A BBC News investigation has exposed the extent to which UK universities have been relying on Non-Disclosure Agreements to keep ugly-looking stories of bullying, harassment and discrimination out of the public eye. Around £87 million is said to have been spent on so-called ‘gagging orders’ since 2017.
As organisations, universities face particular pressures: the diverse mix of staff, the strong personalities involved; working alongside communities of young adults exploring their new freedoms; as well as the way in which academics will typically feel more loyalty to their discipline than their institution.
In our new context of awareness of inappropriate behaviours in the workplace, the misuse of power, it’s more important than ever that universities make sure their processes for dealing with staff complaints (and student complaints against staff) are both fair and watertight, with NDAs used for the right reasons, not for removing threats to reputation.
That means introducing good processes that build confidence and trust among staff, a certainty that they will be listened to and there will be a constructive outcome. Issues are raised early and dealt with early, long before tensions increase, positions become entrenched and formal disciplinary action is needed.
In recent years CMP has worked with HE on putting in place new in-house systems and services, training mediators, facilitators, and informal student complaints investigators under the OIA guidelines for a range of HE and FE institutions, including Leeds Beckett, University of York, De Montfort University, University of the Arts, University of Cardiff, and University of Wolverhampton, as well as providing ad-hoc practitioners for independent university mediations.
Arran Heal, Managing Director, CMP