Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Fear and loathing at the University of Iowa

I am going to present the University of Iowa student professor consensual dating policy.   And engage in a critique of said policy. University policies in the area of sexual regulation once established are very seldom critiqued.  I speculate that why such is the case is that people fear that if they criticize they will become suspect. Such is regrettable since universities are often held to be the environments where critical analysis of social policies should flourish.  In any case, I will present the policy and within the text of the policy I will present my comments. The text of the policy will be highlighted.


The integrity of the University’s educational mission is promoted by professionalism that derives from mutual trust and respect in faculty-student relationships. Similarly, the University is committed to the principle of protecting the integrity and objectivity of its staff members in the performance of their University duties. It is therefore fundamental to the University’s overall mission that the professional responsibilities of its faculty and staff be carried out in an atmosphere that is free of conflicts of interest that compromise these principles.

This opening statement is on the whole laudatory and vague.  Who could possibly be opposed to mutual trust and respect in faculty student relationships or for that matter any set of relationships?  I would trust that all of the present Democrats and Republicans campaigning for the presidential nomination in Iowa would absolutely agree.  I would also agree with the last part of the opening paragraph that faculty student and staff relationships “be carried out in an atmosphere that is free of conflicts of interest that compromise these principles.” Of course, such would apply to the entire university, even to the President and to the UIOWA’S Board of Trustees.  In any case this would be an OK introduction for an across the board conflict of interest policy.

Romantic and/or sexual relationships where one member of the University community has supervisory or other evaluative responsibility for the other create conflicts of interest and perceptions of undue advantage. 

OK, the prior paragraph was not an intro to a general conflict of interest policy.  If conflicts of interest are inevitably created in such relationships, why would not a conflict of interest policy be sufficient to deal with such conflicts?  And why is it assumed that such relationships inevitably create perceptions of undue advantage?  Are all relationships the same?  Once you see one relationship, you have seen them all!  Are not some relationships conducted in a more private manner than other relationships?  If they so desire, is it not quite possible that the parties of such relationships can simply closet themselves and avoid being perceived as being involved in a relationship?  Of course, passing has a long history in the sexual arena, homosexuals passing as straight, even engaging in heterosexual marriage in order to have the appropriate front for the dominant society.  However, there is another element here, and that is some professors who are not sexually engaged in a romance with a student but have close relationships with students may be perceived as being too close to any particular student, and along with this perception there may also be an imputation of sexual involvement.  In any case, I would hold that in almost all universities, including Iowa, that perceptions of undue advantage by some students regarding other students run rampant, and having this policy will not make one iota of difference as to perceptions of undue advantage.

There are also special risks in any sexual or romantic relationship between individuals in inherently unequal positions of power (such as teacher and student, supervisor and employee). Such relationships may undermine the real or perceived integrity of the supervision and evaluation provided, and the trust inherent particularly in the student-faculty relationship. They may, moreover, be less consensual than the individual whose position confers power believes. The relationship is likely to be perceived in different ways by each of the parties to it, especially in retrospect.

Yes, the relationship may be perceived in different ways by the parties of the relationships.  But so what. Is this not the case in almost all relationships?  Are husband and wives ever in complete agreement as to how the marital relationship is perceived?  In fact, I would argue that hardly ever do faculty completely agree with each other about anything.  Are faculty of one mind?  Are students of one mind? 

And, as far as the part about their being so-called special risks  faced by individuals in differential power positions, such risks are not all that special.  In all relationships romantic there are always risks that uniquely apply to each relationship. For example, the risk of venereal disease, the risk of experiencing hurt. etc. etc  How would it be possible for anyone to argue that there are no risks that particularly relate to love and marriage?  Of course the statement implies that power differentiated relationships (asymmetric relationships) are more risky than non-power differentiated relationships (symmetric relationships).  Of course stating such is the case does not make it so.  The Iowa policy does not present any evidence that asymmetric relationships are more risky than symmetric ones.  And what the policy fails to note is that one component of heterosexual attraction is a power component.  To a degree, part of the dynamic fueling these bans is an anti-heterosexuality perspective which comes to symbolize for academic feminists male power over women, and such symbolism becomes more potent for them when you have the older male prof and young female student.  This is the asymmetry that so offends so many academics.  Of course, the question is whether feeling of offense should be a basis for regulating sexual behavior.

Then the policy goes on to state such relationships “may undermine the real or perceived integrity of the supervision and evaluation provided, and the trust inherent particularly in the student-faculty relationship.”  On the other hand, such relationships may not undermine said integrity; it may simply have no effect in regards to trust.  And it could be that said relationships could even have a positive effect.  The burden is on the shoulders of the University to demonstrate empirically that such undermining is likely to occur.  What is of course ignored in the prior paragraph and ignored throughout the policy is that there can be positive effects for the student and professor couple.  One of the positive effects may be the love and caring.  To fail to recognize the importance of love between two persons is irresponsible.  To ignore the possible positive effects is absurd.  To ignore that such relationships can continue in love and merge into marriage and even parenthood should be beyond the pale of any educated and not so educated person.  And I would expect that persons who profess to be so knowledgeable about these relationships know that at times what binds these couples together is a love of knowledge which leads to a knowledge of love.  For example, can such advocates simply discard the relationship between Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger as being without value?

Moreover, such relationships may harm or injure others in the academic or work environment. Relationships in which one party is in a position to review the work or influence the career of the other may provide grounds for complaint when that relationship gives, or creates the appearance of, undue access or advantage to the person involved in the relationship, or when it restricts opportunities or creates a hostile environment for others.

Again as to harming or injuring others, such relationships may not harm others.  The writers of this policy simply cannot comprehend the possibility that there may not be any harm.  I suppose that the writers were lawyers who view the world in terms of harm and injury and lawsuits.  For them, love does not make the world go around, it makes them want to stop the world by offing love.

Such relationships also have the potential for other adverse consequences, including the filing of charges of sexual harassment and/or retaliation under the University’s Policy on Sexual Harassment (II-4) if, for example, one party to the relationship wishes to terminate the relationship to the other party’s objection. In those circumstances when sexual harassment is alleged as the result of a romantic and/or sexual relationship, the existence of the relationship is not a per se violation of the Policy on Sexual Harassment. However, the apparent consensual nature of the relationship is inherently suspect due to the fundamental asymmetry of power in the relationship and it thus may be difficult to establish consent as a defense to such a charge. Even when both parties consented at the outset to a romantic involvement, this past consent does not remove grounds for or preclude a charge or subsequent finding of sexual harassment based upon subsequent unwelcome conduct.

As noted and agreed upon such relationships can have adverse consequences.  However, the writers of this prohibition fail to note that such relationships may have positive consequences, not only on the parties to the relationships, but to parents, relatives, friends and fellow students who share in the joy of love.  The writers of these policies see no joy.  It may be that they project their joylessness, their feelings of being unloved and of hurt and of being victimized on to others, and end up attempting to do to innocent others what had been done unto to them before they lost their innocence.

This policy applies to consensual romantic and/or sexual relationships between individuals of the same sex or of the opposite sex.


For the foregoing reasons, all romantic and/or sexual relationships between faculty and students in the instructional context are prohibited at The University of Iowa. [Note: This policy applies only to relationships involving students. However, romantic and/or sexual relationships in other contexts — between faculty members, between faculty and staff, or between staff members, where one person supervises the other — also may be problematic, and are governed by III-8 Conflict of Interest in Employment.]

If these are all the foregoing justifying reasons, the university has not built a case.  And in building their non-case, they avoid dealing with tough issues such as freedom of association, the right to sexual privacy, etc., etc.  For them rights are irrelevant; they feel they can write whatever they want to do in their quest to right wrongs.  They follow in the “tradition” of Bush/Cheney in the righting of wrongs. 

No faculty member shall have a romantic and/or sexual relationship, consensual or otherwise, with a student who is enrolled in a course being taught by the faculty member or whose academic work is being supervised, directly or indirectly, by the faculty member.

For definitions of “faculty” and “instructional context,” please refer to II-5.5 below.


In light of the potential for apparent and actual conflicts of interest, the following relationships are strongly discouraged at The University of Iowa; where such relationships arise, however, they are required to be disclosed and managed as indicated below:

      (1) Outside of the instructional context, a faculty member (including graduate students with teaching responsibilities) who engages in a romantic or sexual relationship with a student must promptly disclose the existence of the relationship to his or her immediate supervisor if there exists a reasonable possibility that a conflict of interest may arise. When a conflict of interest exists or is likely to arise, such relationships appear to others to be exploitative of or create apparent advantage for the student, and may later develop into conflicts of interest prohibited by II-5.2 above in situations that cannot be anticipated fully.
      (2) A potential conflict of interest exists when the student is a graduate student in the same department or academic program as the faculty member, or is an undergraduate student and is majoring or minoring in the same department as the faculty member. A conflict of interest also may arise if the student is studying in a department separate from the faculty member. When a potential conflict of interest exists or is reasonably likely to arise, the faculty member must promptly disclose the relationship to his or her supervisor. (3) Once the relationship is disclosed, the immediate supervisor will evaluate the situation to determine whether an actual conflict of interest exists or is likely to arise and will develop a management plan to address the potential conflict of interest. The faculty member has the professional and ethical responsibility to remove himself or herself from any decisions that may reward or penalize the student involved and otherwise adhere to the management plan. Of course, this disclosure policy is a flagrant violation of the student’s right to privacy.  Such a disclosure policy to be an ethical one must adhere to what is apparently an alien notion to these policymakers that students have rights and that students have a right not to consent.  Said disclosure policy reveals these policies to be a sham, a sham in that they do not protect students, a sham in that institutional power is used to force professors to reveal their sexual and heretofore private lives to administrators.  b. Between staff members and students. Romantic and/or sexual relationships between staff members and students employed under their supervision are governed by the University of Iowa Policy on Conflict of Interest in Employment (III-8). It may sometimes be difficult to determine whether the staff-student relationship exists in an employment or in an instructional context. Where such an ambiguity exists, the context will be assumed to be instructional and the relationship subject to the prohibition set forth in II-5.2 above.
  • a. Between faculty and students.


      (1) Student B is in a class taught by Professor A. The Consensual Relationships Policy prohibits a romantic or sexual relationship between these two parties in the instructional context. When the class has concluded and Professor A has submitted the final grades, this policy may continue to prohibit Professor A from engaging in a romantic or sexual relationship with Student B, or may discourage such a relationship, depending upon the academic affiliation of Student B and the likelihood that a conflict of interest may arise. (2) Professor A and Student B, a graduate student in Professor A’s department, are involved in a romantic relationship. This policy prohibits Professor A from teaching and supervising Student B, and mandates disclosure and management of any potential conflict of interest. (3) The partner of Professor A enrolls in an academic program at the University offered by the same college in which Professor A’s department is located. If the partner enrolls in the same academic program or department as Professor A, this policy requires Professor A to disclose the relationship and that any potential conflict of interest be managed to ensure that Professor A does not teach or supervise the partner, or involve himself or herself in any decision that may reward or penalize the partner. If the partner’s academic program operates independently of Professor A’s department, Professor A would not be required to disclose the relationship unless the potential for a conflict of interest might arise. (4) Graduate Student C and Graduate Student D are married and enrolled in the same academic program. This policy prohibits D from enrolling in a class taught by C (as instructor, teaching assistant, or grader) and vice-versa. If C (or D) were to complete his or her graduate program and acquire the status of faculty member (such as adjunct professor, visiting professor, or assistant professor) in the same department, this policy would apply as in paragraph (2) above. Former Graduate Student C would be required to disclose the relationship to the DEO and remove himself or herself from any decisions that may reward or penalize Graduate Student D.
  • a. The following examples are provided for illustrative purposes only. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of situations in which this policy applies. b. These examples illustrate the application of this policy which applies only to relationships involving students. However, romantic and/or sexual relationships in other contexts may also be problematic, and are governed by III-8 Conflict of Interest in Employment.

    What these examples reveal is the totalizing nature of this policy.  The havoc that administrators can wreak under this policy is limitless.  And the havoc will occur in the context of these administrators who are now functioning as the sexual police will be put forth in secrecy under the mantel of privacy and confidentiality.  “I am sorry, but I cannot comment on this confidential personnel matter.”  And I am sorry for all those professors and students at the University of Iowa who just don’t get it, who just don’t get that these policies do not empower them but only empower administrators who are free to do whatever they essentially want to do as the sexual police of University of Iowa.  And I believe that one of the things they want to do is to simply cast off, dismiss any critique of their work, of their policies. One can test this notion if they dare.  At the next consensual relationship (sexual harassment) workshop you are forced to attend, raise the sort of criticisms raised here and see what happens. And feel free to report back to the dankprofessor.  And if you want to do this but are unable to do so, it is because you feel the fear, and your silence affirms the victory of the fear mongers…
    If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
    Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.
    Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
    © Copyright 2007

November 24, 2007 - Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, higher education, secrecy, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, University of Iowa


  1. One thing I noticed when reading this policy:
    who are graduate students supposed to date?

    Vis-a-vis students they are instructors, absolutely forbidden to date those with whom they are in a supervisory relationship, and “discouraged” to date all others.

    Vis-a-vis professors they are students, absolutely forbidden to date those with whom they are in a supervisory relationship, and “discouraged” to date all others.

    Assuming that no one is stupid enough to report to their DEO the existence of a “discouraged” relationship as required by the policy (as this could informally adversely affect their employment), whom can graduate students safely date? Not students, not professors, not other graduate students. I know that at least one University of Iowa department TOLERATES graduate student dating one another, but there are faculty members in the same department who believe that is a questionable interpretation of the policy.

    Comment by +Wulfila | November 24, 2007 | Reply

  2. […] that any person who takes the teaching learning enterprise seriously would be offended by the the University of Iowa’s presentation of its rationale of said policy.  I do not think it is an overstatement to characterize […]

    Pingback by Sexual policing and sexual abuse « Dankprofessor’s Weblog | November 28, 2007 | Reply

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