Skip to content
Operations Manual The University of Iowa


(Written to conform to Regents Procedural Guide 3/74; amended 9/93; 10/95; 9/97)
(President 7/28/87; amended 7/1/02; 9/20/10; 1/14)

Note: This chapter is one of several that address conflicts of interest of various types at The University of Iowa. Others include: II-18 Conflicts of Commitment and Interest, which addresses time conflicts, role conflicts in the workplace, and financial conflicts of interest; and III-8 Conflict of Interest in Employment (Nepotism), which addresses role conflicts when there is a direct reporting line between two employees. See also II-18.7 Other University Policies Related to Conflict of Interest for a complete list of policies that address or are related to conflicts of interest.

5.1 Rationale
5.2 Definitions
5.3 Prohibited Relationships -- Policy Statement
5.4 Examples of Prohibited Relationships between Instructors and Students
5.5 Procedures
5,6 Confidentiality

The integrity of the University's educational mission is promoted by professionalism that derives from mutual trust and respect in instructor-student relationships. Similarly, the University is committed to the principle of protecting the integrity and objectivity of its staff members in the performance of their University duties. It is therefore fundamental to the University's overall mission that the professional responsibilities of its instructors be carried out in an atmosphere that is free of conflicts of interest that compromise these principles.

Romantic and/or sexual relationships where one member of the University community has supervisory or other evaluative responsibility for the other create conflicts of interest and perceptions of undue advantage. There are also special risks in any sexual or romantic relationship between individuals in inherently unequal positions of power (such as teacher and student, supervisor and employee). Such relationships may undermine the real or perceived integrity of the supervision and evaluation provided, and the trust inherent particularly in the instructor-student relationship. They may, moreover, be less consensual than the individual whose position confers power believes. The relationship is likely to be perceived in different ways by each of the parties to it, especially in retrospect.

Moreover, such relationships may harm or injure others in the academic or work environment. Relationships in which one party is in a position to review the work or influence the career of the other may provide grounds for complaint when that relationship gives, or creates the appearance of, undue access or advantage to the person involved in the relationship, or when it restricts opportunities or creates a hostile environment for others.

Such relationships also have the potential for other adverse consequences, including the filing of charges of sexual harassment and/or retaliation under II-4 Sexual Harassment if, for example, one party to the relationship wishes to terminate the relationship to the other party's objection. In those circumstances when sexual harassment is alleged as the result of a romantic and/or sexual relationship, the existence of the relationship is not a per se violation of the Policy on Sexual Harassment. However, 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 a charge. Even when both parties consented at the outset to a romantic involvement, this past consent does not remove grounds for or preclude a charge or subsequent finding of sexual harassment based upon subsequent unwelcome conduct.

Sexual or romantic relationships between a student and a faculty or staff member who functions in an instructional context with the student are prohibited by this policy. Other relationships, such as a relationship between a faculty member and a student in the same department or college but where no instructional context exists, while not prohibited, may present the appearance of a conflict of interest or may run the risk of developing into an actual conflict of interest which would place the relationship in the prohibited category.

This policy applies to consensual romantic and/or sexual relationships between individuals of the same sex or of the opposite sex. Regardless of who initiates the relationship, the instructor is responsible for complying with this policy.

For the purposes of this policy only, the terms set forth below are defined as follows:

For the foregoing reasons in II-5.1, any romantic and/or sexual relationship between an instructor and a student in an instructional context is prohibited at The University of Iowa. This means that an instructor who is currently instructing, evaluating, or supervising, directly or indirectly, a student's academic work or participation in a University program will not propose or enter into a romantic and/or sexual relationship with the student. Moreover, an instructor who has a pre-existing romantic and/or sexual relationship with a student is prohibited from instructing, evaluating, or supervising, directly or indirectly, his or her partner's academic work or participation in a University program. For definitions of "instructor," "student," and "instructional context," refer to II-5.2 above.

This policy applies only to relationships involving students. However, romantic and/or sexual relationships in other contexts -- between faculty members, between faculty and staff, or between staff members, where one person supervises the other -- also may be problematic, and are governed by III-8 Conflict of Interest in Employment (Nepotism). Complaints alleging sexual harassment directed at a student, faculty, or staff member are resolved under II-4 Sexual Harassment. Because the Policy on Sexual Harassment prohibits unwanted behavior of a sexual nature, the scope of the Policy on Sexual Harassment and the scope of this Policy on Consensual Relationships are mutually exclusive. In those cases where a complainant alleges both unwanted behavior of a sexual nature and consensual sexual relations within an instructional context, the two complaints are considered separate allegations and ordinarily are resolved consecutively rather than concurrently, starting with the sexual harassment complaint, which must be investigated under the procedures set forth in the Policy on Sexual Harassment before the consensual relationships complaint is considered.

The following examples are provided for illustrative purposes only. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of situations in which this policy applies.

These examples illustrate the application of this policy, which (as stated in II-5.3 above) applies only to relationships involving students. However, romantic and/or sexual relationships in other contexts may also be problematic and are governed by III-8 Conflict of Interest in Employment.



(See also II-4 Sexual Harassment.)

Go forward one step to II-6 Nondiscrimination Statement
Or return to the Operations Manual Table of Contents, Index, or Search

Page last updated October 2014 by Office of the Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations