We have written to the Vice Chancellor and CEO of the University of Law, concerning recent changes to the University of Law’s Student Discipline Regulations.
A new section entitled ‘Evidence and Supporting Documentation’ appears to encourage what is commonly called “sousveillance” – the practice of one student informing on other students, using “multiple forms such as email threads, or screen shots of SMS messaging or other media”. While the University will protect the identity of the complainant, it offers no such protection to the student complained of, whose identity may well be made public.
The Department for Education’s recently issued command paper Higher Education: free speech and academic freedom sets out the best practice that the Department expects from higher education providers (HEPs). It stipulates: “The HEP should not encourage students to inform upon other students for lawful free speech, nor should they pay, or otherwise reward, students for doing so.”
The Student Discipline Regulations appear to contravene this. Though they do not offer to pay or reward students, they do promise to remove significant disincentives for any student who wishes to inform on other students for exercising their free speech.
We call on the University of Law actively to discourage doxxing, online harassment and bullying. We also believe that fostering a culture of informing on students in this way interferes with students’ free expression, usually by inhibiting the enjoyment of humour – a key element of student culture and life.
The University should not aspire to make its students miserable. This policy is highly likely to lead to an oppressive and unhealthy atmosphere. Students at the University of Law should not have to look over their shoulders for fear of who may be listening in.
UPDATE: We have now received a reply from the Vice Chancellor, Professor Nollent – see below.
The reply from the Vice Chancellor, Professor Nollent:
Our reply to the Vice Chancellor, Professor Nollent’s reply: