UK universities face ‘gagging order’ criticism

UK universities are being accused of using “gagging orders” to stop bullying, discrimination and sexual misconduct allegations becoming public. Dozens of academics have told BBC News they were “harassed” out of their jobs and made to sign non-disclosure agreements after making complaints.

Figures obtained by the BBC show UK universities spent about £87m on pay-offs with NDAs since 2017.

Universities UK says using NDAs to keep victims quiet should not be tolerated.

Non-disclosure agreements were designed to stop staff sharing trade secrets if they changed jobs, but now lawyers say they are being misused to protect serial perpetrators of misconduct, and ministers say they want to tighten the rules.

Academic, Amy, not her real name, says bullying sparked her depression. Amy says she has been bullied for six years across two universities by the same man.

Her NDA, seen by the BBC, explicitly names the senior academic whom she calls a “serial bully”. It means she is legally required not to reveal details of the allegations or she risks being sued.

“He told me I’d never have a successful career,” she said. “He has done nothing but undermine my confidence; it’s a complete abuse of power.”

After she put in a complaint, Amy says she was advised to sign an NDA and leave.

“I ended up hundreds of miles away at a new university, only for him to follow me and continue his harassment. Because of the NDA I can’t tell people what went on in the past. I can’t tell them why he’s doing this.

“Universities would rather pay off people to leave, than push out the person doing the bullying.”

The BBC sent Freedom of Information requests to 136 UK universities, asking how much they had paid in settlements that included “gagging clauses”.

Analysis of figures from 96 universities responding in full, reveal about £87m spent on about 4,000 settlements in the past two years.

Many universities said they were unable to disclose why the agreements were signed, so it is unclear how many relate to allegations of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct.

Read the full article  UK universities face ‘gagging order’ criticism

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