The University of Tasmania has launched an inquiry into its workplace culture following revelations it failed to investigate a student’s allegations of rape and sexual harassment by a member of staff.
The student told the university in 2021 that she had been assaulted by a professor more than a decade ago, the ABC reported. An investigation into the staff member was dropped when the employee in question resigned before its completion.
It was also revealed that the staff member was allowed contact with students during the investigation. A second investigation began when the student wrote to the university asking why the investigation had concluded before it had finished looking into the allegations.
Subsequent findings substantiated the student’s claims and found senior management did not intervene or take appropriate steps when they were made aware of the alleged incidents.
The handling of the complaint was considered to be inadequate and no action was taken to address the professor’s behaviour.
In response the university has admitted it failed in its responsibilities, with Chief People Officer Kristen Derbyshire saying the university was determined to change.
“As an organisation, we failed in several ways: We did not keep our former student safe … and, when a formal complaint was made, we did not respond adequately or provide appropriate support,” she said in a statement to ABC.
“This is unacceptable, we have apologised unreservedly to the victim-survivor.”
As a result, a review of workplace culture has been commissioned. The report is expected by the end of the year but it is not clear if it will be publicly released.
Sexual harassment in Australian universities remains a key issue
Sexual harassment is a well documented problem in Australian universities. A survey conducted by Science and Technology Australia found one in two women in the sector had faced sexual harassment, as had one in six students.
One in twenty students had been sexually assaulted.
The Australian senate tabled a unanimous report in September calling for an independent taskforce to hold universities to account on sexual violence. However, it is as yet unclear when the taskforce will be established.