UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
[FS 91/92 #26] Consenting romantic and/or sexual relationships between persons where a power differential exists (e.g., faculty and student, supervisor and employee, tenured and nontenured faculty) are strongly discouraged and should be avoided. Consensual relationships are of concern for two primary reasons: (1) conflict of interest and (2) abuse of power differential.
Conflicts of interest may arise in connection with consensual romantic and/or sexual relationships when there is an imbalance of power in the relationship (e.g., between faculty of different ranks, faculty or other instructional staff and students, between supervisor and employee). General ethical principles, reflected in the University's nepotism policy, preclude individuals from evaluating the work or academic performance of relatives, family members and/or spouses and from making hiring, salary or similar financial decisions concerning such persons. The same principles apply to consensual romantic and/or sexual relationships. Should such relationships develop, appropriate arrangements for objective decision-making (e.g., grades, promotion, salary determination, hiring) must be made.
Although conflict of interest issues can be resolved, in a consensual romantic and/or sexual relationship involving a power differential the potential for serious consequences remains. Although the policy does not expressly forbid romantic and/or sexual relationships between individuals when a power differential exists, it discourages such conduct. Individuals entering into such relationships must recognize that the reasons for entering such a relationship may be a function of the power differential.
A person entering a romantic and/or sexual relationship where a power differential exists (e.g., faculty and student, supervisor and employee, tenured and nontenured faculty) must realize that if a charge of sexual harassment is subsequently lodged, even in a seemingly consensual relationship, there are limited after-the-fact defenses against charges of sexual harassment. The individual with the power in the relationship will bear the burden of accountability. Liability protection under Wisconsin statute will probably not apply to protect the accused in subsequent litigation arising out of the relationship's effect on the student or employee. See Regents Policy 14-8.