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MSC05 3357
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131

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Phone: (505) 277-6531

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Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual - Policy 2215: Consensual Relationships and Conflicts of Interest

Date Originally Issued: 11-25-2014

Process Owners: Provost/Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Chancellor for Health Sciences, and Vice President for Human Resources

1.  General

The University normally has no interest in romantic or sexual consensual relationships involving members of the campus community.  However, when such relationships occur in educational or supervisory contexts, they can present serious ethical concerns and compromise the University’s academic and work environment, in part due to an inherent power differential between the parties.  The relationships can lead to charges of sexual harassment and exploitation, especially when the relationships end, or cause third parties to have concerns about undue advantage or restricted opportunities.  For these reasons, consensual relationships in which one party, the “superior,” has a formal instructional, supervisory, evaluative, or advisory role over the other party, the “subordinate,” must be disclosed in order to manage the actual or perceived conflicts of interest caused by the relationships and to mitigate adverse effects on third parties.

This policy applies to all faculty, staff, and students at the University and to others who participate in the University’s programs and activities, whether on- or off-campus and including abroad. 

2.  Definitions

 For the purposes of this policy:

  • A “consensual relationship” means a relationship in which a superior and a subordinate are engaged by apparent mutual consent in a romantic or sexual relationship.  “Apparent mutual consent” means that consent may be difficult to assess or construed as coercive due to the inherent power differential and other factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, citizenship status, English proficiency, or past relationships and victimization.  (Note that, under New Mexico law, it may be a criminal offense to have sexual relations with persons eighteen years of age or younger and with other persons who are incapable of providing consent.)
  •  A “superior” and “subordinate” mean the parties to a consensual relationship in which the superior exercises authority over the subordinate, such as teaching (including teaching assistants), supervising, evaluating, or advising. 

3.  Reporting Responsibility

A superior shall not exercise authority (such as by teaching, supervising, evaluating, or advising) over a subordinate with whom the superior is involved in a consensual relationship.  The superior must disclose the relationship to an immediate supervisor as soon as possible.  A superior should disclose a past consensual relationship with a subordinate to an immediate supervisor if the superior is currently exercising authority over that subordinate and believes a conflict exists. 

Superiors are expected to cooperate in actions taken to eliminate conflicts of interest and mitigate adverse effects on third parties.  When superiors fail to disclose current or ongoing consensual relationships, or fail to cooperate in efforts to manage the conflicts of interest caused by the relationships, they may be subject to disciplinary actions in accordance with the Faculty Handbook and other University policies.

4.  Other Reporting Options

Though the primary responsibility for reporting consensual relationships rests with the superior, a subordinate may report a consensual relationship to the superior’s immediate supervisor.

Consensual relationships may prompt third-party reports of the relationships, especially when third parties perceive that the relationships give undue access or advantage to the subordinate, restrict opportunities for others, or create a perception of these problems.  Third parties, who believe they have been disadvantaged, may make good-faith reports of conflicts of interest due to consensual relationships to the following:

  • the superior’s immediate supervisor
  • the applicable chair, dean, director, or vice president

5.  Immediate Supervisor Responsibility

An immediate supervisor who is notified, or becomes aware, of a consensual relationship, shall take immediate steps to manage the conflict of interest caused by the relationship.  In most instances that will be accomplished by providing an alternative means for the teaching, supervising, evaluating, or advising the subordinate.  For certain departments or specialized disciplines, the immediate supervisor may have to arrange for another department or unit to exercise authority over the subordinate.  Supervisors may seek guidance from the Office of Equal Opportunity, Human Resources Division, or Office of the Provost, and should document the steps taken to manage the conflict of interest.  (An example of a management plan is attached as Exhibit A.)

When a student is the subordinate in a consensual relationship, the immediate supervisor of the superior should endeavor to preserve the student’s immediate and long-term educational opportunities, ability to meet program requirements, and career progression.

6. Confidentiality, Non-Retaliation, and Resources

As part of managing or eliminating conflicts, it may be necessary for immediate supervisors to provide general information about the conflicts to other individuals.  Every reasonable effort, however, should be made to preserve confidentiality, to provide information on a need-to-know basis, and to protect the privacy of the parties.  This includes responses to third-party reports.

For staff, immediate supervisors should keep all documentation related to a consensual relationship secure and separate from the official files that are maintained on the parties to the relationship.  For faculty, immediate supervisors should maintain documentation related to consensual relationships in the applicable faculty personnel files, in accordance with Faculty Handbook Policy C70 (“Confidentiality of Faculty Records”).

Retaliation of any kind will not be tolerated and will be promptly investigated by the University, in accordance with UAP 2200 (“Reporting Suspected Misconduct and Whistleblower Protection from Retaliation”)

Counseling and other support services are available to the parties involved in consensual relationships, including from Student Health and Counseling; Counseling, Assistance, and Referral Services; Ombuds (Faculty or Staff); and the Office of Equal Opportunity.

7. Related Policies

Faculty Handbook Policy C30 (“Employment of Relatives”)

Faculty Handbook Policy C70 (“Confidentiality of Faculty Records”)

UAP 2200 (“Reporting Suspected Misconduct and Whistleblower Protection from Retaliation”)

UAP 3210 (“Recruitment and Hiring”)

UAP 2730 (“Sexual Harassment”)

 Exhibit A: Sample Management Plan (Word or PDF)