Assistant lecturer alleged to be a repeat offender

Younten Tshedup  

The Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) is looking into the alleged harassment case involving 10 students and an assistant lecturer of Sherubtse College.

The university’s legal officer is currently scrutinising the report and evidence submitted by the college management to the RUB.

Following media reports on the case, many took to social media to condemn the alleged indecent acts.   

An online petition seeking harsher punishment for the assistant lecturer has also been circulating for a few days now. As of last night, close to 850 people have signed the petition to expel the assistant lecturer from the college.


The case

Towards the end of May this year, a group of 10 final year female students filed a harassment complaint against their lecturer, accusing him of various forms of unprofessional conduct, including body shaming and sharing inappropriate late-night messages with them.

However, as exams were ongoing then, investigation commenced only after the exams.

Sherubtse College president, Tshering Wangdi, said the management committee began the investigation during summer vacation, and a decision was reached when the college resumed after the vacation.

He said that after the investigation found evidence against the assistant lecturer, the management committee decided to withhold the assistant lecturer’s promotion for three years after completion of his master’s degree.

The president said that withholding the promotion for three years was deemed fit by the committee for the misconduct the assistant lecturer had committed. “The three-year promotion withholding is applicable only upon the completion of his master’s degree.”

He explained that the assistant lecturer has been in service for the last five years and does not have a master’s degree. “So, only after he undergoes a master’s programme, which will take him two years, the three-year suspension of promotion will come into effect. So, technically, he will be getting his first promotion only after 10 years in the service.”

The president said that the investigation was conducted as per the human resources regulations, seeking views from all the parties involved.

He said that there was evidence where the lecturer had passed derogatory comments to some students, including body shaming. “This is totally unacceptable. It was disrespectful to the students and was also putting a lot of pressure on them.”

He said that the assistant lecturer on multiple occasions had texted some of the girls via messaging app WhatsApp, asking them to go for a ride in his car with him at odd hours. “But none of the women went for the ride.”

According to the president, there were also allegations that the lecturer was favouring the boys in the class and discriminating against the girls. “While this could be true, we could not get evidence to back this allegation.”

Tshering Wangdi said that besides withholding the promotion, the assistant lecturer was also given a final warning, stating that any further complaint against him would result in his termination without any benefits. “He has also been asked to report to his head of department once every two weeks with his activity log. He’ll also receive counselling and cannot teach the class where the complainants study.”


New Developments 

Meanwhile, many took to social media to report that this was not the first time the assistant lecturer has been involved in such a case. A Facebook page ‘Feminism in Bhutan’ has shared multiple screenshots and stories from some of the survivors who faced similar alleged abuse at the hands of the accused assistant lecturer.

Many of the stories shared on the Facebook page dated back to when the assistant lecturer was teaching at College of Language and Cultural Studies (CLCS) in Taktse, Trongsa.

Many claimed that he was a repeat offender.

CLCS president, Lungten Gyatso, said that although the college management did not receive any complaints against the assistant lecturer then, there were several rumours circulating among the students that the assistant lecturer was associated with such behaviour.

“Issues like sexual harassment are hardly ever spoken about in public. Unless something drastic happens, people like us are not informed,” he said.

In a similar episode that happened at CLCS in 2019, the president said that he was the last to know. “If I had known about such issues in advance, things would not have escalated in the manner they did.”

Lungten Gyatso said that the 2019 CLCS incident should have alarmed people and made them aware of such happenings, and steered people to change their behaviours if at all they were engaging in similar activities.

Some Sherubtse students that Kuensel spoke to, including friends of the survivors, said that the students were disturbed by the negative comments made against them on social media platforms.

One of the students said the Sherubtse and Taktse cases are only the tip of the iceberg. “Harassment, including sexual abuse, is rampant in schools and colleges but not many want to talk about. One individual’s inaction gives these people the courage to continue. We cannot let this happen. This is simply wrong.”

Edited by Tashi Dema