UConn adopts new policy banning ‘romantic’ relationships between faculty and students

Storrs — Even as the University of Connecticut gears up to investigate charges of sexual misconduct against one of its faculty, the Board of Trustees unanimously adopted a new policy Wednesday banning romantic relationships between teachers and undergraduates.

The policy, which university officials insist only strengthens long-existing efforts to discourage inappropriate relationships, also restricts certain connections between faculty and graduate students, and between supervisory staff and subordinates.

“We wanted to send a clear message that students are here to learn, people are here to work,” UConn Associate Vice President Elizabeth Conklin, who heads the university’s diversity office and who helped develop the new policy over the past year, said after the meeting.

The policy specifically prohibits romantic relationships between:

  • Faculty and undergraduate students;
  • Faculty and graduate students if a faculty member is an adviser, teacher, or otherwise holds some position of authority over the student in question;
  • UConn employees if one is a supervisor or holds a position of authority over another.

Conklin added that UConn has long had a policy that discourages these types of relationships, but that it became clear that a strong restriction was needed.

The new policy comes two months after university officials barred the former head of its music department, professor Robert Miller, from the campus amid charges of sexual misconduct.

Larry McHugh, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said Wednesday that the university also confiscated Miller’s computer equipment and placed him on administrative leave with pay.

According to Richard F. Orr, UConn’s general counsel and chief legal officer, four separate investigations into Miller’s conduct and the university’s response to it, are under way, or will be shortly.

UConn police and other law enforcement agencies are investigating the allegations of sexual misconduct.

The university’s anti-discrimination coordinator must conduct a review in compliance with federal rules set forth under Title IX of the U.S. Civil Rights Act.

Orr’s office is conducting its own review of any violations of UConn personnel rules.

And state Attorney General George Jepsen’s office and the university are cooperating in searching for outside legal counsel to conduct an independent investigation, both into Miller’s behavior as well as into how university staff responded to any allegations related to it.

According to Jepsen’s office, allegations of misconduct involving Miller and minor children were brought to UConn officials between 2006 and 2011.

Orr said he is “cautiously optimistic” that an independent counsel to conduct this final investigation could be selected by the end of August. The state has received 28 responses since it first sought legal assistance, he said.

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