The University accused of focusing more on payment for damages than student welfare.
Content warning: Sexual assault
Following three traumatic events which impacted a singular flat at Murano Street Student Village across two weeks, the affected students – the “Murano 12” – have consequently been presented with a bill for damages costing over £1,200 alongside an informal eviction notice, issued via email, by Executive Director of Student and Academic services, Robert Partridge.
Whilst students approached accommodation services for support, they claim they were met with corporate force in the form of extortionate bills, an absence of welfare support, and a threat of eviction. The Glasgow University Student Tenants Union (GUSTU) believes that the University of Glasgow have opted to act in the interests of the institution over the individual, “and hence the Murano 12 continue to find themselves in a precarious living situation through no fault of their own”.
Three significantly serious events affected the flat, including two incidences of sexual assault by persons not in attendance at the University of Glasgow. Damage to the front door of the flat was incurred, speculated to be in connection with the first event of sexual assault by intruders who had broken into the University accommodation.
The first event involved the breaking in of three men to the student halls in late January. The students immediately contacted both accommodation security and the police, however Kingdom security took over 10 minutes to arrive. By the time they did, further conflict had arisen after additional members of the flat had returned home to find intruders present, with a fight having reportedly broken out.
A meeting was held to discuss the events of the first incident with the flat residents and, resultantly, on 26 January, Robert Partridge emailed the Murano 12 to say that the University “broadly accept that [their] actions did not directly cause the damage to [their] flat or the ensuing brawl”. However, in direct contradiction to this and following a further meeting with the flat residents a week later, an email was sent to the residents on 2 February which stated: “This message serves as an individual and collective warning that any further incidents will leave us with no choice but to end your tenancy agreements with us.” This was despite the residents’ reports that the men, who were later arrested by police, were able to gain access due to the poor security of their accommodation block’s front door.
In response to concerns about the ongoing safety issue at the student halls, Robert Partridge replied: “Robert [Garnish, Director of Commercial Services] explained that he is looking into the possibility of replacing the outside doors of your block and others like it. We envisage this will cost us in the region of £100K, but we accept that it is a worthwhile investment to increase security on the site.”.
Despite the incidents affecting the Murano 12 many believe the University displays blatant disregard for student welfare. Gary Stephen, Head of Security, reportedly told one of the affected students not “to pull the mental health card”. Many view the alleged statement as a concerning standalone comment, especially in relation to a series of events that includes sexual assaults.
In an email sent to the University’s Chief Operating Officer, David Duncan, the Glasgow University Student Tenants Union (GUSTU) wrote: “Murano management staff forced the students to attend meetings devoid of welfare checks, where instead their testimony (despite being on police record) was constantly undercut.” None of the meetings or emails centred around providing the affected individuals with support, and there were occasions where Murano staff spoke only to residents’ parents rather than the students themselves, “infantilising and delegitimising their experiences”. David Duncan did not respond to GUSTU’s above-mentioned email.
Following further damage inflicted to the outside of the flat door, alongside a noise complaint, Robert Partridge saw it fit to ask the students to permanently leave the accommodation, writing: “In the absence of any mitigating factors, we now intend to ask you to leave your accommodation.” This was not, however, a formal or legally-binding eviction notice, which at present would be illegal to issue under the Covid-19 extended eviction ban. The threat of eviction in Robert Partridge’s email was one that was issued informally, and without provision of the students’ own rights in relation to their accommodation.
The issuing of informal eviction notices has been suggested by a member of GUSTU to be a tactic employed by the University to evade the issue, and therefore the extended cost and hassle of a legal challenge and court order. If flat occupants leave voluntarily after receiving an informal eviction notice then they likely assume the liability for any damages incurred and are expected to pay.
The Murano 12 disputed the damage to the door, referring to a previous incident nearer the start of academic term where similar damage had been caused by an external party. They pointed out that the damage was done to the outside of the door, whilst the door was locked from the inside. The 12 stated that security would be able to verify this and added that the most likely explanation following on from those facts would be that “an external party” had caused the damage. After consulting with Glasgow University Student Tenants Union, the flat residents told Robert Partridge: “We will not be leaving this flat without another meeting and a proper investigation.”
Throughout the process, the University has been accused of being “unsympathetic” to the residents’ situation. In discussion with GUTSU one resident commented: “They started listing ways in which we were responsible, such as not keeping the door locked, and even told us people are attracted to Murano because we post on social media.” In an email to Robert Partridge the residents also noted that members of staff had to apologise to them after making a series of comments about them.
In further email correspondence, Robert Partridge has partially withdrawn his informal eviction notice, however warns students that they will instead face a period of probation: “Providing we receive no further reports of serious incidents, we will not require you to leave at the end of your notice period.” The students are still expected to pay the total cost of the damages, though.
This article was updated on 1 March to include the following:
A University of Glasgow spokesperson said:
“We have a duty to protect everyone in our residences and we cannot tolerate behaviour that endangers safety of others. We asked the students in this flat to leave after multiple COVID breaches and significant damage to University property for which no reasonable explanation was offered.
“The University met with those involved multiple times to discuss concerns and agreed that, on the understanding that there are no significant incidents, the eviction notice will expire after 28 days and we will take no further action at this time. We have always made clear that support is available for all students through our health, wellbeing and welfare services and, over the course of this semester, support staff have undertaken checks on security and safety in all residences and found no issues of note.
“We understand this has been a very difficult period, particularly for those living in University residences. To assist, we have rolled out a programme of financial and wellbeing support, including an enhanced investment programme for refurbishments of accommodation, totalling of £4.5 million this year.”
The SRC commented:
“The SRC Advice Centre is a confidential service independent of the University, which employs professional advice staff, and any student is welcome to contact them for advice and support about their accommodation issues, and a range of issues relating to student life and wellbeing.”
Contact the Advice Centre: [email protected].