The University of Warwick has announced an action plan to improve its handling of student disciplinary and appeals processes, including those relating to sexual misconduct. This follows recommendations from an independent review, led by Dr Sharon Persaud, which is published today in full.
The review was commissioned in February 2019 by the Council – the University’s governing body made up of staff, students and external representatives – following the serious events surrounding the group chat incident. Also as a result of these events, the University’s Joint Council and Senate Advisory Group was convened to affirm Warwick’s values of openness, diversity, respect and trust; review what is and is not acceptable behaviour in the University’s community, and consider how the University can encourage positive behaviours. The University will be implementing the action plan to introduce the revised principles and changes to its disciplinary and appeals processes.
The independent review found that the University of Warwick should address key themes in its disciplinary processes ensuring clearer understanding of the policies and what is expected of all concerned; as much transparency as possible within proceedings which are confidential; and the need to restore confidence in the disciplinary processes. Key recommendations include:
Consideration should be given to a protocol for communication with victims and respondents, informed by victim / witness care and any other relevant principles: this should include regular updates; through a single point of contact where that is appropriate, and when support is available.
Consideration should be given to creating guidance which sets out the basis of the University’s disciplinary policy, and its general principles and procedures.
Sexual misconduct and other serious cases must be investigated only by investigators with specialist skills.
Consideration should be given to the incorporation of a clear, simple code of conduct into the student contract so that breach and consequences are obvious.
Consideration must be given to how to convey and balance complex messages – which may be in tension with each other – when facts cannot be put in the public domain.
Stuart Croft, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, said:
We accept the findings of Dr Persaud’s review and welcome its recommendations. We acknowledge that we made some mistakes and we apologise for this, including how we communicated with the victims. Sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind is completely unacceptable and we are committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the Warwick community. We are determined that, by continuing to work together with our students, staff and wider Warwick community, we will build on the steps we have already taken, deliver our action plan and report back regularly on our progress.
We want to go even further than Dr Persaud’s recommendations, so that we can learn from these experiences, improve and develop our processes, and offer what we have learned to other universities.
As part of this, we know we must also be clearer about what our university community stands for, to cultivate an environment where prejudice and socially unacceptable behaviour of any kind are never tolerated, and where students and staff have pride in, and commitment to, our values. Alongside our action plan for implementing the review’s recommendations, we are developing and implementing an ongoing programme to ensure that everyone in the Warwick community, past, present and future, knows and supports what we stand for.
The University has already taken action, following the group chat incident in some areas covered by the review’s recommendations. This includes increased, and increasing, investment in welfare services, as well as a ‘bystander training programme’ to be piloted during our 2019 Welcome Week. This will aim to empower students if they are facing incidences of sexual harassment or violence. The University has also already set up two specialist external investigators to support with disciplinary cases. The University will report publicly on its progress every quarter, beginning in September 2019.
Accepting the findings and recommendations of the independent review, Sir David Normington, Pro-Chancellor and Chair of Council, said:
The Council is grateful to Dr Persaud for her comprehensive review, which Council this morning accepted in its entirety.
We welcome the swift action of Stuart Croft and his executive team in putting together an Action Plan to implement the review and will be working closely with them to ensure that it is implemented effectively and quickly.
We also welcome the work of the Joint Council and Senate Advisory Group in bringing the Warwick community together to affirm Warwick’s values. It provides a powerful basis for ensuring that everyone who studies and works at Warwick knows what the University stands for and understands that we will never tolerate sexual misconduct, harassment, prejudice or discrimination