Credit: The Herald

University of Glasgow ‘can be trusted’ on gender-based violence: Ross Report 

By Kimberley Mannion

The Ross report highlights informally coordinated responses to GBV cases and the pressure put on staff and student union members to deal with cases of sexual misconduct. 

The University of Glasgow has published the Ross Report on gender-based violence (GBV) and announced that it will implement all but one of its sixteen recommendations in full, with the last of the changes to be made before the start of the 2023/24 academic year. The independent external review was called in October 2021 and led by Morag Ross KC, who undertook a similar investigation at Heriot-Watt University in 2019. 

The report found that the University “at an institutional and policy level takes the issues seriously and can be trusted.”

The recommendations which will be implemented include a review of the management of the online GBV reporting tool and of the resources deployed to immediate responses, which currently relies on a “very senior member of staff” taking action. The report notes that currently, responses to claims are “relatively informally coordinated”, and that sharing of information relied on “good working relationships and a willingness to spend time making connections with individual cases”, essentially dependent on staff sharing information with each other on each case.

The report contains a chapter on how the student unions handle GBV cases, which it describes as “dysfunctional”. The University has now stated that in future, conduct cases relating to GBV will be handled by the University conduct team rather than the boards of the unions themselves. Ms Ross KC stated that when gathering the evidence for the report, “some of the most compelling and distressing accounts” of problems in responses to GBV came from within the student unions. An “unfair burden” exists on students holding usually voluntary positions within unions in dealing with cases of sexual misconduct, who do not have the necessary training and experience and find themselves trying to resolve complex and time consuming cases above what should be the expectation for their position as union members. The report highlights that given the pressures those in the role find themselves in, it is “almost inevitable” that mistakes will be made. Another key question raised over the unions handling their own GBV cases is whether it is realistic to expect them to carry out an investigation of the same rigour as a University conduct process could, however Ross notes that students expressed a belief they would not be taken seriously by the University. 

Another commitment the University has made following the report is to put in place a comprehensive record-keeping system “as a matter of urgency”, to be advised by the Data Protection Team. This is in response to concern in the report that record keeping is “not always consistent.” Administration of student conduct matters is a concern within the report, with serious delays also being cited as a problem. 

The report also asks the University to consider whether it is “realistic” to continue asking staff to investigate instances of non-academic misconduct alongside other full-time responsibilities, and to instead view the option of appointing specialist investigators to conduct these. A recommendation is made to appoint “a single investigating officer and the preparation of a composite report” and this is the only recommendation on which the University does not make a commitment in its response. 

The calling of the report last October came in the week of Al Jazeera’s Degrees of Abuse investigation, which looked at sexual misconduct on the part of staff at the University, as well as BBC’s ‘Am I safe on campus?’ documentary. Morag Ross KC writes in her report that Al Jazeera’s podcast series should not be seen as “establishing failures” by the University, and instead states she believes they “put forward contentions in a way which fails properly to reflect the complexities of the evidence and of the procedures followed.” 

In an email sent out to all students following the report’s release, Principal Anton Muscatelli stated: “The University’s Senior Management Group recognises that Gender-Based Violence is a challenging and troubling issue for universities and for wider society, and we are deeply sorry that any member of our community has been subject to abuse or harassment.

“We want to thank Ms Ross KC for her diligent and sensitive investigation of our systems and procedures. We also wish to thank everyone who took part in this review and who has spoken openly and honestly about their experiences. We appreciate how difficult this is and acknowledge that Gender-Based Violence has devastating implications for individuals.”


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