Failing union fails students

Published

Credit: Kirsten Colligan

Georgina Hayes, Laurie Clarke, Hamish Morrison & Jen Bowey
Editors, News Editor & Deputy Editor

Queen Margaret Union has no sexual harassment policy and failed to report allegations to other University institutions

Cameron Logan, former Events Convenor of the Queen Margaret Union, was removed from the Union’s board of management and given a six month ban on 31 October 2017, following four separate allegations of sexual misconduct. The ban was later extended to twelve months following an appeal. The Union’s disciplinary committee upheld complaints involving sexual misconduct, inappropriate conduct, and bringing the Union into disrepute.

This has been confirmed by the current QMU President Mata Durkin and previous board members, and from documents obtained by this paper. A Glasgow Guardian investigation has uncovered that the QMU failed to report the allegations and disciplinary conclusions to any other University institution, and that their disciplinary process kept complainants mostly in the dark.

Logan declined to comment when approached by The Glasgow Guardian.

Logan’s ban from the Union is due to end next month. The Glasgow Guardian understands that the QMU is not seeking to extend Logan’s ban and, under current Union policy, he can run for re-election to the board of management.

Speaking to The Glasgow Guardian, Durkin admitted to serious problems with the Union’s reporting and disciplinary procedures. Durkin, who was also the Disciplinary Convenor on Logan’s first hearing, revealed the fact that the Union has no specific policy relating to reports of sexual misconduct and that the Union’s byelaws are, in her own words, “open to interpretation”. While all disciplinary matters are handled internally by the board, Durkin feels that board members are not trained to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct “at all”.

For comparison, the Glasgow University Union has a comprehensive and detailed harassment and bullying policy, disciplinary memorandum and complaints procedure. Furthermore, all of the GUU’s committees, freshers’ helpers and board members are trained in sexual violence prevention. All QMU freshers’ helpers are also trained in sexual violence prevention. The GUU’s policy also states that cases which have been through the Union’s disciplinary procedures can be reported by the Union to the University authorities for a follow-up. In instances where a criminal offence may have been committed, the complaints procedure clearly lays out that the Union can report this to the police.

The Glasgow Guardian can confirm that the only instance in which the QMU liaised with other student bodies pertaining to Logan’s case was to speak to current SRC President Lauren McDougall, who at the time was running the Let’s Talk About Sexual Violence programme, to inform her that the QMU felt it was inappropriate for Logan to continue to participate as a sexual violence prevention trainer. McDougall has confirmed to The Glasgow Guardian that the QMU approached her with this information. She also confirmed that although they weren’t given specifics of the case, the SRC offered to advise and help the QMU in reporting the allegations to the University Senate, but that the QMU refused this offer.

When asked if Durkin believes that the Queen Margaret Union failed in its duty of care to all University of Glasgow students by not informing other University institutions of the allegations, Durkin said: “Short answer yes. There’s definitely a lot more that we could have done. We did try our best. We looked at what we felt would be the best course of action to protect our members.” The Glasgow Guardian asked if this means that there was a concern to protect the members of the QMU but not necessarily the wider student body, to which Durkin responded: “When I say our members I do mean all students, the only issue is if I were to take that anywhere else there is nothing to say they would do anything.”

On the Queen Margaret Union’s failure to report the Logan case, SRC President Lauren McDougall has told The Glasgow Guardian: “Members of each of the four student bodies are students of the University of Glasgow first and foremost. As independent organisations, each student body has their own complaints and disciplinary processes, however any allegations against any student members which relate to a potential breach of the Student Code of Conduct should be handled through the appropriate University channels for the welfare and safety of all involved.

“The SRC were made aware of a disciplinary matter last year, although only very limited details were shared, and it was recommended that if the nature of the allegation was a potential conduct breach that it should be reported to the Senate Office. An offer of support in escalating the matter was offered, as the SRC engage in these processes regularly, but this was not followed up on by the Queen Margaret Union.”

To make a report to the Senate, the complainants would not have had to waive their anonymity. Without the complainants being named the Senate would not have been able to pursue an investigation, however they would have been able to hold the information and potentially use it as corroborating evidence should other allegations arise.

As to whether the Queen Margaret Union attempted to hush up the case, Durkin told The Glasgow Guardian “to an extent”.

Updating Union policy has not been a priority…

Under the current Union constitution, board members are governed by different rules than Union members. Whereas ordinary members have disciplinary cases reviewed under a three strikes system, board members have their cases reviewed in isolation to any past incidents. Current Union policy dictates that a member must commit assault three times before receiving a lifetime ban from the Union. For non-board members, any complaints or disciplinary actions are recorded in the Union’s Disciplinary Archive, however this procedure is not followed if the complainee is a board member. When pressed on whether not holding disciplinary records on board members seems to be an oversight – which was the case with Logan – Durkin concedes: “I would agree with that.”

Durkin also spoke candidly about further problems in the QMU’s disciplinary procedures, which she described as being “at points out of date”. She pointed out that changing them is the remit of the Vice President and that due to other responsibilities and being a full-time student it is therefore “not a priority most of the time”. This is something that Durkin expresses a wish to change, but as it stands there are no concrete plans to do so.

QMU’s long-term failure to act…

The Union’s disciplinary procedures with regard to allegations against election candidates are also a point of concern. Currently, as Durkin confirms, accusations of misconduct do not affect a candidate’s eligibility to run for a board position: “It’s been something that’s happened in a few elections where something has come up about a candidate, but essentially in our governing documents there’s nothing to say that [their candidacy can be stopped] if a candidate has done something other than things that relate exactly to the election.”

Durkin has told The Glasgow Guardian that as a priority of her presidency, she wishes to implement changes to the existing disciplinary procedures and introduce provisions specific to sexual misconduct. However, Durkin admits that the Union have been deliberating on changing their policy for quite some time, but no action has been taken. The Glasgow Guardian asked Durkin if they are bringing in legal help to update their policy, to which Durkin confirmed that they’re only planning to get advisory help: “We’re still in the process of picking a specific person […] one of the things Priya [former QMU President] discussed was if the disciplinary or executive committee feel it’s too serious then we just immediately take it to the University Senate.” Durkin adds that last year she wanted to add a harassment charge to their disciplinary policy, but the idea never even made it to a board meeting.

When asked if the handling of the Logan case would affect people’s faith in the QMU’s ability to handle such cases appropriately, Durkin said: “There’s a difference between doing the best and doing our best, and with what we had at the time I still believe that I did our best.”

Priya Khindria, who was President at the time of Logan’s case, declined The Glasgow Guardian’s request for comment.

The complainants have their say…

The Glasgow Guardian has spoken to two of the four complainants in the Logan case on how they feel their reports were handled by the Union. For the purpose of anonymity, we will be referring to the complainants as Person A and Person B, which in no way refers to the order in which complaints were made.

GG: Were you made aware by the Queen Margaret Union that this person’s ban was only going to be a year-long, and that it expires within the next two months?

Person A: “I was made aware of this at the time, however, I was under the impression that this was the maximum punishment available [the maximum punishment available is a lifetime ban].”

Person B: “I was aware that this person was given a ban but was unaware as to how long for. I wasn’t really kept aware of the process or what was happening except for a few updates here and there from a third party.”

GG: How do you feel about the fact that the Queen Margaret Union did not inform other University institutions, such as the Glasgow University Union, meaning that this person was able to enter and frequent other events on campus with the organisers unaware of the accusations?

Person A: “Myself and others involved were not allowed to discuss the case outside of the group of people who already had knowledge of it. It felt as though informing other student bodies was violating this confidentiality and would not be allowed by the QMU. On reflection, I feel that this is a dangerous rule to have as it put students attending the GUU at risk of having similar experiences.”

Person B: “Personally, I asked the Union not to talk to others about it. I wanted to keep it within the Union and not take it further out of fear that I would be told it wasn’t that serious or people wouldn’t take the accusations seriously given the nature of society right now. However, the fact that this person is now allowed into the GUU is not okay.”

GG: The current SRC President asked the Union if they wanted the SRC’s help in reporting this person to the University Senate. If the Queen Margaret Union were to have reported this case to the University Senate, the names of the accusers would not have been needed. Rather, they could have reported the accused – without naming the accusers – and this could then have been used to corroborate other accusations possibly made. How do you feel about the Union’s decision not to report?

Person A: “At the time I was asked whether or not I wanted this matter reported to the University Senate. I refused then because I was very clearly informed that my anonymity would not be upheld during this process. I am quite frankly shocked to discover that this was not the case at all and I feel let down by the Union. I was directly misinformed and had I been given the correct information at the time I would definitely have pushed for the case to be reported to the Senate.

“At times I was made to feel as though this case was making a mountain out of a molehill and I was worried about making too much fuss. I suffer from anxiety, however, and therefore could not know for certain if this was the fault of the Union or simply just my anxiety which made me feel this way.”

Person B: “I wasn’t aware that names could remain anonymous. I spoke through a third party and they didn’t give a lot of information out to me. I stand by not wanting to go to the Senate as I worried they wouldn’t take the case seriously as I felt I didn’t have enough of a case for any further action to take place. I think this is a fault on the Uni as a whole for not educating its students on what can be reported when it comes to sexual misconduct.”

GG: The Queen Margaret Union did not record this case in their Disciplinary Archive as it was a Board Member accused and not a regular Union Member. Do you have any comment on this?

Person A: “It honestly makes it feel like the whole process was worthless since there’s no official record of it ever happening.

“I would like to add that I think that this policy is ridiculous. Board members of the Union should be held to the same – if not a higher – standard as ordinary members. It’s disgraceful that the Union can get away with not recording disciplinary action taken against board members.”

Person B: “This policy should be updated and I trust the current exec to do so given they came on board after this happened. [Members of the current exec, including Durkin, were on the board at the time of the Logan case]. However, I believe being a board member should not exempt you from this – if anything you should be punished more considering you’re technically in a position of power!”

GG: The Queen Margaret Union’s President has admitted that things could have been done differently and that the process could have been improved. Do you agree with this?

Person A: “I wholeheartedly agree. I would also like to add that I find it interesting that the President feels as though it could have been handled better given that she was in charge of the original disciplinary procedure in her role as Vice President of the Board. Does she feel that she has let us down, and if so why weren’t we approached about this?”

Person B: “Things could have been done differently. Going through a third party was difficult as any questions I had couldn’t be answered right away or couldn’t be answered at all. I was left out the loop a fair amount and relied on others to give me updates.

“Overall the process could be improved campus-wide. I am a current SVP trainer and through this, I realised how difficult it can be to talk to someone or to make a complaint against someone and so the process should be easier to understand.”

GG: Do you feel that you were adequately supported throughout the complaints and disciplinary process?

Person A: “I did receive support throughout and was told that I could withdraw at any time. The process was well explained and I was guided through everything I needed to do. One thing that did let the whole process down was the lack of signposting to the University counselling services or any free advice […] I feel that in cases of this nature it is vital for this information to be provided, and this should be mandatory for anyone dealing with this type of case.”

Person B: “I feel like support was available should I have wanted it but unfortunately as this person was on the board at the time I avoided the Union altogether for fear I would run into him. As well as this, going through a third party made this a lot harder. I wish I had more courage to stand up for myself as opposed to letting another do the talking. Again, I was frightened about coming forward as well as […] my account was very personal and it became apparent I was the one who had written it and I was scared to run into friends of his. All in all, I avoided the Union and other places on campus but in hindsight, I feel I could have asked for support and it would have been given but given his position in the Union I felt I would be undermined.”

GG: Do you feel that there is anything else that could or should have been done to make you feel safer on campus?

Person A: “I didn’t know this option was there at the time but I do think that it would have made me feel safer to know that the other student bodies were made aware of the situation. Thankfully I was never approached by him, but I did see him several times on campus and I was very uncomfortable with that. The fact that he was still allowed in the GUU also put me off attending events in Hive.”

Person B: “Setting up a helpline, explaining how to go about putting in a complaint etc. Just making people feel comfortable when it comes talking about it. Setting up groups – anything that doesn’t make a person want to hide in shame.”

GG: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Person A: “I didn’t voice any issues with the process at the time because I simply did not know what could and couldn’t be done. I thought that I was being presented with the absolute maximum of what the QMU was capable of doing, and I trusted that they had my best interests at heart. I’m sure that things were done in a certain way unintentionally, and I do hope that this article will ensure that the procedure for anything similar is a lot smoother and has clearer guidelines.

“I would like to think that the QMU will use this as an opportunity to put in place clear, easy to follow guidelines on what to do in these situations so that others don’t end up with misinformation in the future.”

Person B: “I always feel like what happened to me wasn’t enough to complain about. I was anxious about this because I felt no one would take me seriously and that’s not okay. I avoided the QM because I was too scared to run into him before anything came forward. I also now avoid the library for fear I’ll run into him. I walk down campus scared that he’ll see me and approach me. […] We can place the blame on one union but at the end of the day the Uni as a whole needs to do more – I should be allowed to use the library without fear.”

The Glasgow Guardian has spoken to the University’s Rector Aamer Anwar for comment on the case:

“The QMU procedures must be updated immediately and the University will give the Union whatever assistance it requires. It’s unacceptable that board members are perceived to be treated differently from ordinary members […] there appears to be no disciplinary policies on sexual harassment. There should be no ‘grey areas’ – that is nothing other than a recipe for disaster and puts staff and students at risk. I am shocked and disappointed […] but now is surely the time to act.”

A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow has said: “The University takes all allegations of misconduct extremely seriously, whether this takes place on University premises, in the unions or anywhere else on campus. We expect the highest standards to be adhered to at all times and would encourage anyone who feels that they have been mistreated in any way to come forward.”

To make a report to the University, which can be anonymous, follow: https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/students/safetyhealth/reportandsupport/