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Resources and Reports

CWUP 2-40-070 Conflict of Interest in Relationships

Central Washington University is committed to the integrity of professional relationships among employees and students. Professional integrity fosters an environment of respect, mutual trust, and inclusiveness in which the principles of fairness and objectivity are honored. The educational mission of the university is dependent on the establishment of close working relationships between employees and students. While these relationships are encouraged, even required, inherent power differential exists and potential conflicts of interest may result. Because of the potential for conflicts of interest, consensual relationships, with or without inherent power differential, may undermine the real or perceived integrity of any supervision and evaluation provided. Trust and respect are diminished when those in positions of authority abuse or appear to abuse their power or appear to favor a student or employee based on a personal relationship. Consensual relationships can undermine fulfillment of the university's educational mission.

(1) Definitions

Employee: An individual, including faculty, staff, administrators, and student employees, who is compensated for providing services to Central Washington University and whose duties are under the control of the university.

Student: An individual who is enrolled, or applying for admittance, in a course or program offered by the university for credit.

Conflict of interest (related to relationships): When a reasonable possibility exists that a consensual relationship between an employee and a student or another employee may give, or perceive to give, one of them an unfair advantage or disadvantage.

Consensual Relationship: Relationships that are familial, romantic, amorous, or sexual in nature, legal in the State of Washington, in which both parties are willing participants and in which no inherent power differential, perceived or real, exists.

Consensual Relationship with Inherent Power Differential: A familial, romantic, amorous, or sexual relationship between participants one of whom is a university employee with supervisory, teaching, evaluation or advisory authority and the other of whom is either an employee or a student who is in a real or perceived subordinated position to the employee.

Such relationships include, but are not limited to:

1. Close family relationships such as those between spouses or spousal equivalents, parents and children, siblings, in-laws, grandparents and grandchildren;

2. Relationships between persons whose economic interests are closely interrelated;

3. Professional relationships outside the classroom, e.g., consultant-client, therapist-client.

It is not possible to specify all those situations in which there may be a conflict of interest or appearance of fairness.

(2) Examples of Potential Conflicts of Interest

Faculty-student: Faculty members exercise power over students, including praise and criticism, evaluation, and recommendation for future education or employment. Romantic or sexual relationships between faculty members and students create conflicts of interest when the faculty member has any professional responsibility for the student. Consent by the student in such a relationship is regarded as questionable due to the fundamentally unequal nature of the relationship. Other students and faculty may be affected by such behavior because it places the faculty member in a position to favor or advance one student's interest at the expense of others.

Faculty-faculty: Faculty members may exercise power over their colleagues including praise and criticism, evaluation, and recommendation. Romantic or sexual relationships between faculty members may create inherent conflicts of interest when faculty members exercise any professional responsibility for their colleagues. Other faculty may be affected by such behavior because it places the faculty member in a position to favor or advance one colleague's interest at the expense of others.

Staff-student: Staff members and administrators may exercise power over students including praise and criticism, supervision, and recommendation for future education, employment, or other benefits. A conflict of interest may be present in a consensual relationship between a staff member or administrator. The consent of the relationship is questionable due to the power differential in the relationship. Other students may also be adversely affected by the relationship.

Employee-employee: A consensual relationship between any two employees creates a conflict of interest when one person in the relationship has responsibility for evaluation or recommendation or in conferring other university benefits. The consent of the relationship is questionable due to the power differential in the relationship. Other co-workers may be adversely affected by the relationship.

(3) Responsibility

When a potential conflict of interest exists, it is expected that the employee who is involved in a consensual relationship with a student or another employee with whom there is an inherent power differential will take personal responsibility for eliminating the conflict of interest. This can be done by discontinuing the relationship or eliminating the conflict by finding an alternative means for supervision, teaching, advising, or evaluation of the student, faculty or staff member.

See related procedures: CWUR 1-30-080 Conflict of Interest in Relationships.

[Exec Group: 4/15/91; Faculty Senate: 5/96; Pres Cab: 6/96; PAC: 9/99; Cabinet/UPAC: 11/02/2011; Responsibility: President’s Office; Authority: Cabinet/UPAC; Reviewed/Endorsed by: Cabinet/UPAC; Review/Effective Date: 06/06/2012; Approved by: James L. Gaudino, President]