Letter: Student disciplinary procedures: where responsibility lies

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The Independent Online
Sir: John Torode's analysis of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals' interim report on student disciplinary proceedings seriously misunderstands the meaning of the report and the nature of universities (Open Letter, 19 April).

The report is now out for consultation in universities and has not been 'leaked'. In writing it, our task force has consulted Judge Marcus Edwards, from whose report on the Austen Donnellan case Mr Torode quotes. Our draft guidelines are nowhere in disagreement with the judge's report.

The guidance says that universities must always refer allegations of serious crime to the police. The report distinguishes between the action to be taken in these cases, and the action that might result from, say, slight damage to university property. The police do not normally wish to be involved with such minor offences and may well take no action. We are advised that the police would be happier for the university to act, rather than leave such minor offences unpunished.

The report admits that there is a fairly large grey area of crimes that fall between the trivial and the grave. The circumstances in which the crime is committed and the nature of the community in which the university is situated, are crucial factors in deciding what to do. In these cases, the report says, universities should seek legal advice and consult the local police.

We reject absolutely Mr Torode's facile suggestion that universities should only consider cases of academic misconduct, such as cheating in exams. Would a finance house take no action against an employee found guilty of assault on a colleague, merely because his crime was not financial?

Universities are not seeking to place themselves or their students above the law - quite the reverse. They are seeking to ensure that it is properly and fairly applied to all those for whom the university is responsible.

Yours faithfully,

KENNETH EDWARDS

Chairman

Committee of Vice-Chancellors

and Principals of

the Universities of the UK

London, WC1

19 April

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