The University of Warwick has released the first quarterly update on their progress in improving student disciplinary and appeals processes following a University Council meeting earlier today.
According to the University, “more than half” of recommendations from the external independent review conducted by Dr Sharon Persaud, which concluded in July this year, have been implemented.
The review was announced in February following intensified critcism of the University’s handling of the group chat scandal, after news that two of the men involved, originally sentenced to a 10-year ban from campus, had their penalties reduced to one year.
Phase 1 of implementing recommendations from the disciplinary review saw reinstating “community values”, appointing trained external officers for investigating Sexual Violence and Misconduct (SVM) cases and focussing on how “complex messages” are conveyed in the public domain, along with other measures.
Launched last month, the Community Values Education programme initiated “a variety of activities…informed by openness, equality and diversity, mutual respect”.
The programme trialled “an evidence-based ‘Active Bystander Intervention’ with up to six departments across all three faculties”, which focussed on “preventing sexual misconduct, violence, and abuse by using a ‘bystander’ model to change participants’ behaviour”.
“This will help them to unlearn passive assumptions about identity, violence, and one’s own power to influence the world around them,” the University explained.
They reported that over 150 students partook in relevant activities during Welcome Week, “with several other upcoming activities planned”.
Three external Investigating Officers (IO) to handle SVM cases have also been appointed. Internal investigators will no longer be used for such cases, while “key stakeholders”, including the Students’ Union (SU) and Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC) will be involved in the consultation of the handling of these cases.
Existing IOs have completed specialist training on matters such as trauma, impartiality, and the University’s policies.
There will be “continued focus” on how to convey “complex messages” when facts “cannot be put in the public domain”
A review of all associated guidance sheets, sample interview plans and other materials is also underway.
Moreover, a permanent Secretariat to assist with committees and panels, trained and briefed on relevant topics, was put in post from 23 September.
Informative sessions on the disciplinary framework has also been scheduled for existing panel members. Among them, those who deal with cases of sexual misconduct will receive additional training.
There will be “continued focus” on how to convey “complex messages” when facts “cannot be put in the public domain”. In line with this, wider work is “underway to embed the University’s statement of principles” and set out an expectation of behaviours.
The Student Liaison Officer role will act as “single point of contact communicating with both reporting and responding parties” involved in serious cases “to ensure improved communications and support”.
This includes tailoring communications to individual circumstances, considering the “cumulative effect of communications” and making sure communication is “consistent” and “fair”.
The officers will further “co-ordinate with wider support units such as student wellbeing services, academic departments and the Independent Sexual Violence Adviser”.
Report and Support, an online tool for students to “report sexual misconduct, anonymously if they wish”, has also been launched.
This will help them to unlearn passive assumptions about identity, violence, and one’s own power to influence the world around them
– The University of Warwick
Having concluded the first phase of their implementation of the disciplinary review, the University is now entering Phase 2, encompassing the next 15 months throughout which quarterly progress updates will be released to the public.
It will involve face-to-face training for existing IOs to “supplement the written guidance they are given”.
Part of Phase 2 will also consider “how confidential information is safeguarded within the investigative and disciplinary context”.
Informing “friends and family of those involved in investigations” through “leaflets” will also be considered, in line with Dr Persaud’s recommendations.
Other steps include “the incorporation of a clear, simple code of conduct into the student contract” so that the breach of it is “obvious”, along with the creation of a case management system “so all documentation and correspondence is readily available to appropriate users”.
Commenting on the first update of the implementation plan, Professor Stuart Croft, the University of Warwick’s vice-chancellor, said: “We take the reform of our disciplinary and appeals processes extremely seriously and have focused on making early progress over the past three months to address the recommendations from Dr Persaud’s review.
“We are putting in place these practical changes whilst also looking at how we can improve culture and values. We are aware however, that this is a long-term process and more needs to be done to build on the steps we have already taken.
“By continuing to work with our students, staff and wider Warwick community we are determined to fully implement our plan and will carry on reporting back on our progress.”