Concerns raised over broad scope of University Rules and Regulations

Aberystwyth University Old College Photo: Guy Drury

Aberystwyth University Old College
Photo – Guy Drury

IN A DOCUMENT detailing ‘Aberystwyth University Student Rules and Regulations’ for the year 2013-14, Aberystwyth University’s Pro Vice-Chancellors are granted the ‘authority to require people not to assemble on University property and grounds, to require people to leave University property and grounds, to withhold consent for meetings, or to require the termination of meetings.’

The grounds for such possible actions are further detailed in the document, which includes the prohibition of actions that would ‘disrupt the administration and general operation of the University’ or that could ‘bring the University into disrepute’.

The same document reserves the right of Information Services staff to ‘inspect the contents of emails or data files belonging to users’ where a breach of regulations is suspected as taking place.

The document later outlines penalties against infringing students for breaches of the outlined rules. These include: reprimand, fines up to £200, withdrawal from the right to use University facilities, exclusion from halls of residence, withdrawal of the right to use Students’ Union facilities or ‘those of any other organisation of students’, rustication (temporary exclusion) for up to ‘one session’, and expulsion from the University.

Similar penalties (with the exception of rustication and expulsion) are detailed for breaches of other regulations, such as sports, halls and Information Service regulations.

Students suspected of breaking regulations, the document says, will receive a letter inviting them to an interview to discuss the allegations. At this interview students have the right to be accompanied by a fellow student or representative from the Students’ Union. However: ‘Unless otherwise stated, the Pro Vice-Chancellor or Senior Tutor will decide whether a breach of discipline has occurred, and will have the power to impose penalties’.

The document notes that ‘In the event of an alleged breach of the University’s Rules, the matter may be referred to the University Disciplinary Committee by the Pro Vice- Chancellor.’

Further down the document notes that the Disciplinary Committee shall consist of two students selected by the Students’ Union and three members of academic staff chosen by the Pro Vice-Chancellor.

The document continues to outline the appeals procedure. Depending on which rules have been allegedly broken, differing nuances apply to the appeals procedure, some of which involve appeals going through the Disciplinary Committee. However, all final decisions on appeals come from the Pro Vice-Chancellor.

Some have presumed these regulations are a response to a recent resurgence of political action on Aberystwyth University campus and campuses around the UK. However, it is suspected that many of these rules could date back even as far as 100 years and have merely gone forgotten and unchallenged. However, the document has been through changes in the not too distant past.

In recent years a now disbanded committee would meet once a year to address problems with university rules and regulations. This responsibility has now been delegated between other committees within the university.

Locals and students have raised concerns over these regulations and the wide sweeping powers they give senior university management. Concerns surround the possible interpretation of these regulations to forbid protest or stifle the dissemination of information university management would see as critical or harmful to its reputation and position.

BYG Students' protest to save Pantycelyn Halls Photo - Tomos Nolan

BYG Students’ protest to save Pantycelyn Halls
Photo – Tomos Nolan

Protests and campaigns in the last year – such asthe campaign in support of two suspended members of senior Aberystwyth Arts Centre management; and the campaign to save the Welsh language halls, Pantycelyn – could, it is argued, have been prohibited under these regulations and/or their organisers punished.

The Aberystwyth Arts Centre campaign in particular has received nationwide support, with many famous artists have come out in support of the campaign, including the National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke.

Supporters of the campaign have decried the tactics of senior university management – who have a large degree of power over the management of Aberystwyth Arts Centre – as overly strong and draconian. In response to these perceived tactics, singer Peter Karrie (of Phantom of the Opera fame) and economist John Cable resigned positions awarded to them by the University because of the “disproportionate, aggressive and confrontational” tactics of the University.

A leading member of the Arts Centre campaign has claimed that the Rules and Regulations document is another example of such tactics.

Pro Vice-Chancellor for Learning, Teaching and Employability, John Grattan, agreed with many of the concerns raised in a short preliminary consultation on the University’s Rules and Regulations yesterday (18th ), organised by Aber SU’s Education Officer (Grace Burton) and President (Ioan Rhys Evans).

While expressing a willingness to address concerns with some of the clauses within the document, he argued that the University has a need to maintain some broad powers for exceptional circumstances. The two examples he gave included:

– When people need to be cleared from university property due to extreme weather and;

– To stop hate speech on university property, of which he cited the recent example of the denial of a space for far-right Polish nationalist Robert Winnicki to speak.

In the meeting concerns were raised as to whether such powers could be reserved without the broad scope that some of the clauses in the Rules and Regulations document provide.

Further consultation on these matters has been informally planned between the Union and University.