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Conduct and Compliance Procedure – Staff / Student Relationships
Conduct and Compliance
At a university, professional relationships between staff and students which facilitate learning, research and the exchange of ideas should be facilitated and encouraged. The purpose of this procedure is to explain the expectations of staff members with respect to their dealings with students, including relationships with students. The nature of the student / teacher relationship or student / supervisor relationship imposes particular responsibilities and duties on the staff member. Because of the staff and student roles, a staff member has power over a student even if students are of a similar age to the staff member. Staff must ensure that they exercise this power in a respectful and fair manner, and that they avoid sexual harassment, bullying, favouritism and exploitation.
The University is a community of adults, in which close personal relationships between adults may take place legally, subject to some conditions. This procedure will help to ensure that the expectations of staff are clear and, to ensure that if a close personal relationship does exist or develop between a staff member and student, that relationship will be managed in an appropriate manner.
The principles in the Monash University Ethics Statement support the obligation on staff to conduct themselves professionally and appropriately in their dealings with students. It states that mutual respect and the responsible exercise of power are fundamental to the way we treat each other. It states that we respect the inherent dignity of all individuals, and we promote the empowerment of individuals through learning.
This procedure applies to all University staff.
Close personal relationship: A relationship between a staff member and a prospective or current student of Monash University who is also a relative, a financially dependent person, a close friend, a de facto partner or any person with whom there is currently, or has been, an intimate relationship, and where there is actual, potential, direct or indirect teaching, research or other professional contact of any sort between the staff member and the student. This does not include a working relationship which exists due to ordinary collegiate academic collaboration where the colleagues are not relatives, financially dependent, or de facto or intimate partners.
Conflict of interest: The term ‘conflict of interest’ refers to a situation where a conflict arises for an individual between two competing interests. These are often, but not exclusively, interests of public duty versus private interests. This refers to a reasonably perceived, potential or actual conflict of interest. Conflicts of interest can involve financial or non-financial interests of the staff member and the interests of a business partner or associate, family member, friend or person in a close personal relationship with the staff member.
Dean or Divisional Director: The Dean, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Divisional Director or Director of Administration or, where applicable, a person acting as his or her nominee.
Head of Department or Director: The Academic Head of Unit (department or school) or Director (head of administrative unit) or, where applicable, a person acting as his or her nominee.
Inappropriate close personal relationship: A close personal relationship between a staff member and a student which involves:
Financial interest: Any employment, business activity or other right, claim, title or legal share in something that has a monetary or equivalent value. Examples of financial interest include, but are not limited to, shares, share options, dividends, and the right to receive remuneration or other benefits such as salaries, director’s fees, consulting fees, allowances and discounts.
Professional and appropriate: For the purpose of this procedure, ‘professional and appropriate’ conduct: is consistent with the Monash University Ethics Statement, all policies and procedures and University Statutes; is of a professional nature; is appropriate to the student/teacher and student/supervisor relationship; is consistent with the duty of care that staff owe students; and demonstrates care, diligence, integrity and respect for students.
Staff: All University staff including adjunct and conjoint appointments.
Student: The term ‘student’ includes all undergraduate and post graduate students, full time and part time students, students studying on or off campus or online, whether they are currently enrolled in subjects or deferred from their studies. It does not include graduates of Monash University or persons who are not currently admitted as students.
University: The term ‘University’ includes Monash-controlled entities.
1. Obligations on staff
Academic staff members are trusted to teach, guide and supervise students in their studies, and owe a duty of care to students. Professional staff interact and engage with students at the University for other purposes. Most staff members are in a position of power relative to students and must be mindful of this in their interactions with students.
Some staff members have a primary responsibility for the pastoral care of students, including staff working in University-owned or managed accommodation, in student counselling and in other student services. The University acknowledges that staff members who have a primary responsibility for the pastoral care of students are expected to comply with this procedure within the operating context of their Position Descriptions.
All staff members are required to conduct themselves in a professional and appropriate manner in all interactions with students.
2. Friendships and relationships
Academic staff are encouraged to develop positive and professional working relationships with students to support students’ educational outcomes and to achieve constructive interactions between students and the University. Most University students are adult learners. The University appreciates that friendships can develop between staff and students. In addition, staff and students can socialise with each other in university-related and other contexts, and pre-existing close personal relationships can exist prior to a student becoming enrolled or a person being employed at the University. Friendships and socialising are only acceptable on the condition that the staff member at all times acts in an appropriate and professional manner towards the student and follows the expectations detailed in this procedure.
In the unusual circumstance that a staff member and a student develop a close personal relationship, the staff member must take great care to ensure that it was entered into fairly, as equals and with no misuse of the power involved in the staff/student relationship.
A close personal relationship that exists or develops between a staff member and a student must comply with all University policies and procedures (including the Monash University Global Equal Opportunity Policy, the ‘Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Grievance Procedures’ and the ‘Conduct and Compliance Procedures Conflict of Interest’) and the University Ethics Statement. If there is a current supervisory or teaching relationship in place when a close personal relationship develops, the relationship must be declared under the Conduct and Compliance Procedures Conflict of Interest so a management plan can be implemented.
Staff members must not enter into an inappropriate close personal relationship with students.
Where a staff member has a pre-existing close personal relationship with a person who later becomes a student of Monash University, for example a staff member’s child enrols as a student, the pre-existing nature of the relationship would be taken into account in the determination of what conduct is professional and appropriate under this procedure.
While a staff member and a student have no contact in relation to study, research or employment at the University, social contact between staff members and students which arises outside of the university context is not covered by this procedure (such as through mutual friends, or as members of a sporting club). However this procedure will apply to such social contact immediately if the staff member and the student later come into contact in study, research or employment at the University.
In assessing the appropriateness of a close personal relationship between a staff member and a student relevant factors include:
It will often be difficult for a staff member involved in a close personal relationship with a student to make an objective assessment of its appropriateness and accordingly they are encouraged to seek advice to ensure they have not involved themselves or the University in unlawful or inappropriate conduct. Involvement in an inappropriate relationship with a student will result in disciplinary action against the staff member up to and including termination of employment.
3. What is professional and appropriate conduct?
Staff members must ensure that their interactions with students are always of a professional and appropriate nature.
Whether certain conduct is professional and appropriate in the circumstances is a question of subjective judgment taking into account all the relevant circumstances. By way of guidance, all staff members should:
As noted above, professional interactions are different between students and staff members whose primary professional responsibility is the pastoral care of students, such as residential services staff and counsellors.
By way of guidance, staff members who do not have a primary professional responsibility of the pastoral care of students should:
4. What sort of conduct will not be professional or appropriate?
Staff are obliged to avoid engaging in any conduct towards students that is unprofessional or inappropriate.
As noted above, whether certain conduct is professional and appropriate in the circumstances is a question of judgment taking into account all the relevant circumstances. By way of example of unprofessional and inappropriate conduct, staff members should avoid where practicable:
Many of the above examples of unprofessional and inappropriate conduct are likely to breach University policy and also to amount to misconduct or serious misconduct by the staff member, for which disciplinary action up to an including termination may be taken against the staff member.
A student who seeks guidance about whether certain conduct is professional and appropriate or who needs assistance in responding to unprofessional or inappropriate conduct should speak to the Dean, Equity and Diversity, Safer Community, student counselling or the student union/association.
A staff member who seeks guidance about whether certain conduct is professional and appropriate can contact his or her performance supervisor, the Head of the School, the Dean or the Divisional Director, Monash HR, Equity and Diversity, or one of the Advisers listed in the Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Grievance Procedures.
5. Inappropriate conduct by students
Unprofessional or inappropriate conduct towards a staff member that is initiated by a student is not acceptable.
Unprofessional or inappropriate conduct by a student is likely to breach the ‘Discipline (Student) Guidelines’, ‘Statute 4.1 Discipline’ and other university policies and procedures. Grievance procedures apply, depending on the nature of the conduct.
A staff member who needs assistance in responding to unprofessional or inappropriate conduct that is initiated by a student should speak to his or her performance supervisor, the Head of the School, the Dean or the Divisional Director, Monash HR, Equity and Diversity, or one of the Advisers listed in the Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Grievance Procedures.
6. Conflict of interest
Staff must at all times comply with the ‘Conduct and Compliance Procedures Conflict of Interest’.
The ‘Conduct and Compliance Procedures Conflict of Interest’ defines when a staff member will have a conflict of interest.
A conflict of interest will certainly exist if a staff member is involved in the admission, supervision, assessment or examination of students with whom he or she has, or has had, a close personal relationship.
It will usually be inappropriate and a breach of University policy for the staff member to continue to teach, supervise or examine a student with whom the staff member has a close personal relationship.
Depending on the circumstances, a staff member may be able to continue to teach, supervise, assess or examine a student who is also a friend, however the staff member must comply with the ‘Conduct and Compliance Procedures Conflict of Interest’. This will usually require the staff member to declare the friendship or close personal relationship, as the first step.
The obligation to declare a conflict of interest under the ‘Conduct and Compliance Procedures Conflict of Interest’ commences immediately once the staff member becomes aware that he or she has a conflict of interest or a potential conflict of interest.
7. Reporting procedure
If a student or a staff member observes or experiences a staff member behaving in an unprofessional and inappropriate manner towards a student, they should report their concerns to the relevant supervisor, the Head of the School, the Dean or the Divisional Director. If the conduct is of a discriminatory or sexual nature, the person may consult one of the Advisers listed in the Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Grievance Procedures for advice.
The report can be provided in written form or verbal form and may be anonymous. The report should detail the concerning behaviour and staff member and student/s involved.
A supervisor, Head of the School, Dean or Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Adviser who receives a report should offer support to the student who is allegedly the subject of unprofessional and inappropriate conduct. The Dean or the Divisional Director should refer the student/s and staff member/s involved to the Employee Assistance Program (staff only) or the Health, Wellbeing and Development counselling service for additional support.
Reports of unprofessional or inappropriate conduct which appear to have been based on a reasonable belief by the person making the report should be discussed with the Dean or the Divisional Director. The Dean or the Divisional Director may obtain advice from the University Solicitor’s Office, Monash HR, Safer Community or Equity and Diversity, before deciding how to proceed.
The University may then take action in relation to the report, which can include (but is not limited to):
The staff member’s supervisor should ensure that any action – whether formal or informal – is recorded in the Performance Development Online (PDO) system either by making a confidential note using the Notes function or by uploading any relevant documentation to the staff member’s performance portfolio.
Depending on the nature of the conduct being alleged, a report about unprofessional or inappropriate conduct by a staff member towards a student might also be lodged under the ‘Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Grievance Procedures’, or in cases with broad impact beyond any one individual, the ‘Conduct and Compliance Procedure – Whistleblowers’.
In considering and making a decision about a report under this procedure, the University will apply natural justice and procedural fairness, and undertake a robust process for the determination of the accuracy and legitimacy of reports. Severe consequences will apply to persons knowingly making false allegations or false claims, up to and including disciplinary action.
Staff and students who have reported concerns about conduct that is potentially of a criminal nature should be aware that Monash University may involve the police or recommend a report to police. If police become involved in the matter, Monash University’s ability to take action in relation to the report may be limited by the obligation to not jeopardise a criminal investigation and/or prosecution.
8. Privacy and confidentiality
Students or staff should not let concerns about privacy or defamation stop them from reporting genuine concerns to a person with authority to receive such a report under these procedures.
9. Failure to comply with staff/student relationships procedure
Failure to comply with this procedure or the directions of the Head of Department, Dean or Director may result in disciplinary action in accordance with the provisions of the relevant enterprise agreement and contract of employment, including possible dismissal in cases of serious conflict of interest or other serious misconduct.
All University staff including adjunct staff and including honorary appointees of the University and staff of Monash controlled entities must be aware of, read, understand and comply with this procedure.
Heads of Departments and Directors should:
Deans and Divisional Directors should: