Exeposé News Issue 634, Page 5 (5 February 2015) and Exeposé News online (8 February 2015)
Despite extensive reviews of University policy after concerning staff survey results in 2012, eight bullying and harassment complaints were made by Exeter staff members last year.
15 bullying and harassment complaints have been made by staff and students in the past three years. 13 of these were against staff members, and seven resulted in a staff member facing disciplinary action. Two students have also faced disciplinary action following complaints made against them.
Students and staff who feel bullied or harassed are advised to contact the University’s Dignity and Respect Advisers – volunteers providing informal support and advice. Last year marked a dramatic increase in demand for support, with 46 cases recorded compared with just 22 in 2011/12.
Helen Booker, Equality and Diversity Administrator, stressed that this increase “may be due to an increased awareness of the support mechanisms available,” describing this as “a positive outcome because we can ensure people are receiving appropriate support and advice.”
The number of advisors has more than doubled since 2011, with 23 staff members now trained in the role. This follows a comprehensive review of the University’s Protection of Dignity at Work and Study policy carried out after the 2012 Staff Opinion Survey.
In the wake of the survey, an internal report found staff allegedly facing “undue stress,” “bullying,” sexism and a “loss of voice” at the University, identifying a “top-down management” culture as the cause of many issues.
Kate Hawkins, VP Welfare and Diversity, commented: “The growth of the Dignity and Respect Adviser network has been positive in recent years, providing staff and students with additional support.”
Yet in a staff survey carried out in April last year, only 57 per cent of respondents said they felt “valued by the University” while 39 per cent revealed they had often thought about leaving.
88 per cent described the University as a “good place to work” and 92 per cent felt “safe and secure” in their working environment – yet 34 per cent reported feeling “unduly stressed at work,” 12 per cent had felt discriminated against in the past year, and four per cent said they were “currently being harassed or bullied at work.”
Philip Hensher, a former creative writing professor who left the University in 2012, told Exeposé: “During the seven years I worked at Exeter University, I observed a serious problem with bullying and a troubling misuse of anti-bullying measures by people in charge. It would be a matter of great concern if those who brought the university into disrepute and lost a good amount of talent through their behaviour were able to continue their harassment of minorities and junior staff without abatement.”
Kate Hawkins said: “The Students’ Guild takes bullying and harassment very seriously and I would encourage any student experiencing these problems to come forward. All our Advice Unit advisers are affiliated to the Dignity and Respect network and the Guild will continue to strive towards a safe and respectful environment for us all.”