Wednesday, April 13, 2016

ASU Staff and Personnel Policy #815

I just received this announcement, and am so happy to be a member of the Arizona State University community that developed it.

I only wish that it were more general. Instead of "student", why not make it a "person" over whom they exert control or influence, real or perceived. This would protect staff and trainees at all levels.

​ASU has a new policy, effective March 25, #815 in the Staff Personnel Manual, entitled Romantic or Sexual Relationships Between Employees/Volunteers and Students. The new policy is below and available at

Romantic or Sexual Relationships Between Employees/Volunteers and Students
Staff and volunteers (collectively "staff") are prohibited from engaging in a romantic or sexual relationship with a student over whom they exert control or influence, real or perceived. Such control or influence includes, but is not limited to, service as a formal or informal advisor to a student organization or club, university program or activity; exercising responsibility over a student's academic status, such as academic advising; financial aid or residency determinations; or exercising responsibility over a student's housing such as a community assistant or director would exercise.
A staff member who, prior to the effective date of this policy, exercises control or influence as described above over a student with whom the staff member has an existing romantic or sexual relationship shall disclose the existance of the relationship to the head of their department or college. The head of the department or college shall immediately take steps to ensure that moving forward the staff member has no control or influence over the student.
This policy is in addition to all other university policies addressing the relationship of employees, faculty, or volunteers with students. Employment relationships shall be governed by existing university policy. Violation of this policy may lead to counseling or disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.​ 


Anonymous said...

I understand the aim of that policy but I find it terrible. It means that it's impossible to ensure the respect of basic rules and freedom into the university without breaking privacy and forbidding love... That sounds like a failure.

mathbionerd said...

Love requires consent. Someone cannot consent to a relationship with a person who holds power over them, if failing to consent has repercussions for their study/career. If there is a budding relationship, accommodations can be made so that the two people are not in a power differential. That is not forbidding love; it is allowing honest and fully consensual relationships.

Mark P said...

Thanks for this. Having policies like these in place and then continuing to educate University community about them is a necessary first step to help prevent harassment or worse. They also reinforce something that was hard for me to fully appreciate when I started as as Assistant Professor--that, even when one takes "romantic" relationships out of the equation, the power differential between a professor and a student or postdoc is real and cannot be simply pretended not to exist. It shapes things in ways that are hard for the person in power to appreciate. I am still learning about this.

Regarding consensual relationships, there are grey areas, but in the student-faculty realm, I am convinced it would be a very bad idea to be in a relationship with a supervisor. Changing labs/committee members is always a possibility if things do develop in that way. We all know relationships can start organically between two people who spend time together, and thus a blanket prohibition in all staff cases would become problematic--we have many married couples working together, so one has to be rational about it. Even these do create lab dynamics that can be problematic, but so can any human relationship, with perceptions of favoritism, etc. However, I think a good policy can recognize these nuances.

phagenista said...

The phrasing of "budding relationship" leading to accommodations worries me in two ways. Firstly, we have several publicized examples lately about supervisors thinking they were in budding relationships that were really unwanted and unreciprocated by the less senior person (e.g., In the Ott situation, the student was moved to another lab because of this one-sided attraction, to the at least temporary detriment of the student.

Secondly, In an ideal world the senior person would be the one to suffer the consequences of any romantic attachment to a junior person, reciprocated or otherwise, but whether the junior person is moved by choice or not, it generally isn't the best thing for the junior person's career. If we're going to have a fresh crack at writing real-world policies for these things, can we write policies that ensure that the senior person would have to upend things in their life more to remove the power differential than the junior person, for whom it is usually 'easier' to move labs/depts to accommodate the relationship?

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your answer.

"Someone cannot consent to a relationship with a person who holds power over them, if failing to consent has repercussions for their study/career."

=> I agree with the entire sentence => I wouldn't agree with the first part of it, only : "Someone cannot consent to a relationship with a person who holds power over them". And the problem is that your policy seems to forbid any relationship even if the consent exists.

Anonymous said...


- Jj