Here’s the deal: I am paid to teach, which means I have a professional relationship with my students, and it’s an ongoing relationship that typically extends over four years. My job is to educate them in those domains of biology I specialize in. The administrators here have an expectation that I will show up, be prepared, behave professionally, and engage with students at a level beyond lecturing at them: I advise them on professional opportunities, I write recommendations, I try to help with small crises that might derail their progress.
I do not have sex with them or beat them up. This should be obvious, right? Those kinds of behaviors would be antithetical to my university’s mission and my obligations.
This seems to be a poorly understood concept at the University of Sussex. Dr Lee Salter was a lecturer there. He was convicted of viciously beating his girlfriend (warning: graphic photos of a battered, bloody woman at that link), a woman he met as a student.
This is where it gets into some difficult boundaries. She was a former student, she is an adult, and this was a consensual relationship. That part, you can’t prohibit…but it’s a bit skeevy, and says that you should be keeping an eye on the guy to make sure he is not preying on students.
The part where he batters her bloody was not consensual. That part immediately moves the relationship from slightly creepy (but maybe it was “true love”!) into flagrant criminality. That’s where you’ve revealed that this wasn’t a healthy relationship between two adults, but an abusive relationship with a man who thinks he’s the boss.
Gail Gray, chief executive of RISE, Brighton and Hove’s specialist domestic abuse service, said: “This is not a romantic ‘Educating Rita’ scenario. This is about a man who has abused and exploited his position of power and authority to perpetrate domestic abuse.”
So far, so tawdry. But what is appalling is that the administrators at this university were completely aware of his behavior, and continued to allow him to teach students, despite the clear violation of university policies.
During the 10 month period between his arrest and conviction, Salter continued to teach, the university has admitted, while Ms Smith said she remained so traumatised she was afraid to leave the house.
This is despite regulations laid out on the university’s own website which say “staff and students are subject to disciplinary procedures that, amongst other things, proscribe violent behaviour”.
The policy reads: “The University will take disciplinary action in accordance with its procedures against anyone who behaves in a violent manner including, should it be necessary, the immediate exclusion of the perpetrator from the campus.”
“The University may also seek injunctions to exclude the perpetrators of violence form University premises in order to protect staff and students from further violent incidents.”
These problems will continue to arise as long as the awareness that domestic violence is unacceptable fails to be understood at all levels. Too often, having something written in a policy handbook is a cover-your-ass move to forestall actually doing something about it.
What should have happened is that the university administration should have said, “You’re going on a trial for beating up a former student? You’re not going into a classroom until this is resolved, and are on academic leave.”
His colleagues should have said, “Nope, we’re not working with you until this is cleared up.”
And the students at the university should have been made aware of the charges, so that they wouldn’t sign up for a course and then discover it’s being taught by an accused violent abuser. There’s an element of coercion there — students must take certain courses at certain times to graduate on schedule, so the entire university has to take responsibility for the professoriate, for their safety.
We also discover that this wasn’t unusual for Salter.
Described by Ms Smith as a manipulative and cruel man”, Salter alluded to her of having previous relationships with former students. She said he attended his court sentencing accompanied by another young student from the University of Brighton.
The court heard that Salter’s relationship with that student would be “closely monitored” as part of his sentencing.
Jebus. This is a guy with a thing for young students. He’s a predator. He should not be employed by any educational institution, because he brings disrepute to the entire profession.
Yet the University of Sussex kept him on the job until only recently? I didn’t know that lecturers in media and film were such a rare commodity that they had to be retained at all cost (I know science professors aren’t; if I were tossed out for good cause there’d be a long line of applicants ready to step right into my shoes.)