December 18, 2011

76% white and male? That's today's UK professoriate

Figures showing that 76 per cent of UK professors are white men should prompt the sector to address its "inequalities", according to the head of higher education's equality body.

This year's Equality in Higher Education: Statistical Report 2011, from the Equality Challenge Unit, was the first to look at professors in terms of the "interplay of multiple identities", including both race and gender.

The report finds that in 2009-10, only 0.9 per cent of UK staff in professorial roles were black or minority ethnic (BME) women. But 3.4 per cent of staff in non-professorial roles were BME women. And 76.1 per cent of UK national staff in professorial roles were white males. The ECU said it did not have figures on the proportion of white males among all higher education staff.

The mean average salary of female staff was £31,116 compared with £39,021 for male staff, an overall pay gap of 20.3 per cent, the report notes.

David Ruebain, chief executive of the ECU, said: "The statistics do highlight a stark gap in representation at professorial level. We hope they will alert the sector to the need to act to address these inequalities."

He added that the "success of the Athena Swan programme", which aims to improve the careers of women working in science, engineering and technology departments, "has shown that change is needed at the systemic level to tackle these imbalances".

The ECU is currently running pilot programmes on race and gender with a number of universities, seeking to address cultural problems "such as barriers to professorial status and management positions", Mr Ruebain said.

Overall, 53.8 per cent of higher education staff were women. Yet at professorial level, just 19.1 per cent of staff were women.

An ECU spokeswoman explained that a provision in the Equality Act requiring employers to publish figures on their pay gaps has not been enacted by the government and noted that it "wouldn't apply" to institutions of higher education even if it were put in place. Proposals have been formed in Scotland.

The strongest equality duties are in Wales, the spokeswoman said, where universities must collect data on pay differences for all "protected characteristics" including race and gender and must "have due regard" to the need for equality objectives.

The ECU findings came as the National Union of Students published a separate report on disability hate incidents among higher and further education students across the UK. The report found that 8 per cent of disabled respondents "said that they had experienced at least one hate incident while studying at their current institution, which they believed was motivated by prejudice against their disability".

No Place for Hate recommends that universities "should consider setting a specific objective on tackling hate crime as part of their public sector equality duty"; "raise awareness of what constitutes a hate incident and the negative impact of this behaviour on the victim and others"; and establish strong support networks for disabled students.


December 06, 2011

University of Iowa settles few bullying cases

Even though workplace bullying has been identified as a major concern in recent years, University of Iowa officials responsible for informally resolving those disputes are successful in only one in every eight cases, according to data that sheds light on a campus office often shrouded in secrecy.

The Office of the Ombudsperson resolved 8 of 63 bullying complaints brought to its attention by students, faculty and staff between January 2010 and Oct. 5, 2011 and improved the situation in two others, according to data released to an Iowa City lawyer and shared with The Associated Press. The office failed to resolve 13 complaints, and the outcome was listed as "unknown," "unclear" or blank in most of the rest, according to the data, which the university released only after being threatened with a lawsuit.

The data highlights an office whose operations have largely been done in secret since its creation in 1985 and appears to undercut its claims that most employees are satisfied with the service they receive. The office is supposed to serve as "a confidential, neutral and independent dispute resolution service" for the school's 15,000 faculty and staff, according to the university operations manual, but has no authority to order changes if voluntary agreements can't be reached.

Bullying among students has become a major issue in schools following several tragedies involving gay teens, but the issue also is prevalent among adults in the workplace. More than one-third of U.S. workers say they have experienced bullying, the repeated mistreatment by bosses and co-workers that includes verbal abuse, threatening conduct and intimidation, according to a 2010 survey commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute, a group dedicated to combating the issue.

Staff Ombudsperson Cynthia Joyce declined comment on the data and referred questions to university spokesman Tom Moore. In response to written questions, he called bullying "one of the most intractable problems the office handles."

"There are many reasons why a case may not be resolved at the time of the office's last contact with a visitor with concerns about this problem," Moore wrote. "In particular, in the majority of workplace bullying cases, the visitor does not want any action taken by the office."

Critics say the data shows the office favors the university administration and does not do enough to help workers who are mistreated.

"The ombuds office at UI has a long and successful history of resolving conflicts. However, the current atmosphere there is toxic to bullying victims," said attorney Andrew Hosmanek, who has studied bullying in the workplace and shared the data with AP in hopes of changing what he considers an ineffective office. "Bullying victims should be aware that, according to this data, bringing a case directly to the ombuds office is very unlikely to end in a positive result."

Under the current set-up, he said employees may need to pursue a formal complaint, file a lawsuit or consult with a counselor or psychologist to change what he called a "bully culture that has arisen in parts of the UI."

In addition to the low rate of resolution, the data shows:

-- The office made a "low" effort in more than two-thirds of the cases. Moore said that may be because the office simply listened to concerns and helped workers decide on a course of action or that visitors decided to resolve their concerns independently by quitting or transferring jobs, for instance. In complex cases, the office may expend low effort if it is only one of several university offices working the problem, he added.

-- The office made a "high" effort in a single case, which ended by arranging a meeting with a department executive officer.

-- At least five of the complaints later went through a formal legal process, including a lawsuit, an appeal or a grievance.

-- The office redacted the details of each complaint except one: "Significant other of UI grad student is being mobbed at work." That complaint received a low effort by the office and the outcome was unknown.

Hosmanek filed a public records request seeking details on the office's handling of bullying complaints in October after the office's annual report claimed that 81 percent of its visitors left satisfied with the service they received. The report based that claim on a voluntary survey returned by 41 percent of the roughly 500 visitors to the office last year.

The report said complaints of disrespectful behavior, including bullying, have sharply increased in recent years and now involve one-quarter of the office's cases. Against that backdrop, Hosmanek said he wanted to see the data to gauge the office's effectiveness.

Moore claimed many visitors leave satisfied even if the office doesn't resolve their complaints.

University records custodian Steve Parrott at first rejected Hosmanek's data request, arguing the office's promise of confidentiality to those who complain was crucial to its operations. "The office performs no government function, maintains no official documents, and provides mediation services. Its records are confidential and privileged and therefore not subject to open records requests," Parrott wrote.

Hosmanek protested the response, arguing the office was subject to the public records law, served a public function, and did maintain records. Parrott acknowledged the office had records, but claimed they were exempt from disclosure because they were "confidential personnel records" under Iowa law.

After Hosmanek said he did not want names of employees or victims, only data, and threatened to seek legal remedies for an open records violation, Parrott told him there were 63 bullying complaints for that time period. The school eventually released heavily-redacted records from the office's database showing the effort expended in each case, the outcome and whether the dispute later went to a formal grievance or legal process.

"Although the University of Iowa Office of the Ombudsperson position remains that their records are confidential and not subject to disclosure," he wrote, "the Office was willing to share the enclosed documents to bring this matter to a close."


December 05, 2011

Is a whiter-than-white academy blind to the racial inequality in its midst?

Universities are "oblivious" to racial inequalities and are failing to act on problems because they "see themselves as liberal and believe existing policies ensure fairness", it has been argued.

Andrew Pilkington, professor of sociology at the University of Northampton, stated in a lecture, "Institutional Racism in the Academy", that the "sheer whiteness" of universities often means that "they ignore adverse outcomes and don't see combating racial/ethnic inequalities as a priority".

When the Macpherson report on the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry was published in 1999, it famously spoke of a police investigation marred by "institutional racism". Jack Straw, the home secretary at the time, broadened the issue, suggesting that "any long-established, white-dominated organisation is liable to have procedures, practices and a culture that tend to...disadvantage non-white people".

In an attempt to remedy these problems, the government introduced colour-blind widening-participation strategies for students and equal-opportunity policies for university staff. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 identified a number of specific duties.

Professor Pilkington drew on research he had carried out for his recent book, Institutional Racism in the Academy: A Case Study, to assess how far universities have risen to the challenge.

The research compares an anonymous "Midshire" police force and a post-1992 university based in the same county. Although there was less racism in the university's "occupational culture", as reported by its black and minority ethnic (BME) employees, it shared with the police force "a taken-for-granted white norm" and was dominated by a white senior management.

The university's employment practices, lack of positive action and the low priority given to race equality also scored badly.

Although universities had undoubtedly addressed equality issues, if only in response to external pressures, Professor Pilkington suggested that "action was particularly evident in the period 2002-03", and had probably achieved more in relation to gender than ethnicity. Subsequent government agendas on themes such as "community cohesion" might also have shifted the spotlight from race.

There remained a great deal to be done and far fewer incentives for universities to devote time and energy to the area, he argued. In widening-participation programmes, "funding letters never mention race or ethnicity but invariably refer to social class or a proxy measure of it", he said, while "performance indicators are wholly class-based".

Pre-entry and access initiatives are given priority over equally vital "interventions once students have entered higher education", he added. And the specific needs of BME learners could drop off the agenda when incorporated into generic widening-participation policies.

Professor Pilkington concluded that "BME academic staff continue to experience significant disadvantage...10 years after the publication of the Macpherson report", while BME students continue to be less likely to be awarded good degrees.

Although adept at finding fault elsewhere, universities "remain oblivious of inequalities in our midst and the need to ensure that our own policies and procedures are evidence-based", he said.