Over a year since Moraq Ross KC was appointed to conduct an investigation into gender-based violence at the University of Glasgow, in the wake of a wave of the Al Jazeera Degree of Abuse podcast which Principal Anton Muscattelli described not as concerning nor troubling but “reputationally damaging” in an internal email to the Senior Management Group, and the BBC panorama documentary, the report has been published. The finding -“[the] overall view is that [UofG] at an institutional and policy level takes the issues seriously and can be trusted.”
The 261 page report makes 16 recommendations, with all bar one having been fully accepted by the University. The recommendations made are undoubtedly welcome but given the backdrop to which the report was instigated, it simply does not go far enough.
This is the second report of this ilk the University has published in recent years, following the Understanding Racism and Transforming University Cultures report in 2020. What is apparent when comparing the two reports is the lack of qualitative testimony and quantitative research published within the gender-based violence report. Ross states that she spoke “to around 140 individuals” and with 20 there was more than one meeting; for a report of this stature the prefix of “around” doesn’t fill one with confidence. This may appear to be besides the point, but it does indicate the structure of the report. Evidently, an extensive amount of research did go into the report, however forensic examination of the wording of policy is the primary focus. The most concerning element of the methodology is that only 40 interviewees had lived experience of gender-based violence, the majority of contributors were senior staff members. A process of introspection rather than investigation. The void of testimony means the pervasive nature of a culture which has facilitated failings on gender-based violence has been largely neglected.
Having conducted a series of interviews with survivors myself and those who have subsequently undertaken a complaint at the Senate level, one element of the process continually caused concern. The current process means that even if an individual has multiple allegations against them each case is heard independently of each other; a fundamental flaw. Yet the report doesn’t acknowledge this concern. In an investigation conducted by The Glasgow Guardian it was found that 53% of cases reported and dealt with under the Code of Student Conduct saw the “accused student” face “consequences”, whilst the report insinuated the other 47% of accused students received no reprimand. The Ross report did provide important recommendations regarding this process, stating that time limits should be imposed and a staff member outwith academic staff should lead the investigation. However this is the one recommendation where rather than committing fully the University states: “We will consider the introduction of a conjoined mechanism for handling complex cases involving staff and students as proposed in the Ross Report.”
The link between gender-based violence and bullying is intrinsic. In an interview I conducted in 2020, former rector Aamer Anwar told The Glasgow Guardian that there are some “really horrible cases of bullying [at the University]” and that there are “certain people [in senior management] that you can do nothing about, they will use any mechanism to silence you”. In the last five years, there have been five reports of bullying against the Senior Management Group. In the last three years, there have been four allegations of bullying against Primary Investigators and all of them have been against men. In an email sent to the Principal on 5 November, the Joint Union Liaison Committee said: “The trade unions believe these issues of abuse of power dynamics, and of survivors being let down by university procedures, are not isolated incidents but indicative of a wider cultural problem that needs addressing. Each union has had to support members through abuse and harassment, and we are fully aware that many cases are not reported”. Therefore, it is surprising that the report, whilst acknowledging the link, states that: “I have listened carefully but I do not attempt to address those wider issues.”
The report also concludes that the gender-based violence module initiated by the SRC should not be compulsory, citing valid concerns. However, data obtained by The Glasgow Guardian via Freedom of Information Request show that only 34.5 % of the 34,811 students studying at the University in the academic year 2020/21, have completed the module.
The report, which has taken over a year to produce, doesn’t go much beyond the draft proposed policy review set out by the Senior Management Group in October 2021, obtained by The Glasgow Guardian via Freedom of Information Request. The draft policy proposal had nine recommendations all of which make up part of Ross’ 16: from a review of online reporting tools to a complete review of the code of conduct including timeframes for investigations and increased training and development for those in charge. The proposal set forth by SMG over a year ago is a clear framework for the Ross report; to some degree, the internal proposal goes further with the overarching aim “to build trust in the systems” and “embedding [the changes] into the organisation’s culture” .
Of course, the report is a welcome step forward, but given the circumstances that prompted its publication, its insight is limited.