- These guidelines should be read in conjunction with the University’s guidelines on conflict of interest and any other related policies, guidelines, codes of practice and documents issued by the University from time to time.
General Policy Statement
- Universities are places of free interaction and exchange. The University encourages such free interaction and exchange. Such freedom, however, is not a licence to say or do whatever one wants with whomever 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 to how best to avoid situations in which their interactions or exchanges may threaten, challenge or undermine the freedom of others. 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.
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 whenever 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.
Who is a "Person in Authority"
- A person in authority is one of the following persons:
- A staff member who has supervisory or evaluative authority over other staff.
- A staff member who teaches, supervises or evaluates students.
- A staff member who has authority to allocate resources, which may potentially affect the work and studies of staff and students, respectively.
- The nature of authority in the above cases lies in its evaluative or supervisory role, or the capacity to exercise influence, regardless of whether that role takes the form of grading, examining, promotion, assigning duties, allocating resources, shortlisting for awards and scholarships, and any similar activities.
Where is Authority Exercised
- A person in authority is in, and remains “in authority” when he or she exercises pedagogic, supervisory, evaluative or resource allocation responsibilities for either students or staff 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, and day-to-day communications. The activities may be in physical or virtual (e.g. online/electronic, or social media) forms.
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, evaluative or resource allocation responsibility.
- Staff of all kinds for whom one has supervisory, evaluative or resource allocation responsibility.
- Professional conduct by a person in authority also includes 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, evaluative or resource allocation responsibility.
- The onus for behaving professionally falls always on the person in authority regardless of circumstances.
- Professional conduct should be maintained not only on campus but also in all places and on all occasions associated with one’s capacity at the University, including but not limited to business travel, conferences, social functions relating to University’s businesses or one’s profession or discipline, and day-to-day communications which may in whatever way be considered to be connected with the individual’s capacity at the University. A person in authority must remain professional and respectful in all forms of communications, including online and digital communications, at all times. Those who choose to communicate with students or staff using social media must remember that the speed and informality of typical social media conversations do not change the nature of teacher-student or professional relationships.
When is "Professional Conduct" Compromised
- Professional conduct is compromised when persons in authority engage in amorous or sexual relationships with either students or staff for whom they have assumed pedagogic, supervisory, evaluative or resource allocation responsibility.
- As stated in paragraph 3 above, the University has no desire to interfere with the private relations of its 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 various accusations, including sexual harassment, which, in turn, may leave staff or students liable to civil/criminal action, and may even make the University vicariously liable in some circumstances. 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.
How is "Professional Conduct" to be Maintained
- Professional conduct is best maintained by refraining from amorous or sexual relations with students and staff over whom one has pedagogic, supervisory, evaluative or resource allocation responsibility.
- In the event, however, that one is, or has been involved in an amorous or sexual relationship with a student or staff member over whom one has pedagogic, supervisory, evaluative or resource allocation 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, evaluative or resource allocation process pertaining to the present or former partner to the relationship in question.
Towards a Conflict-Free Environment
- These guidelines have been formulated with the intention of preventing rather than creating problems. They are concerned, first and foremost, with the workplace and other places and occasions associated with one’s capacity at the University, and should not be read as interference in, or 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 is very much the University’s concern. The University environment poses, by its very nature, special problems. Where people work or participate in activities closely together, and in a dynamic and interactive environment, as they do at the University, complications may 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 free exchange and interaction at the University.
March 2021 (revised)