Imperial College London finance chief quits after bullying report

Chair acknowledges that publication ‘caused renewed disquiet, frustration and anger’

February 22, 2022
Imperial College London
Source: iStock

Imperial College London’s finance boss has announced his resignation just weeks after the publication of a report that detailed how he had bullied colleagues.

Muir Sanderson will step down as chief financial officer immediately but the university said he would “assist with handover and support the college” until 31 August. This means that his departure will coincide with that of Imperial’s president, Alice Gast, who was also found guilty of bullying as part of the same investigation. She will step down in August, at the end of her term.

The pair faced disciplinary investigations and issued public apologies in 2020 but Imperial kept details of the allegations – contained in a report by Jane McNeill QC – under wraps until earlier this month.

The report, released following a ruling by the Information Commissioner’s Office, reserved its strongest criticism for Mr Sanderson, who Ms McNeill writes, “created or contributed to a culture where aggression and the making of inappropriate and offensive comments is tolerated”.

Mr Sanderson was found to have bullied two colleagues in early 2020 and, Ms McNeill writes, “uses language and exhibits behaviours from time to time which are abhorrent in a modern workplace”. With Professor Gast he was accused of creating a culture “where personal likes and dislikes are allowed to interfere with objective decision-making”.

In a statement issued following the publication of the report, Mr Sanderson said that he had been “trying to learn the lessons” that it contained. But members of the Imperial branch of the University and College Union overwhelmingly backed a motion of no confidence in Mr Sanderson, as well as Professor Gast.

In an email sent to Imperial staff and students on 22 February, Mr Sanderson said that he had decided to step down. “I will always be proud to have worked at such an amazing institution and at what we have all achieved together. I look forward to seeing the college going from strength from strength,” he writes.

In a message to the college community, chair of council John Allan says Mr Sanderson had “put the college in a stronger position financially and strategically” in a decade of service, but acknowledges that the publication of Ms McNeill’s report “caused renewed disquiet, frustration and anger across the college community. It leads us to again ask important questions about the sort of institution we want to be and how we work and study together.”

Mr Allan says the council is “determined to build a fair and respectful environment for everyone in our community”, and says that progress has been made, but adds that now the university “must rebuild trust, and that starts at the top”.

Mr Allan says that Professor Gast’s successor, Hugh Brady – currently vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol – would work with colleagues “to deliver changes based on the lessons learned from these events to ensure we realise the culture to which we aspire”.

“I am talking to heads of department and many others this week about how best to achieve this. We will consider further reforms, including to governance. We will also consult staff on our bullying and harassment policy,” Mr Allan writes.

“We have listened carefully to people across the college: from consuls, deans, heads of department, student representatives and individual and group staff feedback and meetings.

“I want to thank you personally for giving an open and honest account of your experiences and your views. The strength of feeling is clear, as is the need for action. We will continue to listen and to act. Together we can, and will, achieve excellence in our culture, just as we do in education, research and innovation.”

Tony Lawrence, Imperial’s director of financial management, will serve as interim chief financial officer.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

What took him so long? And what is Alice Gast waiting for?

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