We, as the University leadership, are deeply sorry about the distress that has been caused, first and foremost to the victims of the events surrounding the group chat.This impact has also been felt across our community – including students, staff, alumni and supporters. Many, inside and outside the university, have called into question our processes for dealing with the kind of abhorrent behaviour we saw in the group chat. Consequently, the Council, including its Students' Union representatives, agreed unanimously last week to set up a review of our student disciplinary and appeals process. The review will report to Council and Senate and its report will be published publicly.
We understand that our world is becoming increasingly complex, not least because of social media, and that we need to look at how our processes are able to adapt to this new context. As part of this, the University will look at how we communicated throughout, both with the victims and with you, the wider Warwick community. We need to see what lessons can be learned and future proof this learning so it can cope with this increased complexity. We believe it is of utmost importance that staff and students have confidence in our processes, especially those who are living as victims and survivors.
The Council have asked Dr Sharon Persaud, a solicitor with over 25 years of experience, to lead the independent review. She was a partner at Bindman & Partners, practising in criminal defence, with a particular focus on cases which engaged wider issues of civil liberties and the rights of those disadvantaged in the criminal justice system. She previously worked as a specialist appeals lawyer in the Criminal Appeal Office at the Court of Appeal and between 2013-2018, as a publicly-appointed Commissioner at the Criminal Cases Review Commission. She also served as an independent peer reviewer for the Legal Services Commission and has lectured on criminal law, evidence and procedure.
As an independent reviewer Dr Persaud will be free to decide how best to conduct the review. I envisage she will want to look at the written records, to speak to those who were involved in the process and to hear views more widely. We will be asking her both to produce a “lessons learnt” and to make recommendations for our future student disciplinary processes and procedures. Those recommendations will go to the Senate and Council, on which the Students' Union is represented. I envisage there will then be a final consultation on the recommendations before final decisions are taken.
In parallel with the review, we will be consulting widely within the university on how we can translate our values of openness, diversity, respect and trust, as set out in our strategy, in to a full statement or code of what is and is not acceptable behaviour and, also, how we can encourage those positive behaviours. This work will be overseen by a joint group of Senate and Council, chaired by Viki Cooke, Vice Chair of Council, on which, of course, the Students' Union will be represented.
The two reviews will need to keep in close touch so that any recommendations for new disciplinary procedures are aligned with any new statement of values and behaviours. We fundamentally believe that collaboration between members of the community and leadership team, as well as the external perspective of Dr Persaud, will help us determine the best direction forward for the community and University as a whole.
Reviewing our processes in order to define our values and processes is a key priority for all of us. To this end, the University hopes the two elements of the review, if possible, will be able to report within three months of their starting date. This clearly will be dependent on the logistics around arranging consultation meetings and – crucially – allowing time for people to give their views. We would like to conclude the final consultation on the review’s recommendations by the end of the academic year.
Finally, we want to reiterate our commitment to providing appropriate wellbeing support for students who have been affected by the group chat incident, as well as meeting the wellbeing needs of all students.
Three years ago, the University agreed a closer working relationship with the Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC) in the aftermath of the Zellick Report. This included having an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor on campus. We are currently in talks with CRASAC about making this a permanent position and understand this is a development which would be welcomed by the Warwick community.
In the meantime, we are making additional, specific wellbeing resource available for all those affected by the recent events who would like support. To this end, an independent psychologist will start by the end of the week. We commit to putting in place additional counselling and well-being support specifically to support particular groups of students who may be in need of additional well-being resources. We are also currently reviewing our mental health provision with the aim of bringing down waiting times to a level that our students deserve. We will accelerate that review with urgency.
Again, the University apologises for all the distress that has been caused by the events of recent weeks. We are determined to provide our students with a campus where they are, and can feel, safe. We are committed to learning lessons from what has gone on as a matter of urgency and would very much welcome the engagement of everyone at Warwick in making sure that we emerge from this in a stronger and better place for us all, but especially our students.
Rachel Sandby-Thomas, Registrar.
13 February 2019
Additional Wellbeing Support Services
We are making additional, specific wellbeing resource available for all those affected by the recent events who would like support. This support is free, confidential, and open to all students and staff. Provision includes an independent psychologist who will hold sessions with individuals who would prefer to speak to a clinician external to the University.
You can find out more about the Wellbeing support available on their webpages