Evidence of bullying, sexual harassment found at Auckland University of Technology - review

Evidence of bullying, sexual harassment found at Auckland University of Technology - review
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An independent review has found evidence of sexual harassment by eight former staff at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and heard more than 200 complaints of bullying.

It also criticised the university for failing to adequately investigate allegations of sexual harassment against two senior staff who left the university last year.

The review published today prompted the university's vice-chancellor, Derek McCormack, to apologise to all victims of bullying and other harassment.

The university commissioned the review by Kate Davenport QC last year after an academic at Australian National University complained of sexual harassment by a professor at AUT and allegations about a second man emerged.

Her report said 403 current and former staff and students made submissions to the review and most were interviewed either individually or in groups.

It said most staff said they loved the university but "by far the majority of people we interviewed reported concerns about harassment (bullying) at AUT".

"Of those we interviewed a total of 229 people reported that they had been bullied. This led to high levels of frustration and stress such that many considered their enjoyment of their work to be severely undermined.

"Some suffered health consequences and took stress or sick leave on the advice of their doctors. Some cried in the interviews or reported having cried at work. Some found those issues so overwhelming that they considered leaving. Some had left," the report said.

The report said some staff were regarded as well-known bullies but nothing was done about them and many people said they were afraid of complaining.

"People spoke of having no confidence that their complaints were handled fairly and efficiently. This complaint was not echoed by the Union members we saw," it said.

"A number of staff at AUT do not seem to appreciate the negative impact that their behaviour has on those that they work with. This behaviour has in some areas gone unchecked leading to great unhappiness for their colleagues and a negative impact on the University."

The report said badly performing staff were moved to other roles, promoted or "moved sideways" rather than the university tackling their problems.

It said the team working on the report heard distressing stories from women who said they had been sexually harassed and most spoke about staff members who had left the university.

"I found that while there have been incidents of sexual harassment in the past at AUT there was no evidence of current sexual harassment at AUT. Most of what was reported to us was historical and I did not conclude that AUT had a current problem with sexual harassment."

It said sexual harassment was reported as occurring in relationships where there was an imbalance of power, and the team heard many stories of harassment by a senior member of staff who no longer worked at the university.

"We heard of a few students who were sexually assaulted by other students in their Hall of Residence which were reported to the university and disciplinary proceedings were commenced. However, there is no compulsory training on consent for all students, unlike other overseas universities," the report said.

The report recommended the university redraft its code of conduct and include it in all its employment contracts, create a new standalone policy for sexual harassment with zero-tolerance for such behaviour, and introduce a new complaints policy and independent complaints office.

AUT vice-chancellor McCormack said he and the university's council accepted the findings and recommendations and would start work on them immediately.

"In response to these findings, on behalf of the university and personally, I want to apologise to all those past and present who have been subjected to bullying or other forms of harassment," he said.

"As a university, we should have done better and my commitment as vice-chancellor is that we will do better starting today."