Academic 'forced out for helping student groped by professor'

Academic 'forced out for helping student groped by professor'

August 17, 2020

Academic ‘was forced out of scandal-hit university for helping student groped by professor’

  • Heather Savigny, 50, said colleagues bullied her when she tried to help a student
  • Student at De Montfort University claimed she was twice groped by a professor
  • Professor Savigny also claims the university tried to ‘cover up’ the incidents  

An academic claims she was forced out of a scandal-hit university after helping a student who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a male professor.

Heather Savigny, also a professor, said an undergraduate at De Montfort University claimed she was twice groped by a professor at a Christmas party.

She said colleagues bullied her when she tried to help the student and the Leicester-based university tried to prevent her from giving advice to the undergraduate – who later attempted suicide due to the alleged assaults and the institution’s response.

Professor Savigny, 50, who teaches gender, media and politics, also claims the university tried to ‘cover up’ the incidents.

Heather Savigny, 50, said colleagues bullied her when she tried to help the student and De Montfort University tried to prevent her from giving advice to the undergraduate

She said: ‘I was trying to provide support for a student while at the same time, the university told me not to discuss the matter with her. But what was I supposed to do on the occasions that she raised the issue with me? I had a duty of care towards her.’

Professor Savigny had joined colleagues and students at a faculty Christmas party in 2018, where a colleague reported witnessing the male professor attempt to grope the student on the dance floor. The party then moved to a pub where the student, then 20, approached Professor Savigny saying she had been molested for a second time by the man. The undergraduate made a complaint to the university days later.

Professor Savigny said a few months earlier, a PhD student reported witnessing the same academic molesting another female at a pub.

During the investigation into the December incidents, the male professor was suspended before being allowed back to work several months later.

The university told his alleged victim he had been given a ‘firm slap on the wrists’.

Professor Savigny – who took up her £63,000-a-year post in 2016 – said she tried to counsel the student but was told to stop. She left the university last month after mediation talks broke down. She said: ‘All I wanted was for them to stop bullying me. They wanted to cover all this up but I couldn’t abandon my student.’

The alleged victim, who graduated this summer, said: ‘I want this to be made public so that it doesn’t happen to any other woman who is about to go off excitedly to university.’

De Montfort’s vice-chancellor Dominic Shellard left last year with a £270,000 payoff after presiding over an alleged culture of ‘lies, bullying and lack of accountability’. Professor Savigny said little has changed, adding: ‘There remains a toxic, bullying attitude.’

A university spokesman said: ‘We take allegations of harassment, bullying and intimidation… extremely seriously and on this occasion carried out a full and thorough investigation, and took appropriate action.’ He added: ‘Unwanted sexual comments, advances or assaults have no place at DMU or anywhere else.’

Professor Savigny (pictured) had joined colleagues and students at a faculty Christmas party in 2018, where a colleague reported witnessing the male professor attempt to grope the student on the dance floor

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