Hutchinson had been a fellow in MML at Trinity Hall since 1986 and was Vice-Master of the College for a number of yearsAndrew Hynes

Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion of sexual harassment.

Over 1,200 students, alumni and staff have now signed an open letter condemning Trinity Hall for reportedly “readmitting” Dr Peter Hutchinson as an Emeritus Fellow, two years after it was announced that he would be leaving the College following accusations of sexual harassment.

Why was Hutchinson originally removed as a fellow?

Hutchinson had been a fellow in MML at Trinity Hall since 1986 and was Vice-Master of the College for a number of years.

In 2006 Hutchinson was taken to court after a former student accused him of indecent assault. According to the Daily Mail, Hutchinson “accepted he had probably tried to kiss and touch the woman, despite being rebuffed.” Hutchinson told the Mail, “Maybe the gin had gone to my head. It was a stiff one. I think I must have found her irresistible. But I didn’t use force, she’s bigger than me.”

The first trial was halted for legal reasons and Hutchinson was found not guilty at a second trial. He later explained to the Mail, “I just cannot understand how something which seemed so trivial was so important to her, and I cannot really see it as a sexual assault.”

At the time a Cambridge spokesman told the Mail, “We are pleased the matter has been resolved. Dr Hutchinson has been an outstanding teacher and academic and is extremely well respected by students and staff.”

Later, in 2015, ten Trinity Hall undergraduates accused Hutchinson of making “unwanted” comments of an “inappropriate sexual and sexist nature” during supervisions in 2014 and 2015. This led to Hutchinson being banned from teaching undergraduates, and from attending events where undergraduates were present.

Hutchinson released a statement through the University in 2017, apologising for his conduct and saying “I realise these comments were thoughtless, insensitive and caused offence”.

Was he banned from the College?

In November 2017, Hutchinson was reported to have breached the sanctions, which had been imposed since 2015, by attending a lecture where undergraduates were present. The College later released a statement saying: “We can confirm Dr Hutchinson has withdrawn permanently from any further involvement with college affairs, including from his role on the finance committee.”

However this week the BBC reported that he had been “readmitted” into the College, a characterisation that Trinity Hall told Varsity was “misleading”.

Instead it appears that rather than Hutchinson being “readmitted”, he actually never left.

Why is Hutchinson still an Emeritus Fellow?

Beyond the confusion over Hutchinson attending the lecture in 2017 where undergraduates were present, there are questions as to the nature of his ongoing relationship with the College in the first place.

Like students and staff, Hutchinson still has an official Cambridge CRSid and is currently listed within the University’s IT system as part of both the “Department of German and Dutch” and “Trinity Hall” groups.

The 2014-15 academic year was the last that Hutchinson was listed as a fellow in the Cambridge Reporter, the University’s journal of official business. He was banned from teaching undergraduates during the same academic year.

However, despite the testimonies of harassment in October 2015, Hutchinson became a Trinity Hall Emeritus Fellow, a title given to fellows at some colleges after retirement.

He automatically became an Emeritus Fellow as, according to section 7.2 of the 2001 Trinity Hall statutes, which governed the College up until 2017, “A Master or Fellow who has attained the age of 60 and has held office for not less than 25 years shall become an Emeritus Fellow from the date he vacates office”.

Since then, the statutes have been updated so that this title is no longer automatically conferred and is only granted where a Master or Fellow has “made an extraordinary contribution to the College, where it is appropriate to retain their involvement in the College”.

Emeritus Fellows are able to dine at the College for free and to attend certain events. Trinity Hall clarified that he will “only attend alumni events by prior agreement with the College.”

Hutchinson’s name was removed from the Trinity Hall website in 2017, but he has never been removed from the official list of Trinity Hall Fellows in the Cambridge Reporter, appearing in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 lists. He was also listed as an Emeritus Fellow in the 2017-18 Trinity Hall Review.

Can Hutchinson’s Emeritus Fellow title be revoked?

The simple answer is yes.

The open letter has called for Trinity Hall to “remove Dr Hutchinson from the position of Emeritus Fellow… and redact the rights of Dr Hutchinson to attend events at College.”

Under both the 2001 and recent 2017 statutes, Trinity Hall can revoke the title of Emeritus Fellow through a vote by the Governing Body. Since Hutchinson was appointed under the old 2001 statutes, the College says it is these that apply to him.

Under these rules a revocation can occur if two thirds half of the Governing Body votes in favour of it. There are no necessary conditions for revoking Emeritus Fellow titles.

The Governing Body who would make any decision on revoking the title is made up of the fellows and master of the College, most of whom have worked alongside Hutchinson for a number of years.

Trinity Hall said the “Governing Body considered all possible options”, when asked if there had been any attempts to officially remove Hutchinson as an Emeritus Professor.

Could Trinity Hall be forced to act?

One potential way the Governing Body could be forced into action would be under pressure from the Charity Commission.

Trinity Hall told Varsity that “the College has reported the matter to the Charity Commission as a serious risk in relation to reputational risk.”

All Cambridge colleges are registered charities, and such fall under the regulation of the Charity Commission, who are there to “make sure that charities are accountable, well-run and meet their legal obligations.”

Since the fallout from the Oxfam Haiti scandal in 2017, there has been an increased focus on the actions of charities in relation to safeguarding. The Commission has released new safeguarding guidelines for trustees, which specifically notes their obligations to ensure “protecting people from harm is central to [the charity’s] culture” and ensure the charity “knows how to spot and handle concerns in a full and open manner.” In Trinity Hall’s case the fellows and Master are the listed trustees responsible for meeting these obligations.

A spokesperson for the Commission told Varsity: “Everyone involved in charities has the right to feel safe, and we expect trustees to consider the best interests of their charity — ensuring their safeguarding arrangements protect the charity and their beneficiaries from harm.”