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XII. Policy on Consensual Relations Between Faculty and Students

1. Background

The College recognizes that adults, including young adults, may make choices regarding personal relationships. However, a romantic or sexual relationship between a faculty member and a student jeopardizes both the student's academic program and the learning environment for other students and raises serious concerns regarding unequal status and power, validity of consent, conflicts of interest, and preferential treatment. For these reasons, a faculty member’s professional responsibilities are incompatible with a sexual or romantic relationship with a student. Faculty members engaging in such relationships put themselves, students, the College, and its educational mission at risk. In addition to disciplinary action by the College, a faculty member who engages in a romantic or sexual relationship with a student risks loss of professional standing with colleagues and students, allegations and charges of sexual harassment, and legal liability.

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2. Policy

Members of the faculty are prohibited from pursuing or engaging in a romantic relationship or sexual relations with any current Vassar student. The prohibition is year-round and includes students participating in off campus or summer programs and students on leave.

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3. Exemptions

The Dean of the Faculty grants exemptions from this policy under reasonable circumstances. An automatic exemption to this policy applies when the spouse or domestic partner of a faculty member enrolls as a student. When an exemption is made, the Dean of the Faculty notifies the EOAA office and makes arrangements, if necessary, to minimize any potential conflicts of interest.

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4. Investigation

Potential violations of this policy are referred to the EOAA office, which investigates (using the process described for initial investigations in the policy against discrimination and harassment) and renders a determination to the Dean of the Faculty. The standard of proof is clear and convincing evidence of a violation. If necessary, the EOAA office recommends to the Dean of the Faculty alternative arrangements for supervision, evaluation, teaching, grading or advising.

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5. Disciplinary action

A faculty member found to have violated this policy is subject to disciplinary action, up to and including leave without pay or termination of employment. The Dean of the Faculty determines and assigns the appropriate disciplinary actions.

If the Dean of the Faculty recommends that the President consider the termination of a faculty member’s employment before the expiration of the faculty member’s contract or when the faculty member has indeterminate tenure, the Governance provisions and process for Dismissal for Cause (5.B.II.2.b & d) continue to apply and are followed.

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6. Appeal

Faculty members may appeal a determination that they violated this policy to the faculty Appeal Committee. The only grounds for appeal are:

  1. Procedural error(s) affected the outcome of the investigation (e.g., bias or prejudice or failure to consider all the evidence).
  2. New evidence unavailable at the time of the original investigation could have altered the outcome of the investigation (a summary of this new evidence and its potential impact must be presented to the Appeal Committee).
  3. The disciplinary actions taken are disproportionate to the severity of the violation.
  4. A reasonable exemption to the policy should have been granted.

After consideration, the Appeal Committee may:

  1. Determine that a procedural error that could have affected the outcome of the investigation occurred. In this case, the Appeal Committee normally returns the investigation to the original investigator; however, if it determines the original investigator cannot address the procedural error, the Appeal Committee requires a new investigation by a new investigator;
  2. Determine that the new evidence should be considered and return the investigation to the original investigator for reconsideration;
  3. Determine that the disciplinary actions imposed are disproportionate to the severity of the violation and ask the Dean of the Faculty to reconsider them;
  4. Determine that a reasonable exemption should have been granted to the faculty member and ask the Dean of the Faculty to grant the exemption.
  5. Deny the appeal.

In the case of (c) and (d), if the Appeal Committee believes the subsequent reconsideration by Dean of the Faculty has not adequately addressed its concerns, then the Appeal Committee may bring the matter to the President, whose decision is final.

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7. Harassment

This policy addresses consensual relationships only. Non-consensual relationships are covered under the Policy against Discrimination and Harassment. Nothing in this policy precludes the enforcement of the college’s Policy Against Discrimination or Harassment.
(Approved by the faculty March 11, 2015)

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