Uni of York Launches Anonymous Misconduct Reporting & Dignity at Work and Study Policy

In an email to students, the Vice Chancellor of the University of York, Charlie Jeffrey, announced the launch of “Report + Support”, a landmark scheme that is designed to help students and staff anonymously report misconduct, and the implementation of the “Dignity at Work and Study” policy, which “provide[s] procedures and mechanisms to report and address incidents of harassment, bullying and hate incidents appropriately”.

This comes in the wake of the protests that have been sparked across the world in response to the murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement that was founded in 2013 as a response to the killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin at the hands of police officer George Zimmerman.

In a Facebook post made on June 1, YUSU’s Community and Wellbeing Officer Steph Hayle announced that the Report + Support website was live after “years and years of campaigning”. It comes as an update to the previous system of misconduct reporting, which took the form of a Google Forms Questionnaire. 

The new Report + Support system can be used to either submit a formal report or to alert the University of any misconduct by either staff or students.

A formal report can only be made if contact details are provided; Steph Hayle, in a comment under her Facebook post, says that this because a “person/group accused have a right know who is accusing them as it may support their defense [sic]”. According to her post, a member of staff will contact you to discuss what actions can be taken and what support is available for people who report misconduct. 

The anonymous Report + Support system optionally asks people to submit information on their demographic makeup, such as their age range and sexuality. The anonymous reporting system will not lead to any formal investigation unless their duty of care guidance applies. But the website says that “It is still useful for us to know who else you have told for us understanding issues impacting our University community, monitoring trends, and informing proactive and preventative work”. A University spokesperson told Vision “We are committed to being transparent and open across the University and ensuring we comply with our legal obligations regarding data protection and personal information”. They did not provide any specifics to the frequency of the data’s publication. 

One of the pages on the site asks people to submit evidence to supplement their report in the form of image files. According to a University spokesperson “students are encouraged to submit any information that they consider relevant. The University will then evaluate this on a case-by-case basis and investigate the matter further if required”. 

The University has stated in their privacy notice on the Report + Support website that “There are certain circumstances in which the University may provide information about the matters raised in a report, including personal data, to third parties such as the police and social care services. This may include providing personal data about you without your prior knowledge or consent”. It is not yet known under what circumstances the University will decide which cases to pass onto third parties.

The Dignity at Work and Study Policy page says that it aims to “provide procedures and mechanisms to report and address incidents of harassment, bullying and hate incidents appropriately”, seemingly acting as a formal policy supplement to the Report and Support system by stating the University’s commitment to “creating a working, learning, social and living environment which is safe, inclusive and welcoming for everyone”. 

Among other things, the policy states that “Whilst we encourage academic freedom to debate and challenge lawful viewpoints, we are all expected to treat each other with dignity and respect, recognising that our staff, students and wider communities have diverse identities, abilities and experiences. This however does not mean that academic freedom is unfettered. It may be limited should this impact the safety and rights of others, and more importantly amount to harassment, bullying or hate incidents”. It is currently unclear how academic freedoms may be limited, but it may not come as a shock to some: just last year, the Daily Mail reported that the English Department had to apologise for a lecturer saying the word “n*gro” during a lecture on civil rights.