UConn prohibits ‘inappropriate relationships’
Published: Thursday, August 8, 2013
Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08
The University of Connecticut is taking a tougher stance on discouraging romantic relationships between students and faculty.
The Board of Trustees approved a new Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Inappropriate Romantic Relationships during their meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 7. The document supersedes a previous policy that “strongly discouraged” staff relationships with students and now explicitly prohibits them.
University President Susan Herbst said in a statement Wednesday that the new policy “specifically prohibits romantic relationships between faculty or staff and undergraduate students; faculty or staff with graduate students over whom they have authority; graduate students with students over whom they have authority; and supervisors with subordinate employees.”
According to a frequently asked questions page released with the new policy, it does not affect relationships between faculty or staff working in unrelated departments or who work within the same department with equal rank.
“In the employment context, romantic relationships between supervisors and their subordinate employees often adversely affect decisions, distort judgment, and undermine workplace morale for all employees,” Herbst’s statement said. “[T]he new policy more forcefully reflects our institutional values.”
Elizabeth Conklin, the associate vice president for UConn’s Office of Diversity and Equity, said the issue has previously been addressed in the employee code of conduct as well as a prior harassment policy, but the document was updated in order to clarify and integrate the university’s position.
Conklin added that because the policy now explicitly prohibits the “inappropriate relationships,” it opens up pathways for sanctions.
“The potential violation would undergo an independent inquiry and sanctions may include anything from a discussion or verbal warning all the way up to termination depending on the facts,” Conklin said.
She clarified sanctions for inappropriate relationships would focus on the person in a position of authority.
However, Conklin said, “Our motive is not to expel or terminate, it’s to keep it from happening.”
The policy encourages employees to report any relationship with a subordinate employee to the Office of Diversity and Equity in order to “determine whether the conflict of interest can be eliminated.” Failure to self-report is considered a second violation of the policy.
The updated policy also requires deans, directors, department heads and supervisors at the university to report violations of the policy.
Conklin said a number of reports have already filed in since the Board of Trustees approved the policy yesterday.
Herbst’s statement said an update to the policy has been under consideration for about a year and is not in response to a particular incident, though Conklin said she has seen a handful of these cases since she began working at UConn three years ago.
According to Conklin, she conducted extensive research before changes to the policy were proposed.
“There is a wide range of approaches throughout the country, and we looked at numerous institutions and we saw everything from no policy to total bans on all employee relationships,” she said. “A lot of them ban relationships based on lines of authority.”
Conklin said UConn now lies at the stricter end of the spectrum, but more universities are following that trend. She said the UConn Health Center has banned such relationships for a number of years.