From the NWU Vice-Chancellor: Sexual harassment complaints

Marelize Santana -- Thu, 06/23/2016 - 07:52

From the NWU Vice-Chancellor: Sexual harassment complaints

I have taken note of news reports about sexual harassment claims made by staff at the NWU and wish to place the following on record:
We take any complaint of sexual harassment very seriously as we did in the case referred to in a recent News24 report. We are committed to upholding the human dignity of our staff and students without fear or favour and to create an environment free of sexual harassment.

The NWU has proper policies and procedures regarding sexual and other forms of harassment in place. This specific matter was dealt with in accordance with the NWU’s behavioural policy and procedure. Any reports to the contrary are unfounded.

Each of the anonymous complainants were contacted by means of letters distributed to them via the individuals chosen by each of them as interlocutors. These letters provided the contact details of the labour relations officer dealing with the matter, as well as that of the NWU’s independent ombudsperson for harassment, in order to address the allegations of sexual harassment in a formal manner.

We also offered the complainants off-campus meetings and assured them that their identities would not be disclosed outside of the process.

Two of the complainants were initially prepared to go on record with their complaints, but declined to continue with the formal process when advised that they would be required to testify and possibly face cross-examination.

We are committed to recognising the rights of alleged perpetrators as well as the dignity and privacy of complainants and cannot proceed with any formal disciplinary process without observing the rules of natural justice encapsulated in our Constitution. This means that in order to proceed with disciplinary action, witnesses are needed to prove the allegations.

The matter could thus not be pursued formally as the eight complainants, who all wrote anonymous letters, were not prepared to proceed with this formal process of investigation, even though it was communicated to them that this process could be done in camera.

The decision not to proceed with a formal investigation was thus taken on sound principles and was not vested in one person, as claimed in the News24 report.

We recognise that the fear of victimisation around issues of sexual harassment is a societal problem that must also be addressed at our university. We are committed to transforming our institutional culture to eliminate this scourge as far as possible .

Steps are already being taken to revisit all relevant policies and procedures and make it easier to find appropriate channels through which to lay complaints or find information. Again, this will be thoroughly communicated to all staff and students.

We will specifically continue informing staff and students of their rights and responsibilities with regard to human rights and foster an environment of transparency.

I also wish to assure all concerned that we will continue to treat complaints of a sexual nature with the utmost sensitivity, while acknowledging the rights of any alleged perpetrator to defend him or herself.

Prof Dan Kgwadi