17 Honours students assigned to the Medical Foundation Building are to be relocated after a serious security incident occurred on 5 March.
Broken glass and an unidentified white powder were found behind a poster in the Medical Foundation Building, prompting a police investigation. The poster included memes and a poem targeting University and Faculty of Medicine and Health leadership.
An audit of building access and a review of security processes were undertaken in the following week “to ensure the ongoing safety of staff and students,” according to an email sent to building staff.
Honours students assigned to the building were subsequently informed last Tuesday that they would not be able to conduct research in the building “until further notice due to an ongoing police investigation into a serious incident that occurred on the 5th of March.” However, undergraduate Dalyell students, PhD students and staff are not being relocated.
The situation places School of Medical Sciences leadership in the difficult position of having to balance health and safety concerns for building residents with the research interests of students.
School leadership have told Honours students that they may either continue their current research project elsewhere if they can locate appropriate facilities, or begin a new project off-site. A list of 13 alternate projects was provided to students last Wednesday.
Affected students have expressed dismay at the prospect of being separated from their labs or having to abandon their current research projects altogether.
Certain types of specialised equipment are only available at the Medical Foundation Building, leaving students reliant on them with no option but to change projects weeks into their research. Some of the students say they had selected their projects and supervisors months, or even years, in advance.
One student said that they felt they were being forced “to abandon a project which I am passionate about… which I have conceptualised and designed with the aid of a supervisor I trust and work well with.”
“To move would put to waste my years of background reading, my passion for this field, and the lab techniques which I have been training in since the beginning of February.”
“There is no comparable project available, and no guarantee my new supervisor would have a compatible working style or values to me.”
A number of students say they began active lab work for their research projects weeks before they were informed of the relocation plans on 13 April, despite a University spokesperson telling Honi: “We decided to take this action before students began their lab placements to limit any potential disruption to their studies.”
Students also told Honi that uncertainty and the abruptness of the decision have left them feeling anxious and stressed, and that they have not felt appropriately supported or consulted in a decision purportedly made in their interest.
Although affected students have been offered extensions on assessment deadlines, some students are concerned that applications for postgraduate programs at the end of the year could be adversely affected by any time lag.
Despite initially being informed that they were being relocated due to the ongoing police investigation, students have since been told by School leadership that the relocation is to protect them from what leadership have described as a “toxic” workplace culture.
A University spokesperson told Honi that the decision was taken “to ensure the training environment for these students is of the highest quality… we’re determined to provide them with a supportive and effective training environment.” The spokesperson made no reference to the police investigation or a toxic workplace culture.
Despite relocating students, School leadership have suggested that Honours research may be able to continue in the Medical Foundation Building once the police investigation is complete. It is unclear how long this will take.
There have been ongoing tensions between academics and management within the Faculty of Medicine and Health since the eviction of labs from the Anderson Stuart Building in 2019, when allegations of a toxic workplace culture within the School of Medical Sciences were first raised.