Faculty-student consensual sexual relationships and university policy

Date of Completion

January 1993


Women's Studies|Education, Higher




This study described attitudes of a random sample of male faculty members and female graduate students at a large, Eastern public university regarding faculty-student consensual sexual relationships and regarding different types of university consensual relationship policies.^ In response to a questionnaire designed for this study, a large majority of respondents agreed that, in faculty-student consensual sexual relationships when the faculty member teaches, advises or supervises the student, there are faculty ethical problems and detrimental consequences for the student, other students and professors, and the university's reputation. Male faculty members perceived ethical problems in faculty-student consensual sexual relationships more frequently than female graduate students did.^ Respondents rejected university policies prohibiting all faculty-student consensual sexual relationships which they perceived as violating individuals' rights to privacy. Although 55% of female graduate students and 42% of male professors also believed that the university would violate individuals' rights to privacy by prohibiting a professor-student consensual sexual relationship when the professor teaches, advises or supervises the student, almost 60% would accept such a policy. However, 87% of the respondents would accept a discouragement type of consensual relationship policy.^ The penalties that respondents most frequently recommended for a professor who engages in a sexual relationship with a student whom he teaches, advises or supervises were informal or formal reprimands.^ Although most respondents agreed that a student who consented to a sexual relationship with a professor cannot later legitimately claim that the professor sexually harassed her, they believed that a university should allow a finding of sexual harassment even if the student had once consented. While 57% of female graduate students would accept a policy which forbids a professor from using evidence of the student's consent as his defense against sexual harassment charges, only 31% of male faculty members would.^ Two recommendations for universities' policies are: (1) prohibition type of consensual relationship policies when the professor teaches, advises or supervises the student, and (2) policies which allow the professor to use the student's consent in his defense against a sexual harassment claim but which do not preclude a finding of sexual harassment against him. ^