Being adversarial

iStock_000007773926_ExtraSmallIf alternatives fail, the default procedure is traditionally adversarial.  Universities and other providers normally have procedures designed on that basis.

A student makes a complaint.  A member of staff begins a ‘grievance’. The procedure tests the complaint or grievance to determine whether it is justified.

A student or employee is faced with a disciplinary procedure to decide whether he or she has misbehaved and whether the misbehaviour is sufficiently serious to warrant expelling the student or dismissing the member of staff.

The process can be very slow, because it can be difficult to complete preliminary inquiries or to find dates for hearings.  It is not uncommon for an adversarial process to take many months and not unheard of for it to take years.

This is a method of dispute-resolution where one side has to win and the other has to lose. The possible outcomes are very limited.

New types of procedure have been introduced in recent years which may not be strictly adversarial in concept.  For example, the fitness to study procedure ( more may be read about this on this website) is designed to help decide whether a student who is causing disruption to other students and failing to attend lectures and classes or to do the required work towards the degree is simply misbehaving ( which might lead to a disciplinary procedure) or is ill ( which might lead to the provision of counselling or medical support).

Fit to study: dealing with problem students

On the other hand, there is still an inescapable element of the adversarial. A student might disagree with the findings of such a process and wish to appeal.

It is likely to be worthwhile for an institution to review its adversarial procedures as well as to consider what should be the default approach to dispute-resolution.

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