Dear Dr Kenneth Edwards: Since the fiasco over Austen Donnellan, have the chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and his colleagues learnt nothing?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I am sure you remember that case of supposed 'date-rape' involving Miss X and Austen Donnellan (who was acquitted) - and the way in which the episode was mishandled by the disciplinary committee of King's College London. The affair has been haunting your committee of academics ever since.

Most recently it resulted in your leaked interim report on how to cope with allegations of crime on campus. It appears that the authors, a 'task force' of vice-chancellors from around the country, have learnt nothing from the Donnellan fiasco. Why is it that your colleagues remain determined to play policeman, judge and jury? Have they nothing better to do? Are they power-crazy? Or do they wish to protect the reputations of their universities above all else?

After all, what we learn from the Donnellan affair is how appallingly academics investigate allegations of crime and dispense justice. Consider: after an evening of drunken debauchery, Miss X told college officials that Mr Donnellan had committed a particularly nasty crime - he had allegedly raped her in a hall of residence. She wanted him kicked out of the university. But she did not want to make a complaint to the police - and was subsequently reported as claiming that this was the college's advice.

King's College suggested to Mr Donnellan - who insisted that he was innocent - that he might do a deal. He would have to admit to sexual misconduct, apologise, and abandon his academic career months before he was due to sit his finals. In return, it was suggested to him that Miss X would agree not to go to the police. Some deal]

A subsequent inquiry commissioned by the college from Judge Marcus Edwards found this proposal 'contrary to public policy, unenforceable and capable of amounting to an attempt to obstruct the course of justice'. In any case, Mr Donnellan insisted on his day in court and was cleared.

At which point your committee decided it was time to look at disciplinary procedures again. Hence the task force.

The published extracts from their report show a group of people who seem determined to bypass the police and the courts in all but the most serious of criminal cases.

Among the issues they suggest should be resolved by the type of disciplinary committees that served Mr Donnellan so ill are 'slight damage to university property, minor assault or affray, personal possession of cannabis' (my italics). Can your colleagues not see that such phraseology would spawn endless debates about which side of the line a slightly smashed college bar, a drunken grope or three or four ounces of hash would fall?

It is time universities confined their disciplinary activities to dealing with students who miss lectures, cheat in examinations or howl down visiting lecturers whose politics they find obnoxious. Attacks on persons and property are matters for the police and the courts, not the politically correct amateur disciplinarians.

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