Colleges tackling dozens of discipline issues on campus

Third-level colleges have to investigate charges ranging from cheating in exams to bullying and harassment. A 2015 case in Dundalk has led to a student being expelled, writes Noel Baker

Colleges tackling dozens of discipline issues on campus

AN INVESTIGATION by a college into alleged disorderly conduct/sexual harassment by a student against a staff member resulted in the student being expelled “due to serious nature of incidents”.

Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) said the case was among 19 allegations of bullying or disciplinary issues that it had investigated over a four-year period, during which it also dealt with claims of online bullying of staff by students.

The timeframe for the complaint was a week in December 2015, with the allegation of disorderly conduct/sexual harassment made against the student by a member of staff at the college.

It led to an internal disciplinary hearing following which the decision of the hearing panel was the expel the student “due to serious nature of [the] incidents”.

A separate investigation at DkIT into the alleged deliberate disclosure of confidential information earlier in 2015, made by one staff member against the other, resulted in a verbal warning being issued to staff member and cost the college €25,000 to investigate.

In another case at DkIT, an investigation instigated in December 2015 into alleged misuse of an institute email is ongoing. The college said the case, which involves two staff members, had seen an external investigator appointed and “possible criminal proceedings pending” with “disciplinary action ongoing”.

There was also two cases at the college between 2014 and into last year in which students were disciplined under the student code of conduct for use of social media against members of staff — the most recent case was described as “behaviour of students re verbal allegations against staff member and comments made on social media”.

The cases at DkIT were among more than 200 cases of allegations of disciplinary issues formally investigated across 21 colleges between 2013 and last year, inclusive, as revealed under freedom of information.

As for cases of bullying, harassment or disciplinary issues investigated at the larger universities, Trinity College Dublin said it had 17 cases, University of Limerick had 19, University College Cork had 14, University College Dublin had 19, Dublin City University had seven cases, NUI Maynooth had six and Dublin Institute of Technology had 32, including 17 complaints of staff bullying and 10 disciplinary cases.

NUI Galway said it had 15 cases, including six bullying complaints, with the college stating that those cases were separate from the four equality actions taken by four female lecturers that were brought directly to the circuit and High Court regarding a senior lecturer promotion scheme in 2013 and 2008.

NUI Galway
NUI Galway

In UCD, 14 formal complaints were lodged under the UCD dignity and respect policy, including seven cases lodged in 2015, one of which involved alleged sexual harassment, and four cases from last year, three of which were bullying-related and one was an allegation of sexual harassment.

Regarding last year’s cases there are four women complainants — one student and three staff — and five respondents all of whom are members of staff, three female and two male. Three investigations are ongoing and one case was not upheld.

UCD also outlined a number of disciplinary actions brought against students, such as the case dating from May 2015 based on “a report compiled by the chief invigilator in Singapore regarding an incident involving a student at an examination in Singapore in April 2015.

UCD
UCD

“The behaviour displayed at the examination centre may constitute a breach of the UCD student code”, referring to sections including copying or cheating at an exam, bringing notes into a hall and interfering with proper conduct of examinations as well as obstruction or harassment, including bullying, of a student or university staff.

The issue was referred to a disciplinary committee hearing under its procedures for overseas cases, with the student until July 1 of this year, reprimanded and fined €1,000.

UCD also referred to an October 2014 incident involving the College of Agriculture, Food and Science. A report from that school regarding an incident involving three students said “the behaviour displayed at the UCD Ag Soc event in the city centre may constitute a breach of the UCD Student Code”, in particular obstruction or harassment including bullying of any student or member of staff or acts and omissions by students while on work experience placements or field work. One student entered mediation with another student and was reprimanded, a second student did likewise and was not permitted to attend UCD Ag Soc events, and a third student paid €295 to cover costs, was reprimanded and fined €25.

Among the cases at DIT were 10 disciplinary incidents. All were investigated and all were upheld, including one case of gross misconduct and another case of inappropriate behaviour at work.

Formal or final written warnings were issued and, in one case, there was deferral of access to promotion for 12 months (misconduct in the form of inappropriate workplace behaviour) and in another two weeks suspended without pay plus deferral from promotion for two years (the case involving gross misconduct).

There were also costs to the colleges of investigating cases. Sligo IT spent a total of €131,367 in legal costs regarding three complaints. Dún Laoghaire IADT spent €107,128 investigating just one case, beginning in March 2015 and concluding in January lat year.

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology spent a total of €71,000 dealing with seven cases of alleged bullying — five involving staff members — and five cases under disciplinary procedures, all involving staff.

Those five cases included one allegation of misconduct and four of gross misconduct, leading to three resignations and two final written warnings.

More than €605,000 was spent on investigating cases in the 10 colleges who provided information regarding its spending in the area.

TCD said it had nine staff complaints in the past four years, all of which related to bullying bar one of harassment, and only one was upheld. It also had eight student complaints, all relating to harassment and all were upheld, with sanctions applied or, in a smaller number of cases, mediated resolution.

University College Cork had 14 cases in total, including six bullying cases brought to Campus Watch, the college’s student neighbourhood watch scheme, all involving students making complaints about other students.

University College Cork
University College Cork

In those cases, either no breach of rules was found, or the complaints were not upheld, bar one case in 2013 which resulted in community service and counselling.

In the same period, three investigations were conducted under UCC’s disciplinary procedure — one involved academic staff and two others support staff, and in all three cases sanctions were applied.

In addition, five cases were brought under bullying and harassment in the same timeframe. Three involved academic staff, with complaints either against a colleague or managers, but in those three cases the complaint was not proceeded with.

In two other cases involving support staff, with complaints against a manager and a colleague, respectively; one led to mediation and the complaint was dropped in the other.

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