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Adam Tickell says ‘dramatic change’ is needed to tackle bullying on Sussex campus

This follows a report published last August suggesting bullying dynamics had ‘become endemic to the Sussex culture’

Sussex Vice Chancellor Adam Tickell has said a "dramatic change" needs to be made in order to tackle on bullying and ensuring the wellbeing of student and staff safety.

In a piece published in the Time Higher Education last week, Tickell also said that Sussex had previously "made mistakes" and "failed people" in regards to address bullying culture at the university, but that improving staff and student well-being was now his top priority.

This follows the publication of an internal report in August last year, based on the experiences of more than 900 individuals, which warned that bullying was "widespread" and "endemic to the Sussex culture".

The internal investigation – undertaken by the "Changing University Cultures collective" – included a team of Sussex researchers Alison Phipps, Gemma North, Liz McDonnell, Jess Taylor and Gillian Love.

The group found evidence of "persistent inequalities" across the staff and student body, with noticeable divisions between staff groups leading to "low trust situations, and the negative relationships and emotions which result".

The report also found issues in the disparity between staff and senior management. “‘Bullying managers’ were a key theme in our survey,” the authors said after the report's publication, with one respondent stating that bullying dynamics had "become endemic to the Sussex culture".

There were also allegations of "domestic violence behaviour" including shouting and emotional blackmailing were referenced within the publication.

Following a recent staff satisfaction survey, the proportion of staff who felt they were treated with “fairness and respect” stood at 65 per cent, down 6 percentage points year-on-year and 10 percentage points lower than the institution’s Universities UK benchmark.

17 per cent of respondents (280 people) had said they had felt “bullied or harassed” at the university in the past 12 months , and eight per cent answered "prefer not to say". Of those who said they had been bullied or harassed, more than half (56 per cent) said that they had not reported their experience.

When speaking to the Times Higher Education in February 2019, Tickell addressed his arrival at the university following the dismissing of Dr Lee Salter after domestic abuse convictions.

“That particular event…was a real shock,” Professor Tickell said. “We failed on that, and we do make mistakes. But the fact it was felt it wasn’t handled well means that you need to have conversations about it and confront challenging things."

Following the Salter case, the University of Sussex has introduced new policies governing relationships between staff and students, Tickell said that "in a sense they should have been there before".

Professor Tickell said the university has "begun to look at ways in which it can more effectively meet staff welfare and well-being needs to reflect modern good practice". A new equality, diversity and inclusion strategy has been launched.

Adam Tickell has acknowledged that the implementation of these policies – including incoporarting "kindness, integrity, inclusion, collaboration and courage" as the university’s "five core values" – will take time. "When things go south, they go south over years and decades, and the idea that you can suddenly come in and click your fingers and everything’s fabulous…" he said. "It would be great if it could happen but it can’t.”