Policy on Improper Relationships Between Students and Employees

I. Purpose

Amorous relations between students and employees of UNC Asheville with whom they also have an academic, mentoring, supervisory, or evaluative relationship are fraught with potential for exploitation. The respect and trust accorded to a university employee by a student, as well as the potential power exercised by the employee, make voluntary consent by the student suspect. Even when both parties initially have consented, the development of an amorous relationship renders both the university employee and the institution vulnerable to possible later allegations of sexual harassment in light of the significant power differential that exists between employees and students.

II. Scope

This Policy describes the expectations and responsibilities of UNC Asheville employees regarding amorous relationships with any UNC Asheville student. It applies to all full- and part-time faculty (including special faculty) and staff (“University employees”), except UNCA students who serve as student employees. This Policy also describes special considerations for faculty members, public safety employees, and athletics employees regarding amorous relationships with full-time or part-time students.

III. Definitions

  1. Amorous relationship: Any intimate, romantic, dating, or sexual relationship, conduct, or communication to which the parties have given valid consent. 
  2. Athletics Employee: Any University employee or volunteer serving in the Department of Athletics. Student-athletes who are assigned departmental work on a temporary and volunteer basis are not considered athletics employees for the purposes of this Policy.
  3. Different status: Any individual who has a position of greater authority, by virtue of their professional responsibilities over another individual, such as a subordinate, student, or student-athlete.
  4. Evaluative, administrative, or supervisory: Related to assessment, determination or influence over (1) one’s academic performance, progress or potential or (2) one’s entitlement to or eligibility for any institutionally conferred right, benefit or opportunity or (3) management, oversight or direction of one’s academic or other institutionally prescribed activities.
  5. Public Safety Employee: Any employee of the UNC Asheville Department of Public Safety.

IV. Policy

UNC Asheville is committed to maintaining an educational environment free from conflicts of interest, favoritism, and exploitation. To that end, all University employees are discouraged from engaging in amorous relationships with any student. University employees are prohibited from participating in an amorous relationship with a student whom they supervise or evaluate. Amorous relationships implicated by this Policy must be timely disclosed to the Title IX Office.

Special rules apply to faculty members, Tier I SAAO, Tier II SAAO, public safety employees, and athletics employees under this Policy. Except as expressly permitted herein, and regardless of the existence of an evaluative, administrative, or supervisory relationship, faculty members and public safety employees are prohibited from engaging in amorous relationships with currently enrolled undergraduate students, and athletics employees are prohibited from engaging in amorous relationships with currently enrolled student-athletes. Faculty members must also disclose to the Title IX Office any amorous relationship with a student enrolled as a graduate/professional student in any graduate or professional program with which the faculty is affiliated.

Pursuant to UNC System policy, it is also misconduct for any University employee to engage in sexual activity with any enrolled student, other than their spouse, who is below the age of 18 years.

A. All Amorous Relationships Between University Employees and Students Strongly Discouraged

In recognition of interests in privacy and free association, this Policy does not prohibit amorous relationships between students and University employees under all circumstances. These relationships are nonetheless strongly discouraged due to their potential for abuse of power, conflict of interest, impact on the quality of the student experience, and significant risk of subsequent claims of sexual harassment.

B. Prohibited Amorous Relationships Between University Employees and Students

University employees who engage in amorous relationships with students with whom they also have an administrative, evaluative, or supervisory relationship risk the potential for exploitation of those students. Further, an amorous relationship with a student over whom a University employee also has an administrative, evaluative, or supervisory relationship may give rise to a potential or actual conflict of interest. It is therefore misconduct for a University employee to engage in an amorous relationship with a student over whom the employee holds any instructional, research, administrative, evaluative, supervisory or other University employment responsibility or authority. Failure to disclose an existing amorous relationship prior to holding such authority will result in disciplinary action.

C. Special Considerations for Faculty Members, Public Safety Employees and Coaches

Even absent any evaluative, administrative, or supervisory authority, amorous relationships between faculty members and students, between public safety employees and students, or between athletic employees and student-athletes, may lead to unanticipated conflicts of interest, since the influence and power of faculty members, public safety employees, and athletics employees often extends beyond the classroom, department, or team.

Due to the heightened risk of a real or perceived power imbalance, faculty members and public safety employees are prohibited from engaging in amorous relationships with currently enrolled undergraduate students, regardless of the existence of an evaluative, administrative, or supervisory relationship. Likewise, athletics employee are prohibited from engaging in amorous relationships with currently enrolled student-athletes.

For similar reasons, faculty members must also disclose any amorous relationship with a graduate/professional student in the same department or affiliated with the same graduate or professional program, regardless of whether the faculty members have any evaluative, administrative or supervisory authority over the students.

D. Relationships Between Individuals of Different Status:

While not prohibited outright as an abuse of power, amorous relationships between individuals of different status that occur outside the direct instructional, supervisory, administrative, or evaluative context can also lead to difficulties. In an amorous relationship where no current professional responsibility exists, the individuals involved should be sensitive to the possibility that they may unexpectedly be placed in a position of responsibility for that individual’s instruction, supervision, or evaluation. This could involve being called upon to write a letter of recommendation or to serve on a promotion, disciplinary, or selection committee involving the individual.

E. Exemptions

Conflict management plans for pre-existing amorous relationships that are timely disclosed will be considered on a case-by-case basis. In consultation with the Title IX Office, a Senior Staff member may also approve exceptions to this Policy under limited appropriate circumstances (e.g., a non-traditional undergraduate student who takes no classes in the faculty member’s department).

Faculty members, public safety employees, and athletics employees must report a pre-existing amorous relationship implicated by Section IV.C of this Policy prior to the student’s enrollment. Amorous relationships implicated by Section IV.C of this Policy as of the date the Policy is adopted must be reported within 30 days of its initial approval and publication.

F. Reporting Requirements

Duty to Self-Disclose

The existence of an amorous relationship must be self-disclosed by University employees to the Title IX Office prior to the employee assuming any instructional, research, administrative, evaluative, supervisory or other University employment responsibility or authority regarding the student. Faculty members, public safety employees, and athletics employees must also self-disclose amorous relationships implicated by Section IV.C of this Policy to the Title IX Office. Any such report constitutes confidential personnel information.

Duty to Report Suspected Policy Violations

Any University employee who is aware of a possible violation of this Policy is required to report the matter to the Title IX Office. The identity of a reporting employee will be kept confidential and not disclosed except to the extent required to address a suspected policy violation. Any other person who is aware of a possible violation of this Policy may also report the matter to the Title IX Office.

V. Implementation Procedures

A. Actions Following Receipt of Report

The existence of or potential for a situation that implicates this Policy must be promptly reported by University employees to the Title IX Office. The Title IX Office will immediately inform the supervisor of a University employee who is possibly engaged in an amorous relationship that implicates this Policy and assist the supervisor in taking immediate and effective action to ensure that:

  1. the University employee does not hold any instructional, research, administrative, evaluative, supervisory or other University employment responsibility or authority regarding the student with whom there is an amorous relationship;
  2. there will be un-conflicted instruction, evaluation or supervision of the student without compromising the student’s progress toward the completion of their academic program; and
  3. if appropriate, a conflict management plan is implemented.

Supervisors (including Department Chairs) must keep their own supervisors (including Deans) fully informed with respect to actions taken in response to amorous relationships implicated by this Policy.

If a report reveals an amorous relationship that potentially violates this Policy, the Title IX Office will implement its standard review procedures.

B. Conflict Management Plan

If appropriate, following disclosure of an amorous relationship that creates or has the potential to create a potential or actual conflict of interest, the University employee’s supervisor will oversee the development and monitoring of a conflict management plan to avoid a violation of this Policy. Any proposed conflict management plan must be reported to the  the Title IX Office, which will consult with any relevant Deans or Vice Chancellors as needed, for review and approval prior to implementation. Conflict management plans should prioritize the student and avoid any unnecessary disruption to the student’s academic progress.

C. Violations of Policy/Safe Harbor

Violations of this Policy, including failure to adhere to an approved conflict management plan, will result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment. Sanctions will be imposed in accordance with the disciplinary procedure applicable to the University employee’s category of employment.

It is critical the University receives notification of amorous relationships implicated by this Policy to prevent conflicts of interest, favoritism, and exploitation. Accordingly, if a University employee engaged in an amorous relationship with a student implicated by this Policy immediately notifies the Title IX Office of the existence of the amorous relationship and cooperates to mitigate its effects, disciplinary action may be limited. Unreported amorous relationships implicated by this Policy will be considered more significant violations.

 

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