The University of Warwick has apologised for the way it handled a sexual misconduct case and vowed to review its disciplinary and appeals processes.
An independent review by Dr Sharon Persaud said there was a “legacy of mistrust generated by the ‘group chat’ case”.
Warwick University vice-chancellor Stuart Croft admitted the university “made some mistakes” in the way it handled the widely-reported case of a group of male undergraduates who used sexually violent and racist language on a Facebook group chat.
The men sent messages to one another where they described rape and sexual violence targeted at female undergraduates at the university.
In her review, Persaud recommended the university improve its communication with victims and respondents and embed a “clear, simple code of conduct into the student contract so that breach and consequences are obvious”.
The current student disciplinary system is being stretched in two directions, neither of which it was designed for – Dr Sharon Persaud
Persaud also called for a better strategy for handling sensitive cases in the public domain and recommended future cases be handled by “investigators with specialist skills”. Those involved in the case have previously criticised the university for appointing the director of press and media to investigate the allegations.
One of the female students involved said she will continue legal action. In a statement to the BBC, she said: “The university want to publicly appear as though they are apologetic and that they recognise wrongdoing, but their failure to take any legal responsibility for their actions does not match with this public persona.”
In her final summary, Persaud wrote the Student Disciplinary Team (SDT) “is significantly under-resourced and under strain, particularly in the context of increasing numbers of more complex cases”.
The review also noted: “the current student disciplinary system is being stretched in two directions, neither of which it was designed for. It is having to deal with conduct which might, in the criminal context, be in the Crown Court; it is also having to deal with a wide range of allegations of unacceptable but much less serious behaviour. It is, perhaps, an additional complication that both are presently encompassed within the term ‘sexual misconduct.’”
Persaud said staff feared “disciplinary procedures would have to mimic the criminal courts, with all its inherent difficulties”.
In its response, the university pledged to increase investment in welfare services and introduce a ‘bystander training programme’ to be launched at the start of the next academic year.
Got a news story for UB? Contact James Higgins on 0117 300 5526