A. General Policy Statement
Universities are sites of free interaction and exchange. The purpose of these guidelines is to encourage this free interaction and exchange. Such freedom, however, is not the license to say or do whatever one wants with anyone one wants. On the contrary, freedom carries with it responsibilities: namely, the obligation to respect one another's freedom to interact with others and exchange ideas or opinions. In order that this kind of interaction and exchange can be truly free, it must be free from duress, harassment and conflict of interest. These guidelines are intended to alert members of the University community as to how best avoid situations in which their interactions or exchanges may threaten, challenge or undermine the freedom of others. So they are offered in a positive spirit: as facilitating, rather than foreclosing free interaction and exchange within and among all members of the University community.
B. The Relationships which These Guidelines are Intended to Cover
Relationships between University staff and students may develop in the course of free interaction and exchange. This is unproblematic, as the University is not concerned with the private, off-campus relationships among its members. Concern arises, however, when these private relationships between two parties have an effect upon their professional, on-campus relationships with one another. Concern is especially keen when these working relations are unequal ones: that is, where one partner in the relationship, by reason of seniority, rank or status, has authority over his or her partner.
These unequal relationships raise concerns because they are susceptible, by their very nature, to duress, harassment and conflict of interest. Therefore, they place an onus upon the person in authority engaged in the relationship to act appropriately, responsibly and with a high degree of circumspection: in short, to act professionally.
C. Who is a "Person in Authority"?
- Before we specify what is professional conduct, the question arises as to: Who is the person in authority? Quite simply, a person in authority is either one of the following persons:
- He or she may be a senior staff member who has supervisory or evaluative authority over other staff;
- He or she may be a staff member who teaches, supervises or evaluates students.
- The nature of authority in both cases lies in its evaluative or supervisory role, regardless of whether that role takes the form of grading, examining, promotion, assigning duties, funding, shortlisting for awards and scholarships, and any similar activities.
D. Where is Authority Exercised?
- A person in authority is in, and remains "in authority" when he or she exercises pedagogic, supervisory or evaluative responsibilities for either staff or students for whom he or she has such responsibilities either on or off campus in university-related or university-sponsored activities.
- These activities may include, but are not restricted to field trips, conferences, visitorships, secondments.
E. What is "Professional Conduct" by a Person in Authority?
- Professional conduct by a person in authority is the avoidance of amorous, or sexual relationships with either one of the two foregoing individuals:
- Students of all kinds for whom one has pedagogic, supervisory or evaluative responsibility.
- Staff of all kinds for whom one has supervisory or evaluative responsibility.
- Professional conduct by a person in authority includes, as well, the avoidance of verbal conduct suggestive of an amorous, or sexual relationship with regard to students or staff for whom one has a pedagogic, supervisory or evaluative responsibility.
- The onus for behaving professionally falls always on the person in authority regardless of circumstances.
F. When is "Professional Conduct" Compromised?
- Professional conduct is compromised when persons in authority engage in amorous or sexual relationships with either university staff or students for whom they have assumed pedagogic, supervisory or evaluative responsibility.
- As stated in clause A (General Policy Statement), the University has no desire to interfere with the private relations of its community members. Those private relations only become of concern to the University when they affect the working relations of the partners involved. The University is also concerned about these situations because they may give rise to accusations of sexual harassment which, in turn, may leave staff, students or, indeed, the University itself liable to either civil or criminal action. The risk of such legal sanctions is particularly high for persons in authority as the voluntary consent of their subordinate partner may be viewed in a suspect light.
G. How is "Professional Conduct" to be Maintained?
- Professional conduct is best maintained by refraining from amorous or sexual relations with university staff and students over whom one has pedagogic, supervisory or evaluative responsibility.
- In the event, however, that one is, or has been involved in an amorous or sexual relationship with a staff member or student over whom one has pedagogic, supervisory or evaluative responsibility, one should declare, immediately, one's conflict of interest to one's immediate superior.
- Having declared one's interest, one should absent oneself, where possible, from any pedagogic, supervisory or evaluative process pertaining to the present or former partner to the relationship in question.
H. Summary: Towards a Conflict-Free Workplace
These guidelines have been drafted with the intention of preventing rather than creating problems. They are concerned, first and foremost, with the workplace, and should not be read as interference in, or a violation of one's privacy. The private life of its staff or students is of no concern to the University, just as their working life, or course of study on campus is very much the University's concern. For the work environment at the University poses, by its very nature, special problems. Where people work closely together, and in a relaxed environment, as they do at the University, complications naturally arise. These guidelines are intended to help members of the University community sort out, or better yet avoid altogether these complications. In short, these guidelines provide a structure which is intended to maximise the freedom of all to participate in the University's marketplace of free exchange and interaction.