September 28, 2021

Students and staff at Durham University complain of ‘apathy’ over bullying...

Students and staff at the University of Durham have accused management of showing a “culture of apathy” towards bullying and harassment. They said the university’s leaders had allowed “abuses of power, bullying or harassment to continue” and that they no longer trust that the executives value their safety.

The open letter came after the Guardian revealed that a college principal had been allowed to remain in post despite complaints of intimidating behaviour towards colleagues.

Prof Adekunle Adeyeye, the head of Trevelyan College, is alleged to have reduced colleagues to tears and made sexist remarks. Two people had filed formal grievances against him in 16 months and three have departed because of concerns about his manner.

He stepped down from the university’s bullying policy committee after the Guardian approached him in August, but he remains in post as college principal.

The letter, signed by 100 staff, alumni and group leaders representing nearly 8,000 students, said the Adeyeye matter was “just one example of a culture that has been seen time and time again among both staff and students”.

Anya Chuykov, president of the university’s Intersectional Feminism Society, accused management of an “unacceptable” complacency in tackling bullying and misogyny.

“The university should be setting an example at an administrative level,” she said. “Instead, it is showing both students and staff that poor behaviour can be excused and that their safety and concerns are not worthy of attention.

“This is not an isolated incident, and the behaviour of Durham University speaks to the toxic atmosphere that so many students and staff must live with at universities and schools up and down the country. Students and staff must join forces to dismantle this culture of permissiveness towards bullying, harassment and misogyny.”

Durham University said it does not accept any form of prejudice or discrimination on campus and said it condemned any incidents of bullying, harassment or misogyny “in the strongest possible terms”.

It added: “We are always open to hearing directly from students or staff regarding concerns or suggestions, and would welcome the opportunity to meet the organisers of the open letter to understand their experiences as well as the evidence.

“We have recently taken measures to promote openness and transparency on student conduct cases through publicly communicating outcomes and we are working with students to rebuild confidence that that we will listen, investigate promptly and take decisive action.”

Adeyeye was contacted for comment.


September 22, 2021

Colleges using public funds to ‘silence’ sexual harassment victims, Seanad told

Irish third-level institutions are using public money in non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) “to silence victims of discrimination and sexual harassment”, the Seanad has been told.

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane, who in June introduced legislation to ban the use of such confidentiality agreements, has conducted research including a survey which, she said, confirmed the use of NDAs in third-level institutions.

Opening a Seanad debate on sexual harassment and bullying in third-level institutions, the Trinity College Senator said that in almost two-thirds of cases perpetrators were members of academic staff and 30 per cent of victims were forced to sign NDAs, which “represented a bully and abuser free to walk away to another college and a victim being silenced”.

An NDA is a “binding and contractual agreement that prevents one or more parties from disclosing knowledge designated by the institution as confidential” even if they relate to bullying or sexual harassment complaints.

Originally introduced to protect business and industry secrets, she said, “they are increasingly being used in the third-level sector to silence victims of bullying, discrimination and sexual assault”.

“And it is public money that is often used to silence victims of discrimination and sexual abuse,” she said, adding that in the UK more than £90 million (€105 million) had been paid since 2017 to silence victims. She said there was no similar research on Irish payouts but she asked how much Irish institutions were paying.

She added that “some NDAs that have been signed in the university sector have been reframed in language” and not listed as sexual harassment but as a “clash of personalities” or “breakdown in working relationships”.

Prevent healing

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said such agreements have absolutely no place when cases such as these arise within institutions and workplaces”.

The Minister said they “have the effect of silencing victims and in doing so they can prevent healing and recovery, and damage the prospect of accountability for perpetrators”.

He pointed to the impact of such NDAs where the victim cannot speak to anyone about their experience or tell their story to assist their healing or help other survivors.

“I will not be standing over the silencing of any victims of sexual harassment or bullying in Irish higher education institutions,” he said.

The Minister will next month introduce legislation through which universities and other third-level institutions that fail to comply with policies on bullying and sexual harassment will be sanctioned. The legislation will “modernise governance law in higher education”, he said...