The University of Warwick will learn from our mistakes

Almost twelve months ago the Warwick University community was rocked by what has come to be known as the “group chat scandal”.

A group of male students was involved in an online group chat which subjected some of their female peers to misogynistic, racist and deeply offensive sexual remarks. The incident raised a number of sensitive and complex issues, not least in how we as the university then handled the disciplinary and appeals processes, and communicated with the victims and community. People’s faith in Warwick has been shaken as a result.

We have now received the results of the independent review that our Council commissioned to review our student disciplinary and appeals processes and identify how they should improve to better support our community, led by Dr Sharon Persaud. We have accepted the recommendations in full, from embracing the principle that we should be using specialist staff to investigate instances of sexual misconduct, to updating our disciplinary processes so that everyone understands what the processes are for, the responsibilities of those involved and how people will be kept informed.

The university has already taken action in some key areas covered by the review’s recommendations, including setting up two specialist external investigators to support with disciplinary cases and introducing a new bystander training programme to be piloted during our 2019 Welcome Week.

Updating processes and systems, though vitally important, simply isn’t enough. So in parallel with the independent review we also brought together a group internally to establish and affirm the principles for behaviour that we want to uphold at Warwick, so that everyone in our community, past, present and future, is clear about what we stand for: zero tolerance for violence, harassment or abuse of anyone, by anyone.

Lasting change

The challenge in all of this is how to bring about lasting change, demonstrate that we have learned from our mistakes and regain the trust of our community. We have published an action plan outlining how we intend to implement the report’s recommendations, and created a working group led by our Registrar, Rachel Sandby-Thomas, which will report publicly on progress every quarter. We realise that achieving real change takes time, and we expect to bring in internal and external expertise, test ideas, and continue an iterative process of reflection and action.

This has not been an easy process. As an institution we have had to face up to some difficult home truths and I take a large amount of personal responsibility for some of the mistakes made. On behalf of the University, I want to apologise for the mistakes that we have made, and to be clear that everyone in our community has the right to feel safe. It’s incredibly important and at the heart of what a campus university should be. Sexual misconduct and harassment are completely unacceptable.

Improvement will not happen overnight, it will take commitment, time and investment – all of which we will do.  As we work towards better supporting our community, we will provide consistent updates on our progress, ensuring clear and transparent communication. This will be the focus of our work now so that in eighteen months’ time, we will have gone some way to achieving our vision of a positive Warwick community and can offer what we have learned to others so that universities across the country can benefit.

One response to “The University of Warwick will learn from our mistakes

  1. Yes of course it is difficult to argue with the opinion of Professor Croft and his expression of regret for what happened in his HEI is admirable. Sexual misconduct and harassment, whether of students or staff, have no place in our HEIs. But on a technical point, as a member of the task force which produced the original Zellick Report in 1994, following on a disputed disciplinary case in London,I recall discussing whether it was practicable for HEIs, that is all HEIs not just Warwick as in the article, to properly investigate criminal offences with all the protection offered to accused by the criminal law at the time. Personally I doubt it. I am not of course a specialist in criminal law, unlike Professor Zellick and Dr Persaud, so I may be wrong, and very happy to be corrected. It may be there are sufficiently well qualified investigators skilled in both criminal procedure and, critically, understanding the circumstances in which HEIs work, the legal basis of university discipline and the terms of the ‘student contract’ which Dr Persaud mentions in her well-researched and readable report. Assuming one investigator per HEI that would be at least 140 such individuals to cover all HEIs except in Scotland. Or perhaps UUK, OIAHE etc could set up an approved panel? This is of great interest as David Palfreyman and I prepare the 3rd ed of our text on higher education law. So opinions on the legal issues would be very welcome.

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