Just because something has been happening, it doesn’t mean it should continue to happen - especially when the current situation creates unfairness and harm to so many students and staff.
The problems with the current system are that there is a strong imbalance of power, there is a culture of impunity in universities and the universities have control over the complainant's circumstances:
- Universities are in control of the complaints system and they have been known to
"burying [complaints] and dealing with [them] in a secretive way. We know this, it’s about silencing the complaint." (Oxford University 'must investigate sexual harassment by staff on students' amid fears of unreported cases, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, former head of Mansfield College, Oxford).
- Universities are known to come up with "pre-determined outcomes" and expect investigators to comply.
- Universities are known to expect that lawyers give them pre-determined advice (Universities rigging investigations).
- Universities have conflicts of interests in the outcome of complaints, especially when the person(s) complained about is/are university staff (Universities rigging investigations).
- Universities have can control the student's or staff's continuation of their studies or work and retaliate against the complainant at that time or when providing references.
- Universities have enormous resources and legal advice compared to individuals.
- There is no effective system of external accountability or oversight and a culture of impunity and endemic wrongdoing has ensued.
The following changes aim to reduce the imbalance of power and reduce the risk of universities covering up wrongdoing:
- Replacing internal complaints procedures with external procedures completely independent from universities.
- This newly-created body that deals with all complaints is staffed by persons who are fully trained on dealing with sexual misconduct, discrimination, bullying etc and on cultural and personal reasons so they deal with complaints sensitively and sensibly.
- The independent body keeps a record of wrongdoing and perpetrators so that perpetrators cannot move from one institution to the next with impunity where they can continue their wrongdoing or in/out of academia.
- Effective deterrents (that universities and their management are actually afraid of) to attract that prevent future wrongdoing.
- Ban NDAs in relation to any type of wrongdoing.
- Publish figures as to how much money universities spend on liability insurance, legal fees, settlements and anything other expenses in relation to wrongdoing and where they source the money (eg students' fees, research grants, taxpayers' money). This is a matter of public interest: the taxpayer and students are probably subsidising universities into continuing a cycle of wrongdoing against students and subsequent cover-ups (and the taxpayer, by wasting public money that could be used on useful research, or on hospitals, schools etc).
We would not accept this conduct or substandard service from any other company or institution. We would not accept that a bank sexually harasses, bullies or discriminates against its clients. There are safeguards to protect consumer and the public for almost every purchase and every provision of service, with the exception of universities. However, the potential for damaging a person or causing trauma, the money at stake and the potential future financial loss and loss of opportunities is lesser in most of those industries than with university courses.
So why do we still accept this from universities?
Universities are one of the last places in society where harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and shortcoming in service are “thriving” and condoned. Just because we have accepted it in the past, it does not mean we – as a society – should put up with these kinds of archaic attitudes and behaviours.
You can join in and contribute to changing this and adding safeguards to your life and the life of other people you know.
How would your university experience be improved? What would you add to or change from the current situation?