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UCD proposes new ‘zero tolerance’ policy to deal with sexual harassment

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A “zero tolerance” policy and a new concept of disclosure are among proposals that University College Dublin (UCD) has put forward to deal with sexual harassment in the university.

The proposals are contained in four documents that a working group in the university has put forward to staff and students.

The university acted after the publication in 2019 of a national consent framework on ending sexual harassment and sexual violence in third level education.

In Autumn 2019 a working group was set up to revise the university’s policies.

The documents were completed in July before this weekend’s revelations of a two year period of harassment by a UCD professor against Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháinnbetween 2015 and 2017.

Professor Hans Benjamin-Braun, Professor for Theoretical Physics at UCD, was convicted in 2019 of harassing Dr Ní Shúilleabháin and ordered to stay away from her for five years.

The four documents relate to bullying, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct policies and procedures in the college.

The working group has proposed a new concept of disclosure even for those who are reluctant to make a formal complaint.

The university also wants to be able to start an investigation without a formal complaint being made.

There will also be the option of clarifying the relationship between informal and formal internal complaints and complaints to the Garda Síochána.

Coincidentally the consultation with unions in the university on the four document took place on Monday with staff focus groups scheduled for September 24th.

A website will be set up for feedback on the documents from both staff and students.

UCD president Professor Andrew Deeks will write to all staff and encourage them to engage with the review to ensure that their views are heard.

In a statement UCD said that once the review is completed the new policies and procedures will be published and the university will implement its recommendations.

When asked what the university will do in the case where somebody is reluctant to make a formal complaint against members of staff, UCD pointed to the recent document of the Irish Universities Association (IUA) on dealing with university related sexual misconduct.

It allows for an investigation “where a sufficient concern arises for the university, having regard to their broader obligations in relation to the safety and welfare of others”.

UCD confirmed that Prof Braun left UCD in March 2019 before his conviction. The university declined to state the circumstances in which he left.

His name appeared in a list of lecturers on the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies website but the institute said he is “not now – nor has he ever been – an employee of DIAS. He has no contractual association with the Institute”.

DIAS added: “Professor Braun is a former member of the board of the School of Theoretical Physics at DIAS, and served on that board from March 2015 to the end of March 2020.

“He has also been a visiting academic at the Institute. Any references to Professor Braun on the DIAS website, or other external third party websites, relate to these aforementioned associations.”

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