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No oversight of threats at higher education institutions

An Universitetsläraren investigation shows that higher education institutions gather information about hate, threats and violence towards employees in very different ways. Some have no system at all to provide a central overview of the situation. As a result, it is not possible to provide a national picture of trends.

Kajsa Skarsgård
Providing a well-founded, comparable, national picture of threats and violence against university teachers and researchers is virtually impossible at present. This is because the processes for reporting incidents at higher education institutions vary widely.

Universitetsläraren requested lists of all cases of incidents concerning the work environment, hate, threats and violence in recent years – and has received responses in as many different forms as there are higher education institutions.

In some cases, incidents of hate, threats and violence fall within the same reporting system as work environment incidents. In other cases, there is no reporting and statistics system for hate, threats and violence at all. Sometimes it is clear what a case is about, but some cases are simply labelled ”incident” without further specification of their nature. Providing a well-founded, comparable, national picture of hate, threats and violence towards university teachers and researchers is therefore virtually impossible at present.

“Large number of unreported cases”
According to the documents received by Universitetsläraren, there has not been a single reported incident of hate, threats or violence at the Swedish Defence University (Försvarshögskolan) or the University of Arts, Crafts and Design (Konstfack) in the period 2019–2021. Few universities where such incidents can be identified from the documents have more than a small number of reported cases.

Lund University has 21 incident reports categorized as ”threats and violence” during the period surveyed, but security coordinator Håkan Jönsson writes in an email that “there is certainly a large number of unreported cases. We have a feeling that many incidents are handled out in the organisation without them coming to our attention. Responsibility for follow-up or other measures after an incident always lies with the victim’s immediate manager.”

No reporting system
Despite its size, Umeå University is one of the universities that currently has no central reporting system for security incidents. The university therefore does not have any overall figures on the number of cases of hate, threat and violence towards its employees.

“The most important thing is that the person subjected to such incidents receives the right support,” says the university’s head of security, Charles Cederqvist. “This is dealt with by the relevant line manager, who in turn contacts us if they need support. But we need greater oversight and transparency regarding the total number of hate and threats cases.”

Work is therefore underway to introduce an incident reporting system this year, linked to both work environment and security. “Then we can monitor the situation and trends at a more aggregated level and work more with analysis and development,” says Cederqvist.

Highest number of reported cases at GU
Gothenburg University set up a centralised system where victims can report incidents themselves several years ago. The security department has also visited the departments and talked about how important it is that all cases of hate, threats and violence are reported, even if it is only for information purposes and not because the need for any specific action has been identified. Without such information, the security department and the university management cannot address the problems at a more comprehensive and strategic level.

Judging by the information that the higher education institutions submitted, Gothenburg University also has the highest number of reported cases related to hate, threats and violence. In 2019, there were 213 cases, of which around 190 concerned a single threatening extortion e-mail that had been received by many people at the university. In 2020, 16 cases of hate, threats and violence were reported, as well as two incidents of criminal threatening behaviour. So far this year, one case has been reported. It is the victim who chooses the incident category when they report.

“I think it is important that it is not just a question of whether it is a genuine threat or not,” says Fredrik Ahl, acting head of security at Gothenburg University. “If an employee perceives a situation as unsettling or worrying, it must be taken seriously and dealt with. It may turn out that a calming conversation is all that is required, but you have to take it seriously initially.”

Through the reporting system, the victim can also file a police report. Seven police reports were made in 2019 and two in 2020.

“It’s also necessary to have clear routines linked to the reporting system, so that managers know what is expected of them. And there needs to be commitment in the organisation to deal with this type of issue,” says Ahl.

National survey could provide answers
A working group at the university is now working to refine the procedure for cases of hate, threats and violence and to specify improvements ahead of the upcoming procurement of a new reporting system to make the obstacles to reporting incidents even smaller.

Fredrik Ahl believes that Gothenburg University probably also has a large number of unreported incidents. He is therefore looking forward to the results of the survey on hate, threats and violence towards teaching and research staff that the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research will conduct in collaboration with SULF this spring.

“It will be very interesting to see the report, and it may give a more accurate picture of what the situation actually looks like.”

Kajsa Skarsgård

Universitetsläraren conforms strictly to journalistic principles and follows the media industry’s rules on publication and professional ethics. The magazine is free and independent of its owner, SULF – the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers.
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