Imperial leadership ‘unaware’ of changes to bullying policy

Audit finds changes were made without necessary approvals amid row over senior staff conduct

February 24, 2021
Imperial College London
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Changes made to Imperial College London’s bullying and harassment policy days after it emerged that its president and chief financial officer had been investigated for bullying were made without “the necessary approvals” but senior staff were not aware, an audit has found.

Following the revelations in December that president Alice Gast and finance chief Muir Sanderson had been found to have bullied other members of staff by an independent investigation, it emerged that amendments had been made to the harassment policy, which removed the reference to bullying as “gross misconduct” and instead said that all incidents would be “treated seriously”.

Subsequently, the university said the changes were a “clerical error” and that the bullying cases had been conducted under the long-standing approved policy.

In response, KPMG was asked to conduct an audit, which concluded that neither Professor Gast, Mr Sanderson nor their offices had requested or approved the changes to the institution’s harassment, bullying and victimisation policy.

According to an Imperial statement, the KPMG audit showed that different policies had been undergoing development for the past year at Imperial, with changes on different aspects overseen by different sponsors. “This includes the HR team starting work on implementing the recommendation from the independent investigation that the policy should be reviewed,” it said.

According to the executive summary of the KPMG report, the amendments to the policy’s wording were made by HR in response to a number of “drivers”, including expanding the bullying definition to include antisemitism, other Imperial initiatives and the response to the recommendations of the investigation into Professor Gast and Mr Sanderson, which included considering whether all acts of bullying should be considered to be gross misconduct.

The latter “appears to have generated the amendment to that section” of the policy in question, KPMG concluded.

The summary said that the president, chief financial officer, provost and chair of council had no involvement with the amendments, except that the provost had approved the revised definition of antisemitism.

The audit confirms that these changes to the HR policy on bullying, harassment and victimisation were made and published without the necessary approvals, Imperial said.

John Cullen, chair of the audit and risk committee of Imperial’s council, said the report from KPMG “indicates that the president, provost, CFO, chair of council and their offices had no involvement in amendments to the policy on gross misconduct posted on 1 December 2020.

“The report suggested that a clearer procedure for final approval of HR policies was needed, and this has now been put into place.”

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