Subject: Policies on Consenting Romantic or Sexual Relationships and Sexual Harassment
From: "Soren P. Sorensen" <sorensen@utk.edu>
Date: 8/17/2011 5:16 PM
To: UT Physics Faculty <physfacu@listserv.utk.edu>, UT Physics Research Staff <physrs@listserv.utk.edu>, Physics Staff <physstaf@listserv.utk.edu>, Physics Graduate Students <physgrad@listserv.utk.edu>, Physics Undergraduate Students <physugra@listserv.utk.edu>

To           All members of the UTK Department of Physics
From     Soren
Subject  Policies on Consenting Romantic or Sexual Relationships and Sexual Harassment

We have recently had some issues in our department with a consenting romantic relationship between a teacher (faculty, lecturer, or teaching assistant) and a student. I will not discuss the specific case, but it is a good opportunity to stress the importance of ALL people in our department being familiar with UT's policies on consenting romantic relationships and on sexual harassment, and following both the letter and the spirit of the policies.

Before quoting the full UT policy on relationships I can paraphrase it:

If you as part of your employment at UT has any kind of power over another person, you should NOT have any kind of romantic relationship with that person.

The power might consist of you being a supervisor, advisor, or teacher at any level. It therefore applies to administrators, supervisors, faculty, lecturers, teaching assistant etc.

Below you will find the official formulation of UT's policy on consenting romantic or sexual relationships followed by the policy on sexual harassment. The policy quoted specifically refers to faculty members, but as explained above it applies to all people with some kind of power over other people.

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POLICY ON CONSENTING ROMANTIC OR SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS

UT's educational mission requires an atmosphere of professional behavior based upon mutual trust and respect between faculty and students. Relationships between students and their teachers, advisors, and others holding positions of authority over them should be conducted in a manner that avoids potential conflicts of interest or exploitation. Given the inherent differences in power between faculty and students, all members of the university community should recognize the possibility of intentional or unintentional abuse of that power.

Commonly accepted standards of professional behavior and ethics require that faculty members not hold evaluative power over any student with whom they have a romantic or sexual relationship.

Faculty members who engage in these relationships leave themselves vulnerable to charges of sexual harassment or conflict of interests. Even when both parties initially have consented, such a relationship renders both the faculty member and the institution vulnerable to possible later allegations of sexual harassment in the light of the significant power differential that exists between faculty and students. Thus, faculty members should not initiate or accept such a relationship with a student over whom they have an evaluative role.

Should such a relationship develop between a faculty member and a student, the faculty member shall remove him/herself from the evaluation of the student's work.

Faculty members are therefore obliged to be aware of these problems and of their individual responsibility to protect themselves, their students, and the institution from harmful effects of such relationships.


SEXUAL HARASSMENT

The following information on sexual harassment is from the publication Sexual Harassment: A Guide for Faculty, Staff and Students distributed by the Office of Affirmative Action.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville is committed to providing an environment free from sexual harassment. Sexual harassment by any member of the University community is a violation of both the law and University policy and will not be tolerated. Both males and females can be victims of sexual harassment, and both males and females can be perpetrators of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is an issue which may affect any member of the University community and will be dealt with promptly by the University administration.

Definitions of Sexual Harassment

FOR EMPLOYEES, harassment on the basis of sex is a violation of Section 703 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines define sexual harassment as follows:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when 1. submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment; 2. submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or 3. such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

FOR STUDENTS, harassment on the basis of sex is a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when 1. submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term of condition of an individual's status in a course, program, or activity; 2. submission to such conduct is used as the basis for academic decisions affecting the individual, including, but not limited to, grades or academic progress; or 3. when the conduct has the purpose or effect of interfering with the individual's academic performance, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment.

The basic point to remember is that sexual harassment is unwanted, unsolicited, or undesired attention of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment is a breach of the trusting relationship that normally exists between the employer-employee and/or the professor-student. Boundaries between the professional role and the personal relationship blur because the harasser introduces the personal element into what should be a sex-neutral situation.

Sexual harassment can be exhibited verbally or physically. Examples of sexual harassment include: unwelcome sexual innuendos, suggestive or insulting sounds, whistling in a suggestive manner, or humor and jokes about sex or (wo)men in general, implied or overt threats, and unwelcome patting, pinching, or touching.



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Soren P. Sorensen   Department of Physics
Professor and Head  University of Tennessee
(865) 974-7805      Knoxville, TN 37996-1200