists or arises, it will not be considered a violation of this Policy if the party in the position of greater authority promptly recuses him or herself from any role with Direct Authority over the other party, and discloses the relationship to his or her Chair, Dean, other appropriate supervisor, or the Office of Institutional Diversity Equity and Affirmative Action.  If the supervisory individual or individuals to whom the disclosure is made determine that a simple recusal will eliminate the conflict of interest (e.g., recusing oneself from a single tenure committee decision), no further action is required.

    In all other cases, where simple recusal will not eliminate the conflict of interest (e.g., if one party would be supervising the other on an ongoing basis, or routinely making evaluative decisions affecting the other), the party in the position of greater authority must promptly follow the Disclosure and Conflict Management process set forth in Section 4 of this Policy, so that any potential conflicts and risks can be managed.

  2. Relationships between Faculty/Staff and Students

    No faculty or staff member shall enter into a sexual or romantic relationship with a student over whom that faculty or staff member has Direct Authority.  Conversely, no faculty or staff member shall exercise Direct Authority over a student with whom the faculty or staff member currently has, or previously had, a sexual or romantic relationship.  

    Additionally, no student serving in a teaching or evaluative role for a specific course (e.g., as a teaching assistant or teaching associate) shall enter into a sexual or romantic relationship with any student then-enrolled in that course.  Conversely, no student serving in a teaching or evaluative role for a specific course shall exercise academic authority over any student in that course with whom he or she currently has, or previously had, a sexual or romantic relationship.

    Further, no faculty member shall enter into or engage in a consensual sexual or romantic relationship with a student who is enrolled in any academic program (e.g., J.D. or M.D. program) or department in which the faculty member participates.

    If any of the above situations preexist or arise, the party in the position of greater authority must promptly recuse him or herself from any role with Direct Authority over the other party, and follow the Disclosure and Conflict Management process set forth in Section 4 of this Policy, so that any potential conflicts and risks can be managed. 

    Special Considerations regarding Faculty and Undergraduate Students:  The legal, administrative, and ethical concerns expressed in this Policy apply with particular force to sexual or romantic relationships between faculty and undergraduate students.  Because of the heightened risk of a real or perceived power imbalance between faculty and undergraduate students, no faculty member shall engage in a sexual or romantic relationship with any student currently enrolled as an undergraduate at Georgetown, regardless of whether the faculty member exercises academic or other authority over that student. 

    IDEAA, after consultation with the relevant Chair or Dean, may permit exceptions to this section of the Policy regarding undergraduate students in limited appropriate circumstances (e.g., a non-traditional undergraduate student who takes no classes in the same department as the faculty member).

4. DISCLOSURE AND CONFLICT MANAGEMENT

As set forth above, this Policy requires that in certain situations, relationships must be disclosed promptly so that any potential conflicts can be managed. [1]   Specifically, in these situations, the party in the position of greater authority must notify (a) the University’s Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (“IDEAA”), or (b) his or her Chair, Dean, or other appropriate supervisor, about the existence of the relationship. 

IDEAA, or the appropriate supervisor in consultation with IDEAA, will determine how to eliminate or minimize the conflict of interest and disruption of the academic or work environment.  Where appropriate, this may include development of a written conflict management plan, a copy of which shall be retained by IDEAA.  In the event that IDEAA or either party to the relationship disagrees with the proposed conflict management plan, the relevant Vice President (for Staff) or Executive Vice President (for faculty) may review, and shall have final authority to amend or approve, the plan.  Failure to promptly notify in accordance with this section will be considered a violation of the Policy.

5. COMPLAINT PROCEDURES AND CONSEQUENCES OF VIOLATIONS

Those who wish to file a complaint regarding a violation of this Policy may contact IDEAA, which will address such complaints under its Grievance Procedures.  Faculty or staff members who violate this Policy may be subject to discipline in accordance with the Faculty Handbook or Human Resources Policy Manual, as appropriate.  Students who violate this Policy while acting in a teaching or academic role may be subject to discipline in accordance with the relevant code of student conduct or other relevant policies. 

6. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Those individuals who carry out this Policy – including those to whom disclosures are made and those involved in developing and implementing conflict management plans – shall do so in a manner that respects the privacy of the parties involved to the greatest extent possible and shall share information only to the extent necessary to provide a safe, equitable, and hospitable academic and work environment for all members of the Georgetown community, and to comply with the law.

Individual University schools, divisions, and departments may establish their own, more restrictive policies (e.g., prohibit a broader range of relationships), but may not establish policies that contravene or conflict with this University-wide Policy.

Related policies include the University’s Financial Conflicts of Interest Policy, Policy on Sexual Misconduct, and the Faculty Handbook’s Policy on “Academic Authority, Supervisory Responsibility, and Impartiality: Personal Relationships in General” (Section III.C.11.E). 

ENDNOTES

  1. Note that prompt disclosure of a sexual or romantic relationship does not insulate the disclosing party from a claim, or finding, that the conduct nonetheless violated other University policies (e.g., a finding of sexual harassment or sexual assault under the University’s Policy Statement on Sexual Misconduct). (Return to text)