Bradford failed to confront bullying and racism, inquiry finds

UCU also criticised for not representing ethnic minority staff effectively. Melanie Newman reports

March 19, 2009

A "systemic, institutional failure to confront bullying, harassment and racism" at the University of Bradford has been uncovered by an independent review.

A report by the review panel, which examined allegations made in the School of Health, found a "denial of the existence of racism" among management. The report says it "found clear evidence of a systemic, institutional failure to confront bullying, harassment, racism and racial discrimination against black and minority ethnic (BME) staff within the division of nursing, and at the School of Health Studies, between late 2001 and autumn 2007".

The review was commissioned in July 2008 after Bradford issued apologies to two academics in the nursing division who had lodged race-related grievances.

Two internal grievance panels found that, while there had been poor management, there had been no discrimination in either case. These findings were later reversed, with conclusions that discrimination had occurred. Two other grievances were settled.

The review panel, headed by Peter Herbert, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, said management failure to apply or adhere to equality policies or deal with inappropriate behaviour led to the grievances.

"The culture of the university was to regard any finding of race discrimination as being significantly worse than any other form of discrimination," the report says.

The fear was based on the city of Bradford's history of racial divisions, possible damage to the university brand and "a moral denial of the existence of racism being a characteristic of the university management", the report suggests.

Out of 12 university disciplinary hearings conducted in recent years, ten were made against BME staff. Of the nine grievances lodged by staff, seven came from BME employees, with one raising three grievances over two years.

"The records kept were poor and inaccurate," the review panel said.

In the division of nursing, 12 complaints were made between 2001 and 2006 by white and BME staff. The complaints were dealt with individually and the dean of health and Bradford's human resources department were unaware of the problems until a race grievance was lodged.

"There was a collective failure of leadership ... in recognising the extent of the problem," the report says.

Uduak Archibong, Bradford's diversity and race champion, was implicitly criticised in the report, which referred to a "lack of competence" around race and diversity issues in the HR department and the school's management, "including the dean and the diversity/race equality champion".

The review also criticises the University and College Union branch at Bradford, saying it "did not properly represent the needs and concerns of its BME members". It claims the union became effective only after help was sought from regional and national officials.

The review concludes that procedures and practices at Bradford remain flawed and leave it at risk of future employment tribunal claims.

A School of Health staff survey carried out by the panel in 2008 found that most staff felt they "did not fit in". Most highlighted BME staff as the group of employees most likely to be treated unfairly. The staff picked "equality champions" as the university initiative that had the least positive impact on equality.

Another BME employee in the School of Health is understood to have lodged a legal claim against Bradford for bullying and harassment. The case will be heard by an employment tribunal in June.

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