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AUT apologises to academic after botched harassment investigation

By Justin Hu (he/him)

AUT has formally apologised for botching an investigation into a sexual harassment complaint made by an academic. The apology came in late August as the university continued implementing recommendations from the Davenport review. The apology was announced through a joint statement released by the university and the Office of the Human Rights Proceedings – which was also representing the Australian National University academic, Marisa Paterson.

The former Australian academic said she initially made the complaint because she wanted “harmful behaviour to stop”. “My desperation in lodging a formal complaint was extreme – my career was everything to me and I knew that making a complaint would have significant implications,” she said. “The independent report that was commissioned by AUT and this apology, are public recognition that I did not experience the appropriate or adequate response to the harm I experienced. Two years ago, Paterson had complained and alleged a senior member of the university’s senior leadership team had sexually harassed and stalked her for several years. “In addition to the sexual harassment, the harm that is imposed on an individual to fight an institution for an adequate response, in public, is significant.

I have suffered long-term distress and implications from what I experienced and what I had to do to seek justice and resolution,” Patterson said in the statement. AUT chancellor Rob Campbell apologised on behalf of the university and said the original investigation “failed to recognise and reflect the very sensitive and serious nature” of her complaint. “We would also like to recognise your courage in coming forward, and to thank you for providing the opportunity for AUT to learn from this and initiate a process of culture change which we are confident will improve the experience of people learning and working in the university. We hope that our actions will be viewed as reflecting a survivor-centred approach and positive shift in institutional culture.” In 2020, reporting by Stuff’s Alison Mau sent shockwaves through the university after AUT was accused of mishandling allegations of harassment among senior leadership. Mau’s articles eventually led to the resignation of two deputy vice-chancellors (there were six in total) and the commissioning of an external review.

The review concluded with the university accepting 36 recommendations to improve its internal systems. Reviewer Kate Davenport, KC found AUT did not have an ongoing issue of sexual harassment among staff, but there had been a culture of bullying, and many of its dispute systems were inadequate. The report did not find a significant issue with how the university handled cases of student harassment and bullying. However, Davenport recommended all students should be mandated to take a training module on appropriate behaviour and consent following anecdotal student reports of misconduct in halls of residences. According to a report to the AUT Council, the programme’s rollout has begun in student accommodation this year. Other recommendations included completing its first standalone sexual harassment policy document and establishing an Office of Complaint Resolution for staff. In its first six months, AUT’s new independent Employee Advisory and Resolution Service closed 37 out of 97 cases which it had opened.


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