Archive for Office for Students

Investigating Sexual Harassment in Universities

Posted in Education with tags , on June 12, 2019 by telescoper

This morning I came across a piece in the Guardian about a report from the UK Office for Students about hate crime and sexual harassment in Universities.

One of the recommendations of the report is that that Universities should hire specialist staff to investigate sexual harassment.

I’ve thought a lot about this issue since I blogged about the Bode versus Mundell case a few years ago (here and here). I hope we can all agree that we need to strive to create working environments wherein harassment and bullying simply do not happen, but sadly they do happen and until that changes we need to find ways of dealing with the perpetrators fairly but firmly and promptly.

In another post I made two suggestions.

The first was that organizations of a sufficient size to bear the cost should have independent misconduct investigators rather than relying on staff from the same workplace. This role could even be fulfilled by someone from a different organization altogether. Universities, for example, could set up a shared resource to deal with this kind of thing. I’ve now come to the conclusion that such investigators should not be employees of the university in question, as they would come under pressure to hush things up – which clearly happens now. It seems to me that far too many institutions prioritize limiting reputational damage over doing the right thing for their staff and students.

Having independent investigators would avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest but, perhaps more importantly, a dedicated investigator could carry out the work much more quickly than a senior academic who is busy with many other things and who would probably have had only cursory training.

The other suggestion I made is that confidentiality agreements covering related disciplinary matters should become void if an employee leaves the institution, whether that is as a result of dismissal or because they leave before investigations are completed. That would put an end to the game of “pass the harasser”.

I am not saying that these will solve the problem completely. To mind they are necessary but not sufficient. Any further suggestions through the comments box are welcome.