Hundreds of Durham University students and alumni ‘no longer trust leaders’ amid bullying complaints

Durham University students have said they no longer trust that university leaders "value their safety" following the institution's handling of alleged incidents of bullying.

A letter, signed by 100 students and alumni, accuses Durham University of not being serious about protecting staff and students and it claims a "culture of apathy" towards bullying and harassment exists at the institution.

The letter, which has also been signed by the presidents or vice-presidents of colleges and societies, says: "When complaints are upheld and action is not taken, or is delayed to the point of being ineffective, members of our community no longer trust that the leaders of the university value their safety."

It comes after The Guardian reported last month that a Durham college principal was allowed to remain in post despite being alleged to have frequently reduced colleagues to tears and made sexist remarks.

In July 2020, Durham University vowed to "do better" after a report revealed 18% of staff and 30% of students said that they had experienced some form of bullying or harassment whilst at the university.

Since the publication of the report by the Durham Commission on Respect, Values, and Behaviour, the Russell Group institution said it has taken a number of actions to support respectful behaviours across the community.

But the letter warns: "Protecting staff and students should be the priority, and allowing abuses of power, bullying or harassment to continue is unacceptable.

"If there is a continued procedural failure in these situations we can only conclude that Durham University is not serious about protecting its staff and students.

"Durham University's current culture of apathy towards bullying and harassment must be tackled immediately so that members of our community are able to work and study safely."

Anya Chuykov, president of Durham University Intersectional Feminist Society, said: "This is not an isolated incident, and the behaviour of Durham University speaks to the toxic atmosphere that so many students and staff must live with at universities and schools up and down the country.

The institution says that it has already a place for students and staff to have a central point of contact to report incidents, on their 'Report and Support' online service.

A Durham University spokeswoman said: "We do not accept any form of prejudice or discrimination at Durham University.

"We condemn any incidents of bullying, harassment or misogyny in the strongest possible terms and will take action in line with our published policies.

"We are always open to hearing directly from students or staff regarding concerns or suggestions and would welcome the opportunity to meet the organisers of the open letter to understand their experiences as well as the evidence.

"We have recently taken measures to promote openness and transparency on student conduct cases through publicly communicating outcomes and we are working with students to rebuild confidence that we will listen, investigate promptly and take decisive action."