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Guidelines on conflicts, bullying, harassment and sexual harassment involving students at the University of Bergen

Trust between students, staff and the institution is crucial for a good learning environment and for employees to be able to do their duties without undue burden.

1. General

Purpose, scope and foundation

Students and employees have the right to a fully proper learning and working environment. It is the university's responsibility to ensure this. These guidelines establish provisions to help:

  • Fulfill the university’s responsibilities
  • Solve conflicts
  • Prevent and deal with bullying, harassment and sexual harassment
  • Maintain and develop the standards for a good learning and working environment

The guidelines apply to both biparty relationships: staff/student and student/student. Legal authority in Norwegian statutes:

  • University and University Colleges Act 
  • Working Environment Act
  • Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act 
  • Public Administration Act

Definitions

Conflict
A conflict is a situation in which two people, one person and one group or two groups feel that they are being thwarted or frustrated by the other.

Bullying
Bullying means actions, omissions or utterances that are repetitive, systematic, and persistent and have the purpose or effect of being abusive, intimidating, hostile, degrading, or humiliating. Another typical trait of bullying is that the victimized person has difficulty defending themselves, because the course of events is characterized by a factual or perceived imbalance between the parties (cf. Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf & Cooper, 2011; Olweus, 1993).

Harassment and improper conduct
Harassment and improper conduct are defined as acts, omissions or statements that have the purpose or effect of being offensive, frightening, hostile, degrading or humiliating.

Types of harassment include:

  • One-time or repeated and systematic actions, omissions or utterances
  • Direct (e.g. an aggressive or sexually charged form) or indirectly (e.g. social exclusion)
  • Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment means any form of unwanted sexual attention that is intended to be or is in fact offensive, intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or annoying.

Discrimination is always considered improper conduct, cf. the Norwegian Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act. The same applies to retaliation against people who have reported improper conduct in accordance with the guidelines. In the following, all references to bullying and harassment also encompass improper conduct.

2. Responsibility, organisation and case management

Competence

It is the university's responsibility to ensure that everyone who participates in the processing of cases pursuant to these guidelines has the necessary expertise.

Cases involving staff/student

The employee's faculty or department is responsible for handling the case. The faculty director or dean decides who will handle the case. For the central administration, the director of the division or the university director shall decide who will handle the case. The faculties and affected academic departments shall cooperate on individual cases when necessary.

Cases involving student/student

Normally, the faculty concerned shall handle cases according to these guidelines. If the case involves students from several faculties, the case shall normally be handled in the university entity with which the person reporting the case is mainly affiliated. In individual cases, the faculty can delegate authority to another instance, such as a department, to process the case, if this is justifiable and appropriate. 

All cases should be dealt with properly and as quickly as possible. Chapters I-III of the Norwegian Public Administration Act always apply (impartiality, confidentiality, duty of guidance etc.). Normally, Chap. IV (notification, contradiction and access to information) also applies. In cases involving individual decisions, Chapters IV-VI of the Norwegian Public Administration Act always apply. The responsible administrative manager shall ensure that all cases are dealt with in accordance with the present guidelines and other relevant rules.

3. Conflicts

Prevention and the responsibility of the individual

Not every disagreement is a conflict, and the guidelines should not preclude free exchange of opinion. Everyone has a responsibility to ensure that harmful conflicts are prevented, or that they are resolved or redressed when they arise.

Respect

All employees should show respect to students they come into contact with. This applies to supervisors, teachers, technical and administrative staff and others. Employees should be particularly aware of the fact that there is typically a skewed power relationship between employees and students.

Students shall show respect for staff members and for other students. Threatening or otherwise inappropriate behaviour directed at employees or other students is unacceptable.

Simple processing of conflicts

Simple processing normally means:

  • That cases are dealt with at the lowest possible level 
  • That the format is a relatively informal dialogue 
  • That the objective is an amicable solution 

Students who believe they have come into conflict with one or more staff members at UiB, or with other students, are encouraged to contact the relevant individual(s) to resolve the conflict. If this does not succeed, or the student believes no purpose is served in trying, the student can instead report in the Speak Up (Si Fra) system, contact a student advicer, the learning environment contact person at the faculty, the department/faculty management, student representatives, the Student Ombud or others. 

Staff members who believe they have come into conflict with one or more students at UiB are encouraged to contact the relevant individual(s) to resolve the conflict. If this does not succeed, or the staff member believes no purpose is served in trying, the staff member should instead contact his/her immediate superior, who will decide how the case will be followed up. It is also possible to report to or seek advice from the Division of Human Resources, the occupational health service, the safety representative, elected representatives or others.

Follow-up conflict resolution

Conflicts that cannot be amicably resolved must be reported to the appropriate authority as described in Part 2. In official handling of a case, the goal should primarily be to seek a solution to the conflict. The responsible unit shall normally talk to both/all parties and otherwise ensure that the facts are brought to light. If necessary or desirable, the entity may request assistance from other units at the university. As an alternative, measures to be taken can be solicited from outside the university, such as the mental health service or counselling services in Sammen, or others. There is a duty of confidentiality imposed personal matters, cf. section 13 of the Norwegian Public Administration Act.

Advice on case processing

It is natural to start with a mapping/survey. The nature of the case determines how this should be done. If, for example, the case gives the impression of being a simple conflict, then a short call or contact by phone or something of this nature may be sufficient. If further mapping is needed, the unit involved should have conversations with those involved and anyone else who may have information in the case. 

Some advice regarding these interviews:

  • Inform the involved parties of their right to have an employee ort student representative/adviser included in the invitation to the meeting. At the same time, provide information on who will be present from the responsible unit.
  • Start the conversation by clarifying the purpose and premises for it.
  • These kinds of interviews may be emotionally distressing. Be prepared for that.
  • Avoid bias. Be committed to listening. Avoid being influenced by the first information you receive. Differing versions can be equally correct/incorrect.
  • Write a memorandum of the conversation(s). To avoid any misunderstandings, the individual employees should be allowed to review and, if necessary, revise the memos from their conversations.
  • Trust and confidentiality are particularly important in these kinds of situations. When communicating information you have received from others, it is important to avoid referring to who said what, and to focus instead on what was communicated.
  • Make a summary of the case when the talks are over.
  • Consider whether the facts are well enough clarified or if more information is needed. These may be further conversations or other forms of information or documentation.

Measures to resolve a conflict

Appropriate measures might include:

  • Mediation and reconciliation: Through the dialogue or other means, the parties have gained a better understanding of each other along with insight into how their own behaviour affects others. They agree to put the incidents behind them. This is not a measure that can be applied in cases of bullying or harassment.
     
  • Clarification of duties and responsibilities: The responsible authority makes it clear to one or both/all parties what norms or instructions they are obliged to comply with, such as discontinuing unacceptable behaviour.

If such or similar measures do not work, or do not work well enough, the responsible authority must consider further measures.

If the survey has shown that there is a case of proven bullying or harassment, the case shall be dealt with further in accordance with section 4 of the present guidelines.

4. Bullying and harassment

Principles and main rules

Bullying and harassment are unacceptable at the University of Bergen. Bullying and harassment of students by staff is a breach of official duties. Bullying and harassment by students can result in a warning, exclusion or expulsion from university. This applies to bullying and harassment targeting both other students and employees.

Notification of bullying and harassment etc. 

Students who believe they have been victims of bullying or harassment by staff members or other students can report this in the Speak UP (Si Fra) system. It is also possible to report verbally or in writing to the student adviser, the learning environment contact person at the faculty, the administration of the department or the faculty, or others. 

Employees who learn that other employees have bullied or harassed students are obliged to report this to their immediate administrative supervisor.

Staff who believe they have been victims of bullying or harassment by one or more students should primarily report this to their immediate administrative supervisor. Another option is to notify the occupational health service, a colleague, safety representative or union representative.

Handling of cases of bullying or harassment

All reports of alleged bullying or harassment should be dealt with appropriately and as quickly as possible. This normally begins with a mapping/survey whereby the responsible unit has conversations with those involved and others who can shed light on the case. If one or more parties are employees of the university, the responsible person should consult with the occupational health service or HR division.

Some advice regarding these interviews:

  • Inform the involved parties of their right to have an employee representative/adviser included in the invitation to the meeting. At the same time, provide the names of the persons the employer has requested to attend the meeting.
  • Start the conversation by clarifying the purpose and premises for it.
  • These kinds of interviews may be emotionally distressing. Be prepared for that.
  • Avoid bias. Be committed to listening. Avoid being influenced by the first information you receive. Differing versions can be equally correct/incorrect. 
  • Write a memorandum of the conversation(s). To avoid any misunderstandings, the individual employees should be allowed to review and, if necessary, revise the memos from their conversations.
  • Trust and confidentiality are particularly important in these kinds of situations. When communicating information you have received from others, it is important to avoid referring to who said what and to focus instead on what was communicated.
  • After the conversations: Make a summary of the case. Consider whether sufficient information has been given in the case or if more information needs to be obtained in the form of further conversations or otherwise. When as much information as possible has been collected, it must be determined how the case should be further dealt with or what is necessary or appropriate to ensure a fully sound working or learning environment. The involved parties must be informed of the conclusion.

Follow-up and measures to be taken

The purpose of the initiative is to restore a fully sound learning and working environment for everyone involved. The responsible administrator must decide what measures are necessary, including whether there are grounds for formal sanctions against one or more people involved. In addition, preventive measures must be considered so that the same situation does not recur. Appropriate measures might include:

  • Altered procedures for the systematic learning environment/HSE effort
     
  • Clarification of duties and responsibilities: The responsible authority makes it clear to one or both/all parties what norms or instructions they are obliged to comply with, such as discontinuing unacceptable behaviour. Under the circumstances, it may be appropriate or necessary to formalise the necessary measures to be taken and possibly to set up progress plans or the like to ensure that the solution is followed up loyally by all persons involved.
     
  • Formal reactions: This is regulated by the Norwegian Working Environment Act and the Civil Servants Act (for employees) and the Universities and Colleges Act (for students). If such measures are considered or imposed, the proceedings shall follow the relevant statutes. Cases involving formal reactions against employees shall be dealt with by the HR division.


These policy guidelines were adopted by the University Board on 23 April 2020 and became effective on 03 May 2020.