Students Staff
University of Essex

April 18, 2019

Zero tolerance and dealing with student complaints

We have a zero tolerance approach to harassment and hate crime of all forms, but what does that mean in practice and how is the approach upheld? Our Registrar and Secretary, Bryn Morris, explains. 

Bryn Morris, our Registrar and Secretary.

We are really proud of our diverse and inclusive community and we aim to create a safe and welcoming environment for all students, irrespective of their backgrounds and characteristics. We are committed to a zero tolerance approach to harassment and bullying in any form on our campuses and we are committed to investigating each and every case.

Our Code of Student Conduct  is a key part of ensuring that we treat each other with dignity and respect. This is supported by an impartial complaints and investigation process, to ensure that complaints are dealt with fairly, properly and following established procedures. This system is led by the Proctor and supported by the Student Conduct Committee, which is made up of trained staff and student volunteers. It is designed to ensure we investigate complaints fully and that decisions are based on an impartial assessment of the evidence. We also have disciplinary procedures in place for staff, to ensure we maintain high standards of professional behaviour and conduct. Our procedures cover not only conduct in lectures, seminars and meetings, but all communications which directly or indirectly represent the University including social media and email.

What does zero tolerance mean?

Members of our community rightly want to know and understand how we enforce our policies and codes of conduct. Our zero tolerance approach applies to all employees, workers, contractors, students and visitors who are expected to be treated, and to treat each other, with dignity and respect regardless of age, disability, gender identity, marriage and civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, political beliefs and affiliations, family circumstances or other irrelevant distinction.

Because of this commitment, the University will always take action in relation to complaints of harassment that are raised. In each and every case there is a thorough and impartial investigation of the concerns that are raised. Where the outcome of that investigation makes it appropriate, further action will be taken that is proportionate to the circumstances of individual cases.  We work hard to ensure that we are living up to these promises.

Our impartial investigation process

By operating an impartial investigation process through our Code of Student Conduct, the University aims to ensure that those who raise complaints and those against whom complaints are made can each rely upon processes that review all the circumstances of a case and result in evidence-based judgements.

During investigations, both parties are able to bring someone with them to interviews in order to make them feel more comfortable in giving evidence. The Students’ Union Advice Service is also on hand to guide any students through the process and to offer expert advice and representation.  The University’s Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity Service is also available to ensure that anyone involved in such a case can access the support that they need both during or after an investigation.

In some cases, a non-prejudicial non-contact order may be introduced while an investigation is completed to ensure that either or both parties feel supported. Where it is considered appropriate in the interests of fairness to both parties, such non-prejudicial non-contact orders may remain in place once an investigation has been concluded, whatever the outcome.

The range of outcomes that can result from an investigation is listed in the Code of Student Conduct.  A number of measures can be considered if a complaint is upheld, including formal written warnings through to expulsion of a student.

Sometimes the parties to a dispute may remain dissatisfied with the outcome of an investigation, even after all stages have been concluded.  It is important that we learn lessons from all such cases as they will allow us to enhance our practices and build confidence in the robustness and fairness of our processes.  However, it is equally important from the perspective of fairness that, once such impartial processes have been completed, their outcomes are respected and that the focus moves to agreed actions, including support for those who have been involved.

If a student has a concern about how we have dealt with an issue, our Student Concerns and Complaints Procedure is available and includes the opportunity, once the University’s internal processes have been concluded, for a concern to be raised with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), the independent student complaints scheme for England and Wales.

Within our Code of Student Conduct, the right to confidentiality for all individuals involved is an important principle. Other than in circumstances described in the Code, the outcome of a case cannot, as a matter of course, be made public. The absence of wider reporting on individual cases does not mean that no action has been taken by the University.

Where complaints are being considered against members of staff under the University’s Disciplinary Procedure, in appropriate circumstances a member of staff may be suspended from work while allegations are being investigated. Such action is non-prejudicial, in the same way as for non-contact orders under the Code of Student Conduct, and it is important to emphasise that suspension in no way implies guilt.

We want you to report concerns

Our Report and Support web pages make it as straightforward as possible for all staff, students, and visitors to our campuses to report concerns.  Where matters are raised on a named basis, support from an adviser will be provided as the first stage of the Report and Support process.  Everyone is encouraged to use the Report and Support system to draw attention to experiences or behaviours that they feel are inconsistent with our policies and values. Complaints can also be submitted anonymously and whilst it may not be possible to investigate anonymous complaints, they do allow us to get a full picture of incidents on our campuses, so that we can adapt our approaches on student wellbeing, security or support and identify issues, which might be undermining the inclusivity of our community. Other complaints, such as those reported directly to the Student Progress Team, will receive rigorous and impartial investigation in line with the University’s zero tolerance policy.

Supporting our community

We look out for the wellbeing of all members of our student and staff community and understand making a complaint or being the subject of a complaint can be incredibly stressful for individuals.

In each and every complaint we want to learn from the operation of our codes and practices, so that we can ensure that we live up to our commitment to be a community that celebrates diversity, challenges inequality – and is committed to establishing an environment that is free from any form of harassment or bullying. We regularly review our approach and I welcome any suggestions about how we can improve the system.

You can contact me at Registrar@essex.ac.uk

Bryn Morris

Registrar and Secretary