Prohibitions Regarding Sexual, Romantic, Amorous, and/or Dating Relationships Between Teachers and Learners
- Standard Practice Guide 601.22 provides the full text of this policy.
- “Policy prohibits faculty, others from romantic relationships with learners”
The University Record, February 18, 2019
- Updated Policy Recommendations Regarding SPG 601.22 (Faculty-Student Relationships), December 10, 2018
Frequently Asked Questions
FAQs & Answers about SPG 601.22, Prohibitions Regarding Sexual, Romantic, Amorous, and/or Dating Relationships Between Teachers and Learners at the University of Michigan
May 23, 2019
SPG 601.22 is the authoritative policy statement, and these FAQs are intended to supplement the policy. In the event any information in these FAQs is inconsistent with information in the SPG, the SPG prevails. In addition, these FAQs will evolve. New FAQs may be added, and existing ones revised, as situations give rise to new opportunities for further clarification, information, and guidance. As such, please re-visit this page periodically.
- What are the most important things for me to know about this policy?
The University of Michigan strives to create and maintain a community that enables each person to reach their full potential. To do so requires an environment of trust, openness, civility, and respect. The University is firmly committed to a policy of prohibiting behaviors that adversely impact a person’s ability to fully participate in the scholarly, research, educational, patient care, and service missions of the University.The University is committed to putting students’ interests first in addressing the challenges and competing interests that arise when defining limitations on certain types of faculty-student relationships. These limitations address the inherent power imbalance between faculty and students.In all cases, a Covered Teacher (defined in question #2) is prohibited from having a Covered Relationship (defined in question #2) with any Learner (defined in question #2) in a class, lab, field, or other setting in which the Covered Teacher has Academic or Supervisory Authority (defined in question #2) over the Learner.If a Covered Teacher has such authority, and has in the past had a Covered Relationship with any Learner who subsequently is in the Covered Teacher’s class, lab or other such setting, the Covered Teacher must disclose the prior relationship immediately to the Dean or designee in the Dean’s Office, so that the situation may be promptly and properly managed (e.g., re-assigning grading responsibilities).
In addition, Faculty Members (defined in question #2) are subject to broader prohibitions than other Covered Teachers. Among other things, Faculty Members are prohibited from having Covered Relationships with undergraduate students.
- Does the SPG include specifically defined terms?
Yes, there are several terms that have specific definitions for purposes of SPG 601.22. These defined terms are identified by the use of italics:A “Covered Relationship” includes any relationship that may reasonably be described as sexual, romantic, amorous, and/or dating. Physical contact is not a required element of such relationships. A Covered Relationship may exist on the basis of a single interaction.“Learner” means all undergraduate, graduate, professional, non-degree, and visiting students, as well as Postdoctoral Research Fellows.“Postdoctoral Research Fellow” means any individual appointed or employed under SPG 201.19.
“Covered Teacher” includes any Faculty Member, Graduate Student Instructor, and Undergraduate Student Responsible for the Delivery of Course Content.
“Faculty Member” means all regular instructional faculty and all supplemental instructional faculty as defined by SPG 201.34-1. It also includes research track faculty as defined in Regents Bylaw 5.24.
“Graduate Student Instructor” or “GSI” means any graduate student appointed as a graduate student instructor as defined in the UM/Graduate Employees Organization collective bargaining agreement.
“Undergraduate Student Responsible for the Delivery of Course Content” means any undergraduate student who is assigned by an academic unit to provide course content including instruction, grading, formal mentoring, tutoring, or similar activities.
“Academic or Supervisory Authority” includes, but is not limited to, teaching, research, academic advising, coaching, service on evaluation or thesis committees, grading, evaluation, and/or recommending in an institutional capacity for employment, fellowships, and awards.
- What if a relationship occurs between a Faculty Member and a Learner where no supervisory relationship exists? Does the University have an interest in that situation?
Yes. The teacher-student relationship lies at the foundation of the educational process. As a matter of sound judgment and professional ethics, Faculty Members have a responsibility to avoid any apparent or actual conflict between their professional responsibilities and personal relationships with students.The University is committed to putting students’ interests first in addressing the challenges and competing interests that arise when defining limitations on certain types of faculty-student relationships. The limitations set forth in the policy are based on roles and responsibilities, group affiliations, and community norms, as well as the University’s diversity, scope, scale, and geographic and virtual reach.In support of this commitment, for example, Faculty Members are prohibited from having Covered Relationships with undergraduate students.
- Does the policy apply to trainees such as Postdoctoral Research Fellows?
The answer to this question depends on the person’s role in the situation. Supervised Postdoctoral Research Fellow: This policy recognizes the unique nature of Postdoctoral Research Fellows as both employees and trainees who are engaged in advanced study. Under this policy, a Faculty Member may not engage in a Covered Relationship with a Postdoctoral Research Fellow over whom the Faculty Member currently has, has had, or might reasonably be expected to have Academic or Supervisory Authority. Postdoctoral Research Fellow as supervisor: When a Postdoctoral Research Fellow is acting as a supervisor (e.g., supervising students in a lab setting), the Postdoctoral Research Fellow must comply with SPG 601.22-1, Employee-Student Relationships.In relationships involving trainees, the University’s nepotism policy may also apply. The nepotism policy applies whenever someone holds a University position that is under the supervision of a relative or a person with whom he or she has a close personal or external business relationship. In this situation, the University employees must disclose the relationship to their administrator, who must resolve the conflict with a written agreement. See SPG 201.23 Appointment of Relatives or Others with Close Personal or External Business Relationships (Nepotism).
- Does this policy apply to people who do not hold UM appointments but who interact with UM students?
The University engages people who are not University employees to assume educational responsibility for our Learners through internships, affiliation and cooperation agreements, and other arrangements. The University encourages units to incorporate the provisions of this SPG into formal agreements with these types of educators, their employers, etc.
- What about romantic and/or sexual relationships between UM staff and students?
Romantic and/or sexual relationships between UM staff and students have the potential to pose risks to the employee, the student, and third parties. As such, these relationships are regulated under SPG 601.22-1, Employee-Student Relationships. Under that policy, an employee is prohibited from making administrative decisions and engaging in administrative actions for a student with whom the employee is currently having a romantic and/or sexual relationship. An employee may be prohibited from making administrative decisions and engaging in administrative actions for a student with whom the employee has had, in the past, a romantic and/or sexual relationship. When both individuals are University employees, the University’s nepotism policy applies (i.e., SPG 201.23 Appointment of Relatives or Others with Close Personal or External Business Relationships (Nepotism). The nepotism policy requires that both employees disclose the relationship to their administrator, who must resolve the conflict with a written plan.
- Why can’t the Covered Teacher and the Learner choose how best to handle the impacts of their relationship in the university context?
When a Covered Teacher and a Learner enter into a Covered Relationship, the impacts of that relationship extend to multiple parties beyond those involved in the Covered Relationship, including other faculty members, other students, staff, etc. Therefore, it is not appropriate for the Faculty Member and the Learner alone to attempt to assess and address the potential implications of such a relationship on the larger academic community.
- Does this policy apply to a Covered Relationship between a Graduate Student Instructor and a Learner?
Yes. A GSI is prohibited from having a Covered Relationship with a Learner in the classes the GSI is teaching or grading, or over whom the GSI has Academic or Supervisory Authority. Immediately upon learning that a student with whom the GSI currently has or previously had a Covered Relationship is or will be in the GSI’s class or otherwise under the GSI’s Academic or Supervisory Authority, the GSI will disclose the situation to the Dean or designee in the Dean’s Office of the department in which the GSI is appointed. The Dean or designee in the Dean’s Office will establish appropriate supervision of the Learner.
- What if the relationship is over? Does the policy still apply?
Yes. If a Covered Teacher has in the past had a Covered Relationship with any Learner who subsequently is in the Covered Teacher’s class, lab, field, or other such setting, the Covered Teacher must disclose the prior relationship immediately to the Dean or designee in the Dean’s Office, so that the situation may be promptly and properly managed (e.g., re-assigning grading responsibilities).A Covered Teacher may have separate disclosure obligations for certain personal relationships under other University policies (see, e.g., SPG 201.65-1 – Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment).
- Who is responsible for disclosing a Covered Relationship?
The Covered Teacher is responsible for disclosing a Covered Relationship.
- To whom should disclosures be made?
Disclosures by a Covered Teacher are to be made to the appropriate Dean or designee in the Dean’s Office.
- When the Covered Teacher discloses a relationship to the Dean or designee in the Dean’s Office, who will find out about it?
Disclosures of Covered Relationships will be handled with discretion to the extent possible. The Dean or designee in the Dean’s Office will share information with those individuals who have a business need to know, and who are involved in developing and carrying out a management plan in those rare cases where an exception to the policy’s prohibitions is granted. The Dean or designee in the Dean’s Office will also consult with Academic Human Resources (and, on the Dearborn and Flint campuses, with the applicable Human Resources office) when considering a request for an exception and/or a management plan.
- For a Faculty Member with joint appointments, to whom should disclosures be made?
In the case of a Faculty Member with a joint appointment, disclosure should be made to the Dean or designee in the Dean’s Office that serves as the Faculty Member’s administrative home.
- As a Faculty Member, I’m not certain whether my relationship with a Learner (current or past) is one that is prohibited, or one that I am required to disclose. I’d like to get some general advice as a first step. Who can I contact?
The following individuals and offices are good resources for such questions. However, when a Faculty Member seeks general advice from any of these contacts or others, the Faculty Member has not satisfied the policy requirement that he or she not engage in the Covered Relationship, disclose the relationship, request an exception, etc.Faculty Members may wish to consult with any of the resources below:
On the Ann Arbor campus:
- The University Faculty Ombuds.
- The applicable school or college faculty ombuds.
On the Dearborn campus:
On the Flint campus:
- As a GSI or Undergraduate Student Responsible for the Delivery of Course Content, I’m not certain whether my relationship with a Learner (current or past) is one that I am required to disclose. I’d like to get some general advice as a first step. Who can I contact?
A GSI or Undergraduate Student Responsible for the Delivery of Course Content may consult with the University Student Ombuds (734-763-3545). Students who are enrolled in the Rackham Graduate School can also contact the Rackham Resolution Officer (734-936-1647). However, seeking such general advice from any of these contacts, or others, does not satisfy the policy requirement not to engage in the Covered Relationship, disclose the relationship, etc.
- What should I do if I believe a Covered Teacher is having a Covered Relationship with a Learner?
Any student, faculty member, staff member, or other affiliate (e.g., individuals in a position to observe or have knowledge of such a relationship) who believes a Covered Teacher is engaged in a prohibited Covered Relationship, or is otherwise in violation of this policy, is encouraged to report the concern to the Covered Teacher’s Dean and/or the Office of Academic Human Resources. On the Flint and Dearborn campuses, reports may also be made to the respective campus Human Resources Office (UM-Flint HR and UM-Dearborn HR). In addition, anonymous reporting can be made through the University’s Compliance Hotline (1-866-990-0111) and/or the Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX Office.
- Why are faculty-student relationships singled out for coverage in an independent policy rather than in a general conflict of interest/conflict of commitment policy?
We know from experience that issues arising from a Covered Relationship between a Covered Teacher and a Learner are complex. This complexity stems from the inherent power imbalance between a Covered Teacher and a Learner, the private nature of the relationship, and the implications for third parties. As such, it is appropriate for faculty/student and staff/student relationships to be treated under policies separate from the University’s COI/COC, anti-nepotism, and other related policies.
- If a Covered Teacher is alleged to have violated the policy, what steps will be taken and what types of sanctions can be issued?
If a Faculty Member is believed to have violated the policy, the Dean is responsible for investigating the allegation and, if the Dean determines that a violation has occurred, for taking appropriate action. The Dean can issue sanctions up to and including separation from the University. Prior to the imposition of any disciplinary sanction, the Faculty Member will be afforded appropriate due process. In applicable cases, this may include the initiation of procedures under Regents’ Bylaw 5.09, Procedures in Cases of Dismissal, Demotion, or Terminal Appointment. For research-track faculty, due process may include the process outlined in SPG 201.12, Discipline. For Lecturers covered by the UM-LEO collective bargaining agreement, due process may include initiation of proceedings under that Agreement.For GSIs covered by the UM-GEO collective bargaining agreement, due process may include the initiation of proceedings under that Agreement.
If an Undergraduate Student Responsible for the Delivery of Course Content is alleged to have violated the policy, the University will decide on the most appropriate venue to review the allegations and, if the Undergraduate Student Responsible for the Delivery of Course Content is found to have violated the policy, to set appropriate sanctions up to, and including, expulsion.
- If a Learner has a Covered Relationship with a Covered Teacher and then later files a claim of sexual harassment against the Covered Teacher, will the University defend and indemnify that Covered Teacher (i.e., provide the Covered Teacher with legal defense against the charges)?
It is the University’s policy to defend and indemnify faculty and staff who become parties to legal proceedings by virtue of their good faith efforts to perform their University employment responsibilities (see SPG 601.09 Defense and Indemnification). Whether a faculty or staff member has acted in good faith will depend on the facts of each particular case, and will be decided on a case-by-case basis.If a Covered Teacher has violated the faculty-student relationships policy by engaging in a prohibited relationship, or otherwise failing to comply with the policy, the University is unlikely to defend or indemnify the Covered Teacher and they will be responsible for the payment of their attorney fees and any judgment or settlement against them.
- How does this policy compare to those at other universities? Which others schools, if any, have a policy like this one?
Many of UM’s peers have adopted policies that echo the goals reflected in the SPG’s Policy Background section, and therefore prohibit romantic and/or sexual relationships between faculty members and students (see, e.g., Northwestern University, the University of Texas at Austin, Cornell University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
- Who can students, faculty members, and academic administrators contact when they have questions about this policy?
Any individual should initially contact their Dean’s office. The following offices also serve as resources for information about this policy:
- Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs (734-764-9290)
- Office of Academic Human Resources (763-8938)
- Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX Office (734-763-0235)
- On the Dearborn campus: Dearborn Human Resources (313-593-5190)
- On the Flint campus: Flint Human Resources (810-762-3150)
- Another helpful resource for students is the University Student Ombuds (734-763-3545).
- With respect to Covered Teachers and visiting or non-degree students, how do the prohibitions apply?
The prohibitions described above apply in accordance with a non-degree or visiting student’s status as undergraduate, graduate, or professional student. For example, relationships with non-degree undergraduate students would fall under the undergraduate student provisions in the policy.
- How does the policy apply to a Faculty Member with a dry or courtesy appointment?
A Faculty Member with a dry or courtesy appointment falls within the scope of this SPG (601.22).
- What happens if I am in a Covered Relationship, but I was not aware that my partner in that relationship is a Learner until after the Covered Relationship began?
Lack of knowledge may be a mitigating factor, but it does not excuse a violation of the policy.Prompt self-disclosure may mitigate potential violations of this policy. Covered Relationships that are not self-disclosed will be considered more severe violations of this policy.
- Are Graduate Student Staff Assistants (“GSSAs”) and Graduate Student Research Assistants (“GSRAs”) covered by this policy vis-a-vis Learners?
No. GSSAs and GSRAs are not included under the definition of Covered Teachers. As such, their interactions with Learners could be covered by other policies (see, e.g., the UM-GEO collective bargaining agreement [for GSSAs], the Staff-Student Relationship policy [SPG 601.22-1], and the anti-nepotism policy [SPG 201.23]).
- The policy states that it “does not preempt existing codes of student conduct.” To what codes of conduct is this language referring?
At a high level, the University has set out the “Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities.” In addition, many schools and colleges have developed their own student codes of conduct.
- The policy prohibits “Covered Relationships between a Faculty Member and a graduate or professional student who is in the same discipline or academic program in which the Faculty Member is appointed or teaches, regardless of Academic or Supervisory Authority.” Who decides the scope of a particular graduate student’s “discipline” for purpose of the policy?
In the event of an alleged violation under this section of the policy, the Dean or designee in the Dean’s Office, working with the Office of Academic Human Resources, would make a determination on this issue. In general, “discipline” means a field of study that is reasonably related to the graduate student’s graduate degree program.
- Who decides the scope of a particular graduate student’s “academic program” for purpose of the policy?
In the event of an alleged violation under this section of the policy, the Dean, or designee in the Dean’s Office, working with the Office of Academic Human Resources, would make a determination on this issue. In general, a graduate student’s “academic program” is readily and objectively discernible as the program into which the graduate student has been admitted. See, for example, the Rackham “Programs of Study” page.
- When does a relationship become sexual, romantic, amorous, and/or dating?
Faculty engage in close professional working relationships with students, in the classroom and beyond, and the policy is not designed to curtail professional interactions. The line between close professional working relationships and relationships that are reasonably understood as Covered Relationships is defined by a reasonable person standard. We expect people to exercise their judgment: would a reasonable individual who heard about this relationship consider it to be sexual, romantic, amorous and/or dating? If there is a question about it, then the recommendation is to err on the side of avoiding the relationship or, if it exists, disclosing promptly. For example, this policy is not intended to prohibit a faculty member and graduate student from commonplace and appropriate professional interactions (e.g., having a cup of coffee with a student to discuss a course topic).
- Does the SPG extend to electronic (e.g., online) relationships?
Yes, online relationships are covered. Physical contact is not a required element of a Covered Relationship.
- I am a Faculty Member and I believe my Dean may have a conflict of interest such that he/she cannot objectively assess my request for an exception. What can I do?
In such a case, you should feel free to reach out to Academic Human Resources and present your concerns. Academic HR will work through the issues on a case-by-case basis, and consult with others as appropriate (e.g., the appropriate provost).
- Are individuals in academic administrator roles like Chair, Dean, Institute Director, etc. considered faculty for purposes of this policy?
Yes. Academic administrators with faculty appointments are considered Covered Teachers for purposes of this policy, even when acting in their administrator roles.
- I have a management plan in my personnel file for a Covered Relationship that is now over. Will the management plan be removed from my file?
No. The management plan is part of the personnel record and will remain with the home administrative unit. However, you may include a note with the management plan in the personnel record indicating that the Covered Relationship has ended.
- I am primarily a non-instructional staff member, but on occasion I teach courses (e.g., under a Lecturer appointment). My effort in the instructional title never exceeds 50% (i.e., I maintain at least 50% on my staff appointment). Does this policy apply to me, or am I covered under the Staff-Student Relationship policy (SPG 601.22-1), when I am teaching?
During the instructional appointment period (e.g., a Lecturer appointment covering the period September 1 through December 31) you are covered by SPG 601.22, regardless of the percentage of effort on the faculty appointment.
- Are House Officers covered by SPG 601.22?
No. House Officers are persons with professional doctorates whose training will involve patient care responsibilities, in a manner consistent with provisions of the contract between the University and the House Officers Association (HOA). House Officers are covered by the collective bargaining agreement between the University of Michigan and the House Officers Association. House Officers are outside the scope of SPG 601.22. More information about House Officers and HOA.