Revised policy on consensual relationships between faculty and students

The Duke University faculty handbook policy on consensual romantic or sexual relationships between faculty and students was revised effective July 1, 2018. I sent the following email to all faculty at Duke on August 30, 2018; a similar email was sent on June 14, 2018. The Duke Chronicle had a piece comparing Duke’s new policy to those of other universities.


Dear Duke Faculty Colleagues:

The new policy on consensual relationships between faculty and students (Appendix Z in Duke’s Faculty Handbook) took effect on July 1, 2018.

I especially want to bring to your attention the following changes to the policy:

  • Sexual or romantic relationships between faculty and undergraduate students are now forbidden in all cases; this prohibition includes faculty who are in schools with no undergraduate students.
  • The rules for consensual, sexual or romantic relationships between faculty and graduate students were revised and clarified, and any such relationship between a faculty member and graduate student within the same school must be reported to the relevant Dean immediately. Sexual or romantic relationships between faculty and graduate students are forbidden if the faculty member has a position of power over the student (such as teaching them in a class, or sitting on their dissertation committee). Failure to report an otherwise acceptable sexual or romantic relationship with a graduate student in the faculty member’s same school is a violation of the policy.
  • Violation of this policy is considered misconduct, which is one of the ways stated in the Faculty Handbook that a tenured faculty member can be fired, or a termed appointment faculty member can be fired prior to the completion of their term.

I discussed this policy with the Deans at the August 27, 2018 Deans Cabinet meeting, and Deans will be planning school-specific adjudication procedures as allowed in the policy. Faculty should look for communication on this front from their Dean.

After broad and wide ranging consultation with the Provost, President, Counsel’s Office and the Deans, the Executive Committee of the Academic Council (ECAC) presented the policy proposal at the April 19 and May 10, 2018 meetings of the Academic Council. The Council enjoyed a robust discussion over the course of these two meetings and the revised policy that is attached was approved at the May 10 meeting — it was added to the Faculty Handbook and became effective on July 1, 2018.

Best wishes for a productive fall.


About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute), and Chair of the Academic Council at Duke University . I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy. My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

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