Statement from UH President David Lassner

Dear UH ʻOhana:

I am pleased to share with you an important new Executive Policy on Consensual Relationships. In addition to strengthening our policies and programs on Title IX and the Violence Against Women Act, it was also my priority to establish a policy prohibiting consensual, romantic relationships between faculty and students in their class, students and their advisors and other situations in which there is a clear power differential.

I convened a small group to review our current policies as well as the policies of other institutions around the country and asked the group to develop a draft proposal. As is our practice, we then consulted with students, faculty, staff and the unions that represent our employees. Their input was invaluable in refining and improving the policy.

This Policy on Consensual Relationships expands our former policies, which were deemed by many to be outdated and not contemporary relative to policies in effect at comparable institutions. The new policy takes a best-practice approach in recognizing and managing consensual relationships, while also balancing the privacy interests of individuals and supporting the values, mission and goals of our university.

In particular, this policy will help our campuses remain free from real or perceived conflicts when individuals in positions of unequal power are involved in consensual romantic, dating or sexual relationships. Power is unequal when one individual in a relationship has direct supervision, direction, instruction, oversight, evaluation, advisement or substantial influence over the employment or educational status of another.

The mere appearance of bias or impropriety resulting from a consensual romantic, dating or sexual relationship may seriously disrupt the environment for learning, teaching, scholarship and working. Equally important, such relationships have the potential to undermine our university’s sense of community, mutual trust and respect.

I am grateful to the members of the committee that developed this policy for all of their thoughtful work and effort on behalf of our students, faculty and staff, now and in the future.

David Lassner,
University of Hawaiʻi President

 

Questions and answers

How does this policy compare to other universities and our peer institutions?

The Policy on Consensual Relationships is consistent with current practices of many other institutions around the country. The UH policy drafting committee reviewed 18 peer and benchmark institutions for UH Mānoa. It was found that the prevailing practice among these institutions is to have policies or faculty codes of conduct addressing consensual relationships. Of the surveyed institutions, 11 prohibit consensual relationships between faculty members and students when there is a direct supervisory and/or evaluative responsibility; the other 7 warn against having consensual relationships where a power differential exists.

How is it different from our previous policy?

In 1991, the UH Sexual Harassment Policy was revised and a statement on consensual relationships was added that reflected the prevailing practice at the time. It warned faculty about how favoritism and abuse of trust and power could lead to sexual harassment. Campus and workplace expectations have since evolved to the point where the prevailing practice among peer institutions is to prohibit faculty and other similar employees (coaches, counselors, advisors) from initiating romantic or sexual relationships with students who are under their direct academic advisement, evaluation or instruction. The new policy also takes it a step further and prohibits supervisors from initiating relationships with subordinate employees who are direct reports.

What are the consequences if an employee violates the policy?

Enforcement of the policy is on a case-by-case basis and in accordance with collective bargaining. Efforts would be made to ensure that the student’s academic progress is not hindered in the process, that all parties (including third parties) are treated fairly and that conflicts of interest are appropriately managed.

How will UH inform and educate students, faculty and staff of the new policy?

The Policy on Consensual Relationships is straightforward with clear case examples. The policy is consistent with existing nepotism and conflict of interest policies. There have been internal discussions with stakeholder groups. The university has sent an email notice to the entire UH System and posted information on official websites and social media. The university will also incorporate the new policy in existing training opportunities, including: briefings for human resources and Title IX officers, sexual harassment prevention workshops, online training, new employee packets and orientations, new student orientation, teacher assistant trainings, coaches trainings, etc.