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How does Duke's student-faculty romantic relationship policy compare to those at peer universities?

Duke recently banned all undergraduate-faculty romantic relationships, but how do some of the University's peer institutions handle the issue? 

Duke’s old policy—created in March 2002—prohibited romantic and sexual relationships between faculty and students only if the faculty member was in a position of authority over the student. The old policy did not distinguish between undergraduate and graduate students.

Revised July 1, the new policy differentiates between undergraduates and graduates, and it clarifies rules for teaching assistants, tutors and graders. Duke’s policy acknowledges that student-teacher relationships are integral to the University but that faculty-student relationships can breed abuse of authority and conflicts of interest. 

Don Taylor, professor of public policy and Academic Council chair, wrote in an email that the Executive Committee of the Academic Council examined the policies of Stanford University, Northwestern University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology most closely when constructing Duke’s new policy. 

“There was a long process of consultation in finalizing the details of our policy—with the Provost, President, Office of the University Counsel, Office of Institutional Equity, the Dean’s Cabinet, and then with the full Academic Council to arrive at our final policy that took effect on July 1, 2018,” Taylor wrote. 

Under the new policy, consensual romantic or sexual relationships between faculty and enrolled undergraduates are strictly prohibited, regardless of whether the faculty has taught or supervised the student. 

“Faculty-undergraduate student romantic or sexual relationships are problematic under any circumstance,” the new policy states. “The inherent power differential between faculty and undergraduate students undermines the possibility of meaningful consent. Such relationships introduce dynamics that detract from the educational mission of the University.”

On the other hand, graduate students are permitted to have consensual romantic or sexual relationships with faculty if the faculty is not currently and will not have a role in “teaching, supervising, mentoring, or evaluating the student.” If the faculty member and graduate student are in the same school, they must report their relationship to the relevant Dean.

Additionally, teaching assistants, research assistants, tutors, graders and other students charged with academic instruction of other students are prohibited to have a relationship with the student receiving the instruction. 

Violation of the policy—including failure to report a relationship—may result in faculty sanctions, such as mandatory counseling, suspension or removal of title. 


Last updated in November 2017, Stanford's policy prohibits any faculty-undergraduate romantic or sexual relationship, and it prohibits any relationship where the faculty member has academic responsibility over the student. Teaching assistants and graders are also not allowed to have a sexual or romantic relationship with the students they oversee. 


In January 2014, Northwestern banned all faculty-undergraduate romantic or sexual relationships because “the difference in institutional power and the inherent risk of coercion are so great.” Additionally, relationships between graduate students and faculty are prohibited if the faculty member supervises the student. Similar to Duke, faculty-graduate relationships in the same department must be disclosed to authorities. There was no specific policy regarding teaching assistants and graders.


In January 2018, MIT announced a consensual relationship policy similar to Duke’s. The policy bans all faculty-undergraduate relationships and faculty-graduate relationships if the faculty member has academic authority over the graduate student. Due to conflicts of interest, teaching assistants and lab assistants are prohibited from having romantic or sexual relations with students over whom they have academic authority.

University of Pennsylvania

Similarly, he University of Pennsylvania’s policy recently prohibited all faculty-undergraduate relationships in March 2018. Although they strongly discourage all sexual relations between faculty and graduate students, it is not prohibited unless the faculty—or another graduate student—has “supervisory academic responsibility” over the graduate student. Undergraduate student assistants also cannot have relationships with the students they instruct.

Yale University

In 2010, Yale banned undergraduate-faculty relationships, resembling Duke’s new policy. Faculty also cannot have a consensual romantic or sexual relationship with students over whom they “have or might reasonably expect to have direct pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities.” The policy did not specify any rules for teaching assistants or tutors but added that these regulations extended to those "who advise, mentor, or evaluate students."

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's policy differs from Duke's because it prohibits amorous relationships between faculty and students only if the faculty evaluates or supervises the student. Therefore, faculty-undergraduate relationships are possible as long as the faculty does not oversee the student. There is no specific policy for teaching assistants. 

Columbia University

Columbia updated their consensual relationship policy in 2015 but does not prohibit all faculty-undergraduate relationships. The policy only prohibits relationships where the faculty—or undergraduate teaching assistant—has “academic or professional authority” over the student.


In February 2015, Harvard banned all faculty-undergraduate amorous relationships. Additionally, faculty and undergraduate course assistants are prohibited from having relations with students enrolled in their course or over whom they have academic supervision. 

Duke’s new consensual romantic or sexual relationship policy closely resembles those of its peer institutions, with the University of North Carolina and Columbia University as the only colleges that have not banned all faculty-undergraduate relationships. Northwestern and Yale do not specify policies for undergraduate teaching assistant relations with other undergraduates, but the other universities prohibit a relationship if the assistant is in a position of authority over the student. 

The universities require that faculty must report their relationship with a student in violation. If the policy is violated, this normally leads to disciplinary action.


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