‘Policy failure’ holding back black academics

Black scholars progress in careers only through endorsement from white colleagues, warns professor

February 22, 2017
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A “failure of policy” at both governmental and institutional level means that black and minority ethnic (BME) academics can progress in their careers only with the endorsement of white colleagues, according to a researcher in the field.

Paul Miller, professor of educational leadership and management at the University of Huddersfield and the first black professor in this field in the UK, argues in a recent paper, published in Power and Education, that BME academics can rise up the ranks in a university only if they go through a process of “white sanction”. This is where a BME individual is first “acknowledged” and then “endorsed/promoted” by a white individual, who acts as a “broker” acting on behalf of the interests of the BME individual, Professor Miller says.

“The failure of policy is what’s responsible for white sanction,” he told Times Higher Education. “If institutions were implementing proper equality policies then there would be no need for white sanction.

“If the government was monitoring and measuring the impact of the [Equality Act], there would be no need for [it]. It’s a failure of government policy firstly, and institutional policy secondly."

He added that the policy environment needs to be “more robust” in terms of monitoring whether equality is being delivered.

“Rather than paying lip service to equality – we’ll put this policy in place to shut you up and nobody [sits] down to see how these things have impacted lives – we have to move the narrative to action, real social justice…for society,” Professor Miller said.

In his qualitative study, he interviewed seven BME academics at a range of London-based institutions including Russell Group, plate-glass and post-92 universities. Academics reported that white colleagues were like “gatekeepers”, while a number of participants also felt that “discrimination and racist attitudes” are present in the system.

The research identified four types of institutions in terms of how much they interact with BME staff: engaged, experimenting, initiated and uninitiated.

In engaged universities, BME staff are represented at all levels, and this lessens towards the uninitiated, where there are no BME staff and no framework to help meet legal equality duties. Professor Miller said all universities would “fit into one of those quadrants” and the model “provides a framework within which to begin to understand the whole institutional interaction with BME progression”.

“In beginning to do some self-reflection or number-crunching, organisations can begin to determine where on this quadrant they are and where they would like to be,” he said. “Going forward, the notion of how organisations interact with BME progression is going to be important in the sense that organisations should want to be engaged rather than experimenting, or uninitiated.”

Professor Miller believed this could be a model for HEIs in “many countries abroad” and his work was already being cited in other systems.

“I have academic colleagues in the US who have…thought that the model is really good because, for the first time, rather than saying: ‘the problem is this, the problem is that’, there is an actual framework within which to look at how we can understand the problems.”


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