I'm a PhD student at a university in the UK. The head and director of graduate studies at my department are trying to get me removed from the department.

Almost all of this is going on over my head, but my supervisor has told me about a number of meetings and emails that have gone on about this topic.

On the basis of what my supervisor tells me, along with my own previous interactions with the head of department, I feel quite sure that what they are doing is discriminatory against me due to a disability that I have.

However, since I am not included in any of the emails etc. about this, I have almost no evidence. This makes it very difficult to defend myself against what they are doing and saying.

While my supervisor is on my side and doesn't want me to be kicked out, he has a very poor understanding of disability issues and discrimination. His number one priority, of course, is protecting himself - ultimately it looks really bad for him to have a student that the head of department warned him would be trouble and ends up getting kicked out.

So he will tell me about these things in person, but not by email - if I ask him anything by email, he asks me to come to his office to discuss it.

Should I secretly record a meeting with him where I bring this up so that if it comes down to it, I have some evidence that the action is discriminatory?

  • 6
    That seems to be a legal question. However, you need to be talking immediately with whomever at your university is the right contact for disability issues.
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 21, 2016 at 14:32
  • 5
    Things that your advisor tells you other people said is "hearsay" and typically not admissable as evidence. If this ultimately ends up in court, your advisor will have to testify about what he discussed with the department head. I agree with cbeleites comment above- you need to involve help from the appropriate university office. Oct 21, 2016 at 16:00
  • 5
    We have no knowledge about your situation but regardless as written above, you should not secretly record any of this without legal advise (especially as your supervisor is on your side, damaging any support you have is a bad idea), as another poster mentioned this is heresay so wouldn't help much anyway. However you can legally record meetings, which may be admissible as evidence in the UK: bwbllp.com/file/covertrecs-emp-summer13-pdf
    – Comte
    Oct 21, 2016 at 16:33
  • 5
    This person seems to be your one ally in this - secretly recording them would be a great way to spoil that relationship.
    – loneboat
    Oct 21, 2016 at 19:43
  • 3
    @BrianBorchers That it's hearsay doesn't mean it's not incredibly valuable. For example, it would provide a basis for a subpeona to get the emails. It can even be used to contradict his future testimony if he says there were no such emails because hearsay is admissible for purposes other than establishing the truth of the statements. Oct 21, 2016 at 22:22

4 Answers 4



Such action should be the very, very last resort, and only undertaken if you have taken legal advice on whether it is advisable to do so.

As a UK student, you should have support available to you from the Student Union, which will almost certainly include disability representation.

The Student Union will be able to advise you on how to proceed on this matter, and possible provide you with a third party representative to join you at any meetings you have.

Also, you mention emails that exist 'about you.' You are within your rights to request these to see what they say by making a freedom of information request. Again, seek advice first before undertaking this action.

  • 5
    Are you sure about the Freedom of Information request? I'm really not familiar with that act, I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know a thing about UK law. However, I would imagine that making public an e-mail conversation between two university members might be considered a breach of confidence, which would render information included in these e-mails exempt information as of s.41 (1) (b) Freedom of Information Act.
    – Schmuddi
    Oct 21, 2016 at 18:21
  • 1
    That is a possibility though very unlikely. It would need to be a genuine matter of confidence, not simply by virtue of the fact that it is a private conversation.
    – Deleuze
    Oct 21, 2016 at 18:34
  • 2
    @Schmuddi, my understanding (and it's very limited) as that you do have the right to see personal information held about you, but it's nothing to do with FoI. The Data Protection Act is more likely to be relevant.
    – Chris H
    Oct 21, 2016 at 19:36
  • 1
    @ChrisH That's not true either. You cannot just go around demanding everyone turn over any emails that may contain the OP's name. Also, don't forget, OP clearly shouldn't even know about these emails - exposing that OP is aware, will certainly put OP's supervisor in hot water. Unless OP has seen these emails (not just "heard" about them, as described by OP), then OP may, in fact, be completely off base in the first place.
    – SnakeDoc
    Oct 21, 2016 at 20:17
  • 7
    And frankly, we must consider the possibility that everything is in OP's head, and any action(s) taken by OP will only re-affirm to everyone around, that OP is indeed a troubled person and should be removed ASAP. OP has no proof of anything, only hearsay from a 3rd party, and "gut feelings". Neither of which are enough to act upon.
    – SnakeDoc
    Oct 21, 2016 at 20:21

(Originally, this was a comment: I don't know that much about the UK legal system and describe the situation in Germany. However, employment and anti-discrimination law has a good chance to be similar throughout EU).

In Germany, secret recording of such a meeting with your supervisor/boss would be a legal reason for your employer to terminate your contract without notice. There's a court decision in a workplace harrassment lawsuit judging that secret recording was an unnecessary violation of the employer's rights in case of a meeting where confidentiality is usually assumed - a witness (see below) would have been an adequate and legal alternative.
With regard to anti-discrimination law, I'd be very careful not to undermine your credibility by a secret recording - that may severely hamper your standing with regards to showing credible indication of discrimination.

So if your university actually wants to get rid of you, you secretly recording a meeting would be the best possible thing for them.

Instead, bring a trustworthy witness to the meeting, e.g. someone from staff council or maybe the university anti-dicrimination office has someone (or, of course, a lawyer). That also has the advantage that these people should have experience with the issues at hand and it is actually their proper job to take care of such conflicts.

  • You can also ask for a (verbatim) transcript to be written or the meeting to be recorded - recording is fine if it is agreed on. Of course that would not be secret.
  • You can write a transcript yourself (taking notes in the open or recoring your memory immediately after the meeting) and then send it to the other parties. That gives them a possibility to object to protocol statements they don't agree on. The point is that at the end of this process, you have a written document that all parties agree on and which can be used legally.
    You then also have a paper-trail of what statements the other parties did not agree with.

I have a comment, but it's too long to be a comment, so I'll record it in the format of an answer. But this is not an answer in the true sense of the word.

If you were asking about this for the U.S., I would say: you could file a Department of Education civil rights complaint under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. You would not need a recording in order to file a successful complaint. When the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigates a complaint, it asks the educational institution for information and documentation, and it conducts interviews with key parties. You could describe in your complaint the various things you were told. OCR would follow up and decide what documents it wants to see and whom it wants to interview.

I don't know about secret recordings even in the U.S., in the university setting. I do know that there are rules about this, defined state by state, for kindergarten through 12th grade. In my state of New York, for example, secret recordings aren't allowed. However, you always have the right to record a meeting, as long as you do it openly. However, in some states, you have to inform the school a certain amount of time in advance.

When filing a disability discrimination complaint, it is helpful to outline, unemotionally, the harm caused by the discrimination.

I am sorry I don't have any information specific to the UK. Everything I wrote is about the U.S. I am contributing that information in the hopes that it will give you a starting point for finding out what your options are in the UK.

You need to start reading your university's policies and procedures. There should be clues and pointers there to what recourse a student has in your situation.

  • 1
    I'm not a lawyer, but AFAIK in my state (Indiana) it is legal to record any conversation between adults as long as at least one of the participants is aware that the conversation is being recorded. Oct 22, 2016 at 20:56
  • 1
    The various state laws: rcfp.org/rcfp/orders/docs/RECORDING.pdf Note that this isn't perfect as a few states have different laws for telephone and in-person communication. Oct 22, 2016 at 22:05

Simply put, NO (caps intended since I do not like seeing people go to jail) unless you receive credible advice from an attorney (or Barrister where you are in the UK).

For example, California Law Penal Code § 632, enacted under the California Invasion of Privacy Act, makes it illegal for an individual to monitor or record a "confidential communication". This is true even where the communication is carried on among the parties in the presence of one another or by means of a telegraph, telephone, or other device. Put another way, California is known as a "two-party" state, which means that recordings are not allowed unless all parties to the conversation consent to the recording.

Although it may make sense to collect evidence of wrong doing, remember this is the law and is not intedned to make sense!

  • 4
    They aren't in California though...
    – Tim B
    Oct 22, 2016 at 23:31

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .