UCL architecture school staff suspended over ‘toxic’ bullying

Independent report claims racism and sexual misconduct were covered up by ‘boys’ club’

六月 9, 2022
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UCL said it had removed several staff members from student-facing and administrative duties with immediate effect following the publication of an independent investigation that warned of “a toxic and, in parts, unsafe learning and working environment” in its Bartlett School of Architecture.

The report details widespread allegations of bullying, harassment, racism and sexual misconduct in the prestigious department, and the existence of a “boys’ club” clique that protected those said to be responsible from accountability.

As part of the investigation, dozens of allegations emerged about one “senior staff member” having “frequently deceived students about their academic progress, mocked and demeaned students during crits [tutorials], made sexist comments and verbally attacked female students and accused victims of bullying who spoke up about this staff member’s behaviour”.

Twenty-seven allegations related to a “senior leader” accused of “bullying, misogynistic and antisemitic behaviour”, and who was seen as the creator of the “boys’ club” where “they were able to protect other members of staff from the consequences of their conduct, through actions such as deleting complaints, and normalising bad behaviour”.

“The consistency with which the participants named the small group of staff members was alarming and gave us real cause for concern,” the report says of this clique.

Other academics were accused of racism towards Chinese students, throwing materials at learners, ripping up their drawings, and failing to investigate complaints. There were also allegations that a senior tutor pushed and inappropriately touched students, of staff hosting parties where illegal drugs were taken, and of at least five tutors who dated students during their time at the Bartlett.

The report, by specialist investigation firm Howlett Brown, says that although it was not tasked with determining the truth of each allegation, similarities between accounts and corroborating information led it “to find that more likely than not, a lot of what has been alleged, has occurred”. More than 300 students and staff contributed to the investigation, which was based on complaints that were first reported by The Guardian.

It adds that beyond this, there was “a varying degree of complacency among other staff members who appear to have been complicit through inaction and have allowed the culture and alleged misconduct…to continue and perpetuate in the way it has, for some time”.

The report locates a root cause for the Bartlett’s culture in its unit structure, which was found to create “an unhealthy culture of competition”, where the “most popular and perceived successful tutors have the greatest power”, with few checks on their behaviour. Students reported being used as “commodities” by staff seeking to win awards for themselves, being made to work excessive hours, including working free of charge during holidays.

The prestige attached to the Bartlett, the report continues, left students “feeling as though they had to accept the treatment they endured through fear of the consequences to their careers, and that those who were favoured in such a prestigious environment were inoculated from consequence, allowing them to act as they pleased”.

Michael Spence, UCL’s president, said he was “deeply shocked” by the findings and apologised to anyone who had been affected.

“Their testimonies expose an inexcusable and pernicious underbelly of bullying and other unacceptable behaviour that is completely at odds with the values on which UCL was founded. While the report acknowledges that not everyone at the BSA has been a part of this culture, that these behaviours have been able to persist over a time span of years means that something has gone terribly wrong. We must and absolutely will address that swiftly and robustly,” Dr Spence said.

Beyond removing “a number” of staff from student-facing and administrative duties, UCL said it was launching an immediate review of the Bartlett’s unit structure and tutorial process. A working group is being established to progress other recommendations made in the report, which also include a review of the tutor hiring process, improvements to complaints handling, and provision of training for staff who are supervising students.




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Reader's comments (1)

These academics need to be disciplined rather than merely removed from student facing and admin roles. In staff facing roles they will be behave even worse towards their colleagues. Alternatively, the university could ask them to undergo medical tests as this behaviour can in part be driven by hormonal imbalances or underactive or overactive thyroids. In this case, they need urgent treatment.