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Staff and student complaints

Disclosure date: 10 October 2012

Reference: FOI2012/064

Request

I would like to know how many complaints you have received regarding the following (I would like to see this information for the past 3 years, broken down on a yearly basis):

1.) Bullying
2.) Stalking
3.) Sexual Harassment
4.) Racial Harassment
5.) Religious Harassment
6.) Disability Harassment
7.) Sexual Orientation Harassment
8.) Cases of Physical Assault

For each instance I would like to know
a.) Whether the complaint was made by a university student or a staff member (if the complaint has been made by a staff member I would like to know the pay grade at which they are working)
b.) Whether the complaint was made against a university student or a staff member (if the complaint has been made against a staff member I would like  to know the pay grade at which they are working)
c.) If any action was taken as a result of the complaint
d.) The date of the complaint

Response

These kinds of incident are primarily covered by the Dignity at SOAS policy and procedures (which can be accessed on the SOAS website at http://www.soas.ac.uk/equalitydiversity/dignitysuite/ ). Staff and students are encouraged in the first instance to report incidents in line with this procedure. Some complaints about staff are made directly to Human Resources under either the Staff Grievance or Disciplinary Procedures. A small number (especially in 2009/10 before the Dignity at SOAS Procedure was widely publicised) were made under the Student Complaints Procedure. I have attempted to collate details of incidents reported under all of the procedures (and avoid duplication). Please see the attached spreadsheet which contains summary details of each relevant reported incident. It should be noted that incidents are not usually categorised in the way requested, so the details in the attached spreadsheet are based on an analysis conducted as a result of this request. It should be noted that most reported incidents are resolved informally, and the eventual outcome may not be recorded. The most serious cases were escalated to other procedures to be handled more formally.

Dates and staff grades have not been provided. This is because of the risk that individuals could be identified from the information released. Individuals contact the Diversity Adviser and Human Resources to report such incidents with an understanding that their complaint will be handled as far as possible in confidence. We are therefore keen to avoid inadvertently disclosing details that could conflict with this understanding. In the Data Protection Act, the definition of personal information includes “data which relate to a living individual who can be identified… from those data and other information which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller”. As disclosure under FOI is effectively disclosure to all, we have to consider what knowledge or information anyone would have, and it is our view that some people (aside from those who already know about the incidents referred to) would have knowledge that would allow them to identify the individuals concerned. It is also worth noting that in most cases, the grade of staff would not be recorded by the Diversity Adviser who received the complaint. Staff or students making complaints to the Diversity Adviser may well not expect the details of their complaint to be shared with Human Resources, so the act of consulting Human Resources to attach grades to members of staff could breach the Data Protection Act in itself.

The exemption at section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) covers personal information. It states that information is exempt from disclosure if disclosure would contravene the Data Protection principles. In this case, the first Data Protection principle – that data should be processed fairly and lawfully – is relevant. Those who have reported incidents would not expect the fact that they have made a complaint to be public knowledge, and those who have been the subject of a complaint would also not expect that information to be made more widely available. It would therefore be unfair to disclose details that could allow individuals to be identified.

The exemption at section 40(2) is an absolute exemption and it is therefore not necessary for SOAS to consider the public interest in disclosure in this case. However, SOAS has attempted to provide as much information as possible without risking the identification of individuals.