Manchester admits 'sexism and hostility'

June 21, 2002

An internal review of Manchester University's department of English and American studies has concluded that it is "dysfunctional" and racked by hostility, sexism, bullying and harassment.

The damning report, seen by The THES , was commissioned last year by vice chancellor Sir Martin Harris. Personal working relationships were found to have broken down because of tensions between established and newer staff who had "an absence of intellectual respect for each other". There was widespread disenchantment within the department among senior staff, several of whom were planning to leave.

The cause is said to be a long history of "management failure" combined with a lack of internal democracy that meant decisions were frequently "shrouded in secrecy and mystery".

In addition, many staff displayed an unwillingness to teach outside the narrow confines of their research interests, resulting in "major conflict and a feeling of exploitation by staff meeting teaching needs". There was a distinct absence of a sense of academic community.

"Frustrations seem to be exacerbated by a culture of systematic work avoidance whereby some senior staff are said to have negotiated deals with previous heads of departments," the report says.

The working party met 31 members of staff for confidential discussions earlier this year. Some described a climate of anxiety pervading the department, with consequent stress-related illness. Others said they felt undervalued, unappreciated and "desperately in need of encouragement, recognition and support".

"Younger members of staff identified a culture of bullying and sexism in the department and three young women left in the last academic year," the report says.

There was also anecdotal evidence that the problems were becoming known further afield, and that some university English departments were advising their graduates not to seek further training at Manchester.

No one from the department would comment, but the chair of the working party, pro vice-chancellor Michael Grant, said: "This report has identified a number of issues within the department of English and American studies, and urgent steps are being taken to address them vigorously.

"It is worth noting, however, that the department achieved a 5 in the last research assessment exercise and student numbers are currently buoyant."

The report recommends the appointment of a strong and determined head of department to push through a programme of reform.

It says: "There needs henceforth to be a more transparent management regime and process for determination of policy."

It also calls for the professors urgently to "take ownership of their discipline and provide academic leadership".

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