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Exeter University takes disciplinary action against two staff in student relationships

Two relationships resulted in disciplinary action against staff in the last 10 years

There have been two cases of disciplinary action taken against staff members involved in relationships with students at the University of Exeter in the last 10 years.

Data obtained by The Tab from a freedom of information request has revealed that since the start of the academic year 2013/14 up to and including this year 2023/24, there have been two cases of disciplinary action taken against staff members involved in relationships with students.

The university responded to both relationships by adhering to its disciplinary procedure and initiating thorough investigations. In one instance, the prospect of the investigation was enough to prompt the staff member’s resignation before a disciplinary hearing could take place.

As for the second relationship, the staff member was promptly dismissed following their disciplinary hearing.

The nature of these relationships, whether intimate or not, remains unknown due to the university’s admitted oversight, as communicated to The Exeter Tab: “Our records of these cases do not record whether there was an intimate relationship which should have been reported under the Staff-Student Relationships Policy.” For anyone who stresses about essay referencing, this really puts those bibliography blunders into perspective, doesn’t it?

Another loose end emerges as the university failed to provide the total number of staff-student relationships that have occurred in the last 10 years.

The university explained how the process of creating a secure digital process for colleagues to declare relationships has been put on hold following the release of the UK guidance in September 2022.

Instead, staff members are responsible for promptly reporting relationships with students to their Head of Department, enabling an early assessment of potential conflicts of interest and influence by the university.

However, as a result of this, information isn’t centralised and is held within departments. Accessing this information for reporting purposes poses challenges, since the university must coordinate with multiple departments and managers, given that the data isn’t readily accessible or centralised.

Therefore, in a convenient and fortunate workaround, the university would require more than 18 hours to gather precise data, surpassing the cost limit outlined in section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act.

Conclusively, the university couldn’t provide a number for reported or declared personal relationships between staff and students within the last 10 years.

The data however did outline that under the university’s staff disciplinary procedure, suspension is not considered as disciplinary action.

Regardless, this ambiguous count should not see an increase, considering that the University of Exeter implemented a firm ban on staff-student relationships in its revised Staff/Student Relationships Policy at the start of the 2021/22 academic year. This is unlike the decision taken by 18 other Russell Group universities which, as revealed in a report by The Tab, still permit staff-student relationships.

Exeter’s policy on staff/student personal relationships outlines that staff found initiating an intimate relationship with a student will be considered a breach of this policy and potentially result in dismissal through the staff disciplinary procedure for gross misconduct. Moreover, the failure to disclose such relationships, even if this relationship were simply family friends, may result in disciplinary action for non-disclosure, handled similarly under the policy and potentially leading to dismissal.

In Section 7 of this policy, titled Further Action, crucial steps for addressing power misuse and conflicts of interest are outlined: Students are encouraged to reach out to department heads or pro-vice-chancellors, while staff can seek support from line managers, pro-vice-chancellors, or HR. Avenues such as the Student Complaints Procedure or the Sexual Misconduct Policy for students are available to formalise complaints.

Need advice before taking formal steps? Dignity and Respect Advisors or Speak Out Guardians are there to help. The university vows to handle reported relationships with sensitivity, ensuring appropriate actions, including potential disciplinary measures.