Race case panel finds faults from above

September 28, 2007

Verdict cites Bradford's failure to promote good relations but dismisses racism. Melanie Newman reports

Bradford University has admitted that poor management has damaged staff relations, after a two-year investigation into allegations of racism that have torn apart its School of Health Studies.

But a grievance committee found no evidence of race discrimination in the school, in the first of a number of race-related grievances taken out by black members of staff in the school's nursing division.

Despite a senior manager's admission of racial tensions within the nursing division in a memo last year, which reminded staff of their duties under the Race Relations Act, the university concluded this week that racism could not be proved. However, the division had been managed poorly and staff relationships had been damaged.

One black lecturer in the school, whose case was the first to conclude this week, has waited since June 2005 to hear the verdict.

In a case set to trouble a university that has made its commitment to "confronting inequality" part of its corporate identity, and in a city renowned for race-based social tensions, the academic, whom The Times Higher agreed not to name, will appeal against the decision. She said she would take the university to an employment tribunal if she was unsuccessful.

Bill Gulam, who represents the black staff involved in the grievances for the University and College Union and who has served as an equality specialist on the union's executive, said: "The findings are staggering. The university appears more interested in ignoring the race dynamic than attempting to improve it."

The Times Higher has learnt that Bradford's own "race-equality champion", professor of diversity Uduak Archibong, who is based in the school, has been the victim of racial abuse.

Jeff Lucas, the deputy vice-chancellor, wrote in a memo to staff in 2000: "Many of you will know that over the last 20 months Udi has been the victim of a series of malicious and often racist messages, posters and mailshots."

The latest material had "emanated from the nursing photocopying machine", he said, adding: "It is incongruous that these episodes are happening among us." The perpetrator of the abuse was never caught.

While the direct abuse stopped after Professor Lucas's action, a source in the department told The Times Higher that tensions rose again around 2002.

A year later Professor Archibong and five other academic members of staff met with the aim of cataloguing their individual experiences of discrimination. They planned to use the dossier as evidence in a collective grievance.

In June 2004, Professor Archibong withdrew from the process. In August of that year, she was made professor of diversity.

Three members of the group filed individual grievances, the first of which concluded last week.

Professor Archibong emerged during the grievance hearing as a key witness for the university. Despite evidence from other staff of a long-standing black white divide in the nursing department, the professor told the hearing there was no division along racial lines. She also requested that documents listing her experiences be destroyed.

The first grievance claim alleged that Annie Topping, head of nursing from 2002, had racially discriminated against the complainant, and that the dean of the School of Health Studies, Gwendolen Bradshaw, had allowed a racist culture to develop.

The panel concluded that, because several white staff had also complained about Dr Topping's management style, it was unable to conclude that her ehaviour was racially motivated. It found no evidence of racism against Professor Bradshaw.

But it acknowledged that the university had failed in its duty to promote good relations within the university and recommended that the complainant be considered for promotion.

Dr Topping has since left Bradford for a chair in health and social science at Huddersfield University. She was abroad and unavailable for comment this week.

Dr Gulam has criticised Bradford's handling of the 25-month grievance process. He said that, after he complained that threats were made to witnesses by staff members, the committee carried out an investigation but did not reveal the outcome. But when Professor Bradshaw complained that Dr Gulam had bullied her, he was banned from appearing in the same room as the dean during the hearing.

The Times Higher understands that the committee was unable to establish that Dr Gulam had done anything more than ask the dean the same question several times in an assertive manner.

On one occasion the hearing chair accused Dr Gulam of blasphemy after he used the expression "My God", and he was formally cautioned.

The Times Higher has also seen a petition in support of Dr Topping and signed by her deputy, circulated among staff in 2006. The petition, which was signed by white academic staff only, was not allowed as evidence to the hearing.

Following discovery of the petition, Professor Bradshaw sent out a memo reminding staff of race relations law.

Dr Gulam, who works at Salford University, said: "Given the university's location and intake, its public image and national and international consultancy work and its involvement on race and equality issues, the conclusion reached by [the grievance committee] is disappointing."

Bradford's vice-chancellor, Mark Cleary, said: "We take any complaint by our staff very seriously, and the process we have instigated to resolve this particular case has been rigorous and comprehensive.

"We work hard to uphold our core value of 'confronting inequality, celebrating diversity', and the lengths we have gone to ensure the integrity of this procedure are testament to that. We are one of a few universities in the UK to have achieved Investors in People status across the institution."

melanie.newman@thes.co.uk

 

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