When students receive this advice they often respond with
cries of “that’s not fair!”, “but I said that when I was young and stupid”, “we
are young and do spend lots of time socialising and enjoying ourselves”, “this
is not who I am at work” and many more. What many of these students still do
not realise is that online postings are in the public domain and nothing is
really private, despite them somehow feeling that this should be the case.
From an employer’s perspective I can understand the
growing risk of potential employee’s online behaviour impacting negatively on
their business or their brand and this concern is mirrored by the increased
inclusion of social media and behaviour policies now being added to contracts
of employment. Most of these clauses or additions to contracts link directly to
the avoidance of bringing the organisation into disrepute. Historically
employees were warned of the risk of bringing the company into disrepute in
terms of their “real life” behaviour and that violations could lead to
disciplinary action or even dismissal.
But it is not only employers who impose this type of
warning and sanction but also service providers and other institutions.
Universities have very clear policies and procedures in terms of acceptable
behaviour which are articulated to students in student handbooks and associated
policies and procedures. Similar to
contracts of employment students can be subject disciplinary action if their
conduct or behaviour is considered to bring their university into disrepute.
Cases Affecting Universities Policies
‘Horniest student’ to face disciplinary hearing by
Exeter Uni Read
The case of student Elina Desaine from Exeter University
who was awarded the prestigious title of ‘Britain’s Horniest Student’ in 2013.
This allegedly resulted in Miss Desaine facing a non-academic disciplinary on
the grounds of bringing the university’s reputation into disrepute.
Stirling University hockey players caught chanting
sexist songs on public bus Read
A two-minute video posted on YouTube showed male students
from Stirling University making jokes about miscarriages and appearing to mock
Nazi salutes after a German-related joke. The video received 35,000 hits in its
first five days which prompted the university to carry out an investigation and
take appropriate disciplinary action. Despite showing great entrepreneurial
expertise, FitFinder creator Rich Martell was forced to shut down his website,
after facing disciplinary action from his university (UCL), who accused him of
bringing the university into disrepute due to the website being considered to
encourage sexual harassment.
Dear university of Cambridge, Read
Even the most elite universities have found themselves
under scrutiny; including the case of a student from Cambridge University who
was photographed vandalising the Cenotaph in Central London, during the tuition
fee protests on 9th December 2010. This sparked a freedom of information
request by angry members of the public demanding to know the outcome of any
disciplinary action that would be taken by Cambridge University.
Bring a Fit Jew? How stupid can clever students be? Read
Another example is the Oxford University rugby socials
which have encouraged its members to “bring a fit Jew” night or to “black up”
for Safari night, which resulted in a row between the rugby boys and the
students’ union who demanded that the university take action against this type
of offensive behaviour.
Oxford student who boasted about her 'great rack'
fined £120 for bringing Union in to disrepute Read
There was also the case of the very beautiful Oxford
university student, Madelaine Grant, who boasted about her 'great rack' in an
election flyer and was subsequently fined £120 for bringing the union into
Recent guidance, necessitated by student demonstrations
in 2010, advises universities on the law regarding inappropriate conduct and possible
sanctions .However it is more difficult in this type of environment as a
university should arguably create an environment of free expression and the
exploration of alternative views. As academics we consider universities to
provide the luxury of a period of exploration of different and conflicting
ideas and the opportunity to make informed judgments and decisions.
However in light of some of the cases highlighted above,
could universities be forced to think more seriously about the type of students
they accept into their institutions and will universities, like employers, have
to start seriously considering risk aversion by socially profiling their
admissions officers, academics and administrators look at online profiles and
behaviours as a potential indicator to weigh up the risk of an individual
bringing the university into disrepute?
want to actively seek out individuals who hold extreme views which would offend
others and damage the reputation of our institution and should we be taking
steps to ensure that it is not our university name and logo on the front page
of a newspaper for all the wrong reasons?
jury is out …