Give staff space to flag concerns about inequality

April 12, 2018

Kalwant Bhopal’s call for universities’ funding to be linked to their efforts to address racial inequality (“Tie funding to tackling racial inequality, says professor”, News, 29 March) needs early and overwhelming support, especially in a climate where the issue has slipped down institutions’ agendas. Unfortunately, however, it might not be enough to rely on standard supply-led institutional mechanisms alone. Black and minority ethnic grievances and concerns (eg, inadequate representation in responsible and leadership positions; lack of permanency; the felt experience of indirect racism; the absence of counter-narratives in the curriculum and research practice; student attainment) tend to be handled, at best, with kid gloves, which seldom leads to any considered institutional monitoring, evaluation and redress.

I wonder whether BME academics would prefer quotas to clear and impartial justice for the many instances of hidden or even reported incidents of especially the subtler forms of indirect racial discrimination. The prevailing currency to ignore such practice or, worse, to simply deny it because absolute proof might be difficult to obtain, shuts out supportive discussion. Appointment of BME staff generally at junior levels is often seen as a proxy for being “black friendly”. Clearly, more institutions should have the courage to combat racism by at least making a beeline for the charter mark. But space must be created by BME staff themselves to monitor and present cases of direct and indirect forms of inequality together with proactive, distinctive contributions emanating from their backgrounds and realities, and institutions should be prepared to engage in the counter-narrative that might emerge with actions that help to achieve just outcomes.

If equality in practice means unequal or discriminatory racial representation (of people, ideas, narratives, critique and place), then there is a justifiable need to fight for it at all levels.

Jay Mitra
Professor of business enterprise and innovation
University of Essex

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