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III-1: Policy on Consensual and Familial Relations
Policy Number: III-1
Last Reviewed: February 18, 2013
Responsible Dept.: Human Resources
Policy Document (PDF)
Virginia Western Community College acknowledges its responsibility to provide clear direction to the College community about the professional risks associated with consensual amorous and/or sexual relationships and in familial relationships in which a definite power differential between the parties exists. In as much as VWCC is committed to fostering the development of learning and work environments characterized by professional and ethical behavior, consenting amorous and/or sexual relationships between faculty members and students are discouraged. Familial relationships, where a faculty member or supervisor will have a power differential over a member of one's immediate or extended family, are generally prohibited in instruction, advising, counseling, or supervising work activities. VCCS Policy 3.3.3, Conflicts of Interests addresses nepotism in the employment environment. The intent of VCCS Policy 3.3.3 shall be applied to matters of consensual and familial relations in the academic and student affairs programs and is hereby set forth in this policy. Further, the college shall rely upon the requirements of the most recent American Counseling Association code of ethics and operating guidelines for any Licensed Professional Counselors employed by the college as counselors, advisors or instructors.
VWCC recognizes that it cannot regulate personal decisions regarding all consensual relationships, but the College views them as reason for concern for the following three reasons:
- Power Differentials: Individuals entering into consensual amorous and/or sexual or familial relationships involving a power differential must recognize that (i) the reasons for entering such a relationship may be a function of the power differential; (ii) where power differentials exist, even in seemingly consensual relationships, consent shall not be considered a defense if a complaint of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, retaliation, conflict of interests or ethical issues is brought; and (iii) the individual in the relationship with greater power will bear the burden of accountability.
- Conflicts of Interest: Conflicts of interest may arise in connection with consensual amorous sexual and/or sexual or familial relationships between faculty or other instructional staff and students, or between supervisors and subordinates. VCCS and VWCC policies, VWCC Core Values, and more general ethical principles preclude individuals from evaluating the work or academic performance of those with whom they have intimate and/or familial relationships, or from malting hiring, salary, or similar decisions that have a financial impact on such persons.
- Familial Relationships: Any instructor, counselor, advisor, supervisor or other individual who may hold a power differential over a member of his or her immediate or extended family. Immediate family member includes, spouse (including a divorced or separated spouse), parent or step-parent, parent-in-law, siblings (by blood relationship or step-siblings), children (natural born or step-children), adopted children, foster children, or any other person for whom the employee holds as a dependent, held previously as a dependent, and/or any individual who resides in the employee's household. Extended family includes aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, step-grandparents, relatives related by marriage or previous marriage, or any close and personal friends with whom the relationship is such that a credible conflict of interest claim could be filed.
The College's educational mission is promoted by professionalism in faculty-student relationships. Faculty-student amorous and/or sexual relationships and/or familial relationships, even mutually consenting ones, are a basic violation of professional ethics when the faculty member has any professional responsibility for the student's academic performance or professional future. Common sense, reason and good judgment must be present and be the guide for faculty members in any consensual amorous and/or sexual relationships and/or familial relationships. Absent those factors, the potential for problems arising from the relationship rises significantly.
Faculty members' unbiased evaluation of students is an integral part of the College's mission. An amorous relationship and/or any familial relationship between a faculty member and a student, even if consensual, creates the potential for favoritism (or appearance thereof), thereby undermining the actual or perceived fairness of the evaluative process.
Accordingly, Virginia Western Community College prohibits consensual amorous and/or sexual relationships and familial relationships between faculty members and students for whom the faculty member has direct professional responsibility. For purposes of this policy, "faculty" shall include all full- or part-time college personnel who teach and administrators/professionals with faculty rank or who are appointed pursuant of policies of the VCCS Policy Manual. The term "direct professional responsibility" refers to many faculty roles, both within and outside of the classroom, including, but not limited to: teaching, academic advising, counseling, coaching (athletics, drama, etc.), service on evaluation committees (awards, prizes, scholarships, etc.), club or organization sponsorship, etc. In effect, "direct professional responsibility for students" includes the supervision of all college-sponsored academic, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.
Amorous and/or Sexual Relationships
Amorous and/or sexual relationships where one holds a distinct power differential over someone else may create conflicts of interest and perceptions of undue advantage. There are special risks in any amorous or romantic relationship between individuals in inherently unequal positions of power (instructor to student or supervisor to employee). Such relationships may undermine the trust inherent in the faculty-student relationship and also have the potential for other adverse consequences, including the filing of charges or complaints of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, sexual assault and/or retaliation, favoritism, unequal treatment, preferential treatment, or where dual relationships may exist. This most often may occur when one party to the relationship wishes to terminate the relationship to the other party's objections. In these situations, the apparent consensual nature of the relationship is inherently suspect due to the fundamental asymmetry of power in the relationship and it thus may be difficult to establish consent as a defense to such charges. Even when both parties consented at the outset to an amorous involvement, this past consent does not remove grounds for or preclude a charge or subsequent finding of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct or sexual assault based upon subsequent unwelcome conduct. Even when the faculty member has no current direct professional responsibility for a student, consensual amorous and/or sexual relationships may limit the educational opportunities or options for the student's future academic, co-curricular, and extra-curricular activities.
Familial relationships where one holds a distinct power differential over a member of the immediate or extended family may create conflicts of interest and perceptions of undue advantage. There are special risks in any familial relationship between individuals in inherently unequal positions of power (instructor to student, advisor to advisee, counselor to client or supervisor to employee). Such relationships may undermine the trust inherent in the faculty-student relationship/supervisor-employee relationship and also have the potential for other adverse consequences, including the filing of charges or complaints of third-party retaliation, favoritism, unequal treatment, preferential treatment, or where dual relationships exist.
EXCEPTION: The President is authorized to grant an exception to the familial relationships provisions of this policy only on the following bases:
- The class taught by the faculty member is the only option/alternative available to the family member. If other options/alternatives exist, the family member will not be enrolled in the faculty member's class(es).
- The faculty member declares up-front that a potential conflict of interests exists and defers the evaluation of the family member's academic work to the Program Head or Dean. In this situation, the faculty member will deliver the instruction and the Program Head or Dean shall determine the academic progress of the family member so as to not compromise the direct professional responsibility of the faculty member over the class.
- The President, upon request of the respective Dean and Vice-President, may grant an exception to this policy if it is determined that no other alternatives exist for the family member to enroll in the course and it is determined that the specific course is required and necessary for the family member's completion of the program of study.
- The affected faculty member shall declare the potential conflict of interest to the respective Dean and Vice President in advance.
- The respective Program Head or Dean shall be held responsible for the ongoing and final evaluation of the family member's work in the class.
- If an exception is granted by the President, it shall be in writing and will become part of the student's and faculty member's records with the college.
The College's policy derives from the following principles that, in part, define the ethical and professional relationships of faculty members to their students.
- Faculty members must support the unfettered pursuit of learning in their students.
- Faculty members must adhere to their proper professional roles as instructors, advisors and counselors.
- Faculty members must ensure that their evaluations of students fairly reflect each student's true meritorious performance in their academic and other college related work.
- Faculty members must be aware that even when they have no direct professional responsibility for students, consensual amorous and/or sexual relationships may still be asymmetrical and/or disruptive to the community,
Members of the college community who believe that violations of this policy have occurred may initiate a complaint with the appropriate Dean, Vice-President, or the President. A complaint alleging that a Dean, Vice-President or other academic or student services administrator or professional has violated this policy may be filed with the President. Complaints may also be filed with the College's Title IX Coordinator or the Human Resources Director. Complaints must be filed no more than two years after an alleged violation.
Sanctions and Procedures
Violations of this policy will be considered misconduct on the part of a faculty member and will be subject to the Faculty Sanctions Policy #3.12, VCCS Policy Manual, including dismissal of the faculty member. Treatment of the allegations and imposition of sanctions will be governed by procedures specified in the Sexual Misconduct Policy #3.14.4, VCCS Policy Manual and in accord with the DHRM Policy 1.60, Standards of Conduct. The VCCS Code of Ethics and any supplemental policies, programs and procedures shall be applied in assessing allegations. Violations of the familial relations directives shall be governed by this policy and such other college and VCCS policies applicable to the given situation.
Nothing contained in this policy shall be deemed as supplanting or otherwise affecting the VCCS and VWCC Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Assault Policies, VCCS Policy Manual 3.14.1, 3.14.4 and 3.14.5, Department of Human Resources Management Policies 2.05, Equal Employment Opportunity and 1.60, Standards of Conduct, or any other policies of a similar nature as may be promulgated by the State Board for Community Colleges, Virginia Western Community College, or agencies of the Commonwealth of Virginia.