Academic Staff and Racism

As an article in Times Higher Education (THE) reports, the U.K. Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has charged that U.K. institutions take racial harassment and other forms of racism directed at students more seriously than they take racist abuse directed at academic staff. The THE article by Anna McKie is reprinted in its entirety below.


Racism Against Students Taken More Seriously Than Staff Abuse


Anna McKie

Academics have accused universities of taking racial harassment of students more seriously than abuse of staff, after a report laid bare the prevalence of racism in the UK sector.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission accused institutions of being “oblivious” to the scale of the problem after its report, Tackling Racial Harassment: Universities Challenged, found that, although racism is widespread in higher education, victims rarely reported it because they had little confidence that it would be taken seriously.

However, quantitative data published alongside the main report suggest that complaints made by staff were even less likely to lead to sanctions against the alleged perpetrator.

EHRC surveys, based on data from 318 staff and 491 students, found that only 17 per cent of staff complaints had been upheld and had led to redress of some sort. This compared with 38 per cent of student grievances.

Forty-two per cent of staff complaints had been investigated but not upheld, compared with 27 per cent of student cases.

Data collected from around 100 universities also indicated that student complaints were resolved more quickly. Thirty-two per cent of student complaints were resolved within a month, compared with just 9 per cent of staff grievances. Thirty-one per cent of staff cases took between three and six months to process, compared with 15 per cent of student complaints. Nineteen per cent of staff cases dragged on for more than six months – compared with only 13 per cent of student complaints.

Nelarine Cornelius, professor of organisation studies at Queen Mary University of London, said that the government-backed push to widen access to higher education meant that there was “a focus on the numbers of [black and ethnic minority] students getting into university and their progress once they are there”.

“You are also less likely to see BAME staff in senior positions,” Professor Cornelius said. “So the likelihood of somebody being able to sponsor or counsel or defend a junior member of staff who is also BAME is less likely.”

The university data showed that 83 per cent of staff who reported being victims of racism were junior or middle-ranking. Only 7 per cent of complainants were in senior positions.

Staff victims were most likely to say that their abuser was a senior member of staff, with this accounting for 32 per cent of cases.

Kalwant Bhopal, professor of education and social justice at the University of Birmingham, said that this had a knock-on effect on the complaints process.

“When BME academics report racism, this is simply dismissed by managers as a clash of personalities and not taken seriously. In these cases, the victims become the villains,” she said. “Consequently, a failure to acknowledge racism results in a failure to act upon it.”

Four-fifths of staff who reported being victims of racism told the EHRC that it was part of a pattern of repeated harassment. About three in 20 said that it had caused them to leave their jobs, with many more saying that they had considered it.

Nicola Rollock, reader in equity and education at Goldsmiths, University of London, said that universities “do not understand the damaging consequences of constantly being undermined and devalued on account of one’s race. This, in turn, affects our success in higher education and our mental health and well-being.”

She added: “If universities do not understand race and racism, it stands to reason that this failure will also be reflected in any policies including their complaints procedures.”

The original THE article is here:

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