January 17, 2017 at 03:39AM
The University of Sussex failed in its duty of care to a student who was assaulted by a lecturer, taking only the perpetrator’s account of their relationship into account when assessing the risk he posed, according to an independent inquiry.
The report comes after widespread criticism of the university’s decision not to suspend senior media lecturer Lee Salter, even after he was convicted of assaulting postgraduate student Allison Smith last June.
A report, published on Tuesday, said the university only suspended Salter after the media reported on the case in August. He resigned the same day that the story was published.
The inquiry, commissioned by the university, criticised it for not starting disciplinary procedures against Salter until after his conviction, despite its own rules allowing this to happen separately to a police investigation.
The report particularly criticised the HR department for prioritising the protection of the university from legal action over policies covering the prevention and management of violence.
The report by Professor Nicole Westmarland of Durham University notes that Salter met Smith during induction week and they began a relationship. But in September 2015, he punched her, knocked her out, stamped on her and threw salt at her face.
In the 10 months between his arrest and sentence, he continued to teach at the university, to Smith’s distress. Westmarland found that the academic charged with assessing what danger Salter posed to others only interviewed one person: Salter himself. Salter is appealing against his conviction.
“Managers failed to recognise that the way the senior lecturer acted towards them as male managers was not necessarily the way that he interacted with those with less power, including students, early career academics, and some administrators,” she added, noting that some other students felt vulnerable because Salter had retained individual teaching duties.
The professor also criticised the risk assessment for taking into account other students’ feedback about Salter’s teaching, which was “at best irrelevant and at worst inappropriate”. Westmarland said that this encouraged a perception that Salter’s behaviour was ‘out of character” and risked encouraging the victim to blame herself for the violence she suffered.
In contrast, the university failed to communicate with Smith as to how it was handling her complaint against Salter, causing her additional and unnecessary stress.
“There existed “a complete ‘wall of silence’ regarding the basic actions the university was taking or the policies it was following,” the report states. “The failure to let [Smith] know what actions the university was taking made [her] doubt whether her complaint was being taken seriously and whether she was being believed.”
It added that several other students and staff members had come forward to say that the university had been similarly dismissive of other complaints of abuse and harassment. These alleged victims said the university had made excuses for the alleged perpetrators, saying they were under stress or having a hard time.
The report made six recommendations, including making a public apology to Smith and drawing up a clear policy on staff-student relationships, which the university has pledged to implement.
Westmarland added: “The case should act as a warning to other universities to get their houses in order not just in relation to staff as well as students but also in relation to partner violence generally — many are treating sexual violence as a standalone problem unconnected to other forms of violence, abuse and harassment.”
The vice chancellor, Professor Adam Tickell, said the response to the case had been inadequate and praised Smith for sharing her story. He added: “I am very sorry for the failings identified in Professor Westmarland’s report. I am grateful to Allison for taking part in the review. We will continue to offer her whatever support she needs.”
Smith said the report had helped her healing process. She added: “That feeling of not being believed at the start, of being silenced and feeling very isolated and alone was the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced in my life. So for [the university] to come forward and to say we completely got this wrong … that is healing for me.”
from Education | The Guardian http://ift.tt/2k1PlHp