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UConn bans romantic student-faculty relationships

HARTFORD — The University of Connecticut, responding to questions about whether relationships are permitted between students and professors, answered Wednesday with a new policy that forbids faculty and staff from becoming romantically involved with undergraduates.

The board of trustees also barred a faculty or staff member from being involved with graduate students under that individual’s authority. Officials said romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinate employees often distort judgment and undermine workplace morale.

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University officials get occasional calls from students about a faculty or staff member who has shown interest in students and are ‘‘asking what the rules are,’’ said Elizabeth Conklin, associate vice president for diversity and equity.

‘‘It’s an abuse of authority, and that’s where we’re interested in assuring where the rules are,” she said. It’s a feeling of favoritism and bias and unfairness.’’

Students who are in relationships with faculty members or graduate students before enrolling at UConn must disclose their relationships to the university. If relationships in violation of the policy continue, the university could take authority away from the faculty or staff member involved.

A faculty member could face discipline ranging from a verbal warning to dismissal. A firing could result if a faculty member persistently makes advances, calls a student frequently, or touches a student, Conklin said.

‘‘That’s different from a faculty member who made a vague comment on having dinner with a student,’’ she said. ‘‘The intent of the policy is to prevent relationships happening in the first case.’’

Revised rules

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Conklin said UConn officials consulted policies at dozens of universities as it drafted the rules. The university found a range of rules, from ‘‘silence to full prohibition and lots in between,’’ she said.

Central Connecticut State University, for example, forbids consensual romantic or sexual relationships and dating between employees and students over whom the employee has direct or ‘‘otherwise significant’’ authority. The policy covers relationships between teachers and students, advisers and someone who is advised, and coaches and athletes.

Oregon State University forbids any employee from having academic responsibility, which includes instruction and evaluations, for any student with whom the employee has a consensual relationship. Employees are forbidden from conducting performance evaluations, making decisions on salary, promotion, and tenure for a person with whom he or she has a consensual relationship.

Coming up with a policy regulating relationships was not easy. UConn’s extensive use of the word romantic with a capital R in its new policy is a ‘‘term of art’’ intended to define a difficult and intensely personal situation.

‘‘It’s not romantic in terms of flowers and champagne,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s encounters.’’

She said amorous is probably the best word because it ‘‘captures everything.’’

‘‘But nobody knows what it means,’’ Conklin said.

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