Bristol Uni says it doesn’t have a duty of care towards its students, claims lecturer

Dr Emma Williamson: ‘For the university to make such legal arguments, I think is deeply problematic’

A lecturer has accused the legal team representing Bristol University of saying the university doesn’t have a duty of care towards its students.

Dr Emma Williamson, a lecturer in the School for Policy Studies at Bristol University, alleges the comments were made during a court case.

The case in question relates to Raquel Rosario Sanchez who is suing the university for negligence, breach of contract and sex discrimination.

Speaking on Twitter, Dr Williamson said: “Interesting sitting in court whilst Bristol Uni legal team spend a lot of time arguing that there is not a duty of care to students.

However, Bristol University claim its legal argument has been taken out of context.

A Reader and Associate Professor at the university, Dr Williamson is a specialist on gender-based violence. She was also the personal tutor for PhD student, Raquel Rosario Sanchez.

Dr Williamson was attending the final day of a five-day trial at the Bristol Civil and Family Justice Centre.

Raquel Rosario Sanchez accuses Bristol University of failing to protect her from bullying and harassment by activists over her role in a women’s rights group in 2018.

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “Ms Rosario Sanchez has chosen to take legal action against the University. Given this, we will not comment further.”

Dr Williamson told The Bristol Tab that the university’s legal argument that it does not have a duty of care to its students is “astounding”.

“For the university to make such legal arguments is deeply problematic,” she said.

Williamson believes it contradicts the expectation the university has of its staff to provide pastoral care and has questioned why Bristol Uni has personal tutors and well-being services if there is no duty of care towards students.

“Many of my colleagues regularly go above and beyond what is expected to ensure the well-being of students, often at great expense to themselves,” Williamson told The Bristol Tab. “My question would be why would they have such structures in place, tutors, senior tutors, well-being services, etc., if that expectation does not exist?”

Last year, following the dismissal of Professor David Miller, the university said the decision to sack him was due to having “a duty of care to all students and the wider university community”.

Dr Williamson quipped online that it “appears this duty of care isn’t quite as straight forward as they argued in court today!””

A spokesperson for the University of Bristol said: “As with all universities, we have a responsibility to provide our students with both academic and wellbeing pastoral care to support their academic progress. We did not suggest otherwise in a recent court case.

“The university’s submissions in the case followed complex matters of fact and law in relation to whether a duty of care arose in a very specific set of circumstances. Unfortunately the complexity of this legal argument has been inaccurately summarised and taken out of context on social media.

“Given the ongoing nature of the legal proceedings, it would be inappropriate to comment further at present. We would like to make it clear that our students’ wellbeing is our top priority.

“We place immense value on, and take pride in, the provision of wellbeing and pastoral support, which is widely advertised and provided to students and staff within the University. If any student needs help, we urge them to contact Wellbeing Access or speak to their personal tutor.”

After seeing the university’s statement, Williamson said: “This is exactly how I suspected they would respond.”

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