Guidelines on Consensual Amorous Relationships

Summary of university policy

William & Mary prohibits faculty from engaging in amorous – sexual or romantic – relationships with

  • undergraduate students
  • graduate students with whom they have “direct professional responsibility” and
  • employees (including faculty) working for them (subordinates). 

The university also prohibits administrators and other employees from engaging in sexual or romantic (amorous) relationships with employees they supervise.  

Why are these types of relationships prohibited?

There are inherent risks in any romantic or sexual relationship between individuals in unequal positions (such as faculty and undergraduate student).  These relationships have the potential to involve

  • Conflict of Interest
  • Exploitation
  • Favoritism
  • Bias

These relationships can erode trust and undermine integrity, a core William & Mary value.  The faculty member or supervisor may think the relationship is more consensual than it actually is.  Or people outside the relationship may think the relationship is less consensual than it actually is. 

These relationships can also impact the people involved or those around them in unanticipated ways.  In severe cases, they can create the impression that achievement is not earned on merit but rather is quid pro quo.  Even in less severe cases, these relationships can undermine the real or perceived integrity of the supervision or evaluation. 

What is “direct professional responsibility”?  It refers to many faculty roles, both within and outside the classroom, including (for example) teaching, grading, advising,coaching,evaluating research, service on evaluation committes (awards, prizes etc.), service on graduate or undergraduate thesis committees, or any form of supervision. 

Because of the many different ways a faculty member may be in a position of “professional responsibility” over a student, and because such a position may be compromised by even a past amorous relationship, some schools prohibit all amorous relationships between faculty and graduate students in their department.  William & Mary does not, but faculty are cautioned about the risks associated with such relationships.

Does this Policy apply to students?  The Policy applies to certain student employees, such as Teaching Assistants.  But the general purpose of the policy is to protect students (and the integrity of the institution).  This means, for example, that students are not subject to discipline for having a relationship with a faculty member. 

What about special cases, like non-traditional students or pre-existing relationships?  The Policy does allow for exemptions to be granted by the appropriate Dean in “exceptional circumstances.” Faculty members should avoid situations requiring them to supervise those with whom they currently have an amorous relationship.  Whenever such a situation arises or is foreseen, the faculty member must report the situation promptly and seek advice from the appropriate administrative officer (typically their Dean), who will take steps to insure unbiased supervision or evaluation of the person supervised.

What about staff (non-faculty employees).  Are they allowed to have sexual or romantic relationships with students?  Currently there is no institution-wide policy that prohibits such relationships, unless the student is also working for (supervised by) the employee.  Certain university units -- namely, Student Affairs and Athletics -- prohibit employees in those units from having sexual or romantic relationships with students.  

Where can I find the Policy?  The Policy is found in the Faculty Handbook, Section III(E) -- see the "related links" box on this site.

Updated August 2016