June 26, 2007

Commission for Racial Equality censures University of Birmingham

PRESS RELEASE from Birmingham University and College Union - Tuesday 26th June 2007 - For immediate release

Commission for Racial Equality censures University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is now the first university in England to be reported to the Department for Education for failing in its legal Race Equality Duty. Last week the Birmingham University branch of the University and College Union received a copy of a letter to the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Michael Sterling, from the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE). The letter states that the University has failed to show it has met its legal Race Equality Duty and that it has failed to respond to previous letters from the CRE. Six pages of damning criticism detail the failures of the University Senior Management to meet their legal duty to promote race equality.

Vice Chancellor "running out of time" to comply

The Vice Chancellor was given a 21-day ultimatum to meet a series of demands, or further action may follow from the CRE. He must now:

* agree to revise the University's Race Equality Policy and Action Plan and give details of how the University will meet the CRE's requirements;

* disclose the CRE's criticisms to the University's supreme body, the Council, which meets on July 4th;

* agree a compact with the UCU over proposed course closures.

The letter is dated June 6th, but as yet the University has failed to approach the UCU to begin discussions that could lead to a compact. Dr. William Edmondson, Vice-President of BUCU, said "The University now has only a few days left to comply with the CRE letter. They are running out of time."

"Institutional racism" in targeting black academics for redundancy

Last November the UCU accused the University of Birmingham of "institutional racism" for disproportionately targeting ethnic minority academic members of staff in the School of Education for redundancy. The University decided to withdraw from long-established courses in Community, Play and Youth work (CPY), claiming that they no longer fit with the strategy of the University. The UCU pointed out that this move threatened the jobs of 5 out of only 7 ethnic minority academic staff in the School of Education. The University failed to meet its legal obligations for genuine consultation and failed to consider fully the potential impact of the course closures on race equality issues. The UCU complaint to the Commission for Racial Equality over the CPY closure plans led to the current threat of legal enforcement action against the University. Last December, following a flood of complaints from supporters of the CPY courses, the Vice Chancellor assured local MPs that the University had acted within the law.

Peter Hick, UCU representative in the School of Education said today:

"Staff across the University and within the School of Education work hard to develop good practice in teaching and research around race and diversity issues. It is unacceptable that Senior Management should be so complacent about race equality issues that the Commission for Racial Equality has to inform the Minister at the Department for Education that the University is apparently failing in its legal Race Equality Duty. The Vice Chancellor owes an apology to staff in Community, Play and Youth Work for the shabby way they have been treated.

"The University is currently going through a major reorganisation, and this presents an ideal opportunity for a step change in the way it deals with race relations issues. Birmingham is shortly to become one of Britain's first major cities with a majority non-white school-age population. The University of Birmingham should be working towards best practice in race equality, instead of having to be dragged reluctantly into the 21st century."
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Is this university one more candidate for the 'Divestors of People' award/standard?

3 comments:

Stuart said...

A correction - "the first university to be censured" is not strictly correct. In 1988 St George's medical school was found to be operating a computerised admissions system that identified candidates with characteristics "like" those of high-achieving third-to-fifth year medical students. The CRE decided that the system was a discriminatory enactment of the prejudices forming student achievement.

Commission for Racial Equality. Report of a formal investigation into St George's Hospital Medical School. London: CRE, 1988.

There is a large literature of medical school discrimination, e.g. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/310/6978/478

Stuart said...

... and I forgot to mention, the applicants' characteristics included their "race / ethnicity" as judged by the admissions officer from looking at the (usually black & white) passport sized photograph on the UCCA form. That was the crassness that hit the news at the time, as well as the fact that there were no real penalties for discrimination.

Anonymous said...

I used to work for the University of Birmingham in a very junior role. I enjoyed it very much until one day when I went along to a very senior member's leaving ceremony. I was accompanied by a another junior colleague. Most of the people there were very senior members of the University staff and there were more than 100 people in attendance. I remember the exact moment when me and my colleague looked at each other and realised that we were the only non-white people there.