Stellenbosch University dealt with the recent unsavoury incident very quickly and properly by condemning the unbecoming conduct of the student and ensuring his immediate suspension from the residence and the university pending the outcome of a full investigation.
If it is true that he did what was on the video clip then it is hard to believe that it did not result in seriously damaging if not destroying the necessary relationship of trust and confidence that is imposed on all students during their university education.
As part of that investigation the university must inform the student of the nature and extent of the alleged unbecoming conduct and why he failed to comply with the necessary and reasonable standards of behaviour adopted by the university.
The student must be allowed to respond to the allegations during a fair procedure that would probably require a neutral person to take a decision after providing an opportunity for any mitigating circumstances to be considered.
Given that there is no automatic right to refer any dispute to an outside body, as is the case of employees, it would also be prudent for the university to provide an appeal procedure.
The fact that the student has instituted criminal charges against the offender does not in any way deprive the university of its right to proceed with the internal procedures.
In other words there is no need to await the outcome of the criminal case.
Whether or not the residence involved and the university itself could be held vicariously liable for the conduct of the student raises interesting and complex questions of law.
Years ago a university was held to be vicariously liable for the conduct of a house committee student in a residence after a fellow student was seriously injured during the initiation of a first-year student in the residence.
The moral of the incident is that there is no requirement for the university to adopt any type of criminal investigation nor to ‘charge’ the student with anything nor to find him ‘guilty’ of anything because the university must protect the best interests of the institution and not to punish the student. The criminal law must take its own course.