One of Britain’s leading universities is failing to stamp out bullying and harassment, some of its staff have said, after a college principal was allowed to remain in post despite complaints of intimidating behaviour towards colleagues.
April 11, 2022
Britain’s highest-paid university chief and another senior executive created a culture of favouritism and exclusion at Imperial College, according to damning details of a report released after she had attempted to suppress its publication.
Imperial’s president, Alice Gast, last year apologised after an independent report found that she and the college’s chief financial officer had bullied members of staff. However, they have resisted calls by student and academic representatives to resign, while she attempted to block the report’s release under freedom of information.
But redacted details were published on Thursday after the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) rejected Gast’s arguments against the release and disagreed with her attempts to downplay the findings against her as “relatively minor”.
They include accounts of Gast and Muir Sanderson’s behaviour and its impact on victims who were bullied in 2019 and 2020. Jane McNeill QC, who carried out the investigation, said some witnesses had expressed a fear of retaliation.
McNeill found that Gast and Sanderson had “created or contributed to a culture which involves and tolerates favouritism, exclusion, the making of disparaging comments about others and at times a lack of respect for others”.
Referring to Gast and Sanderson by their initials, the report goes on to state: “In relation to both AG and MS, several witnesses described a culture of favouritism: you are ‘in or out’; ‘the favourite child’; ‘a hero or zero’; or in the ‘in gang or out gang’. One witness said that there were a lot of employees at any one time ‘in the rubbish pot’.”
McNeill’s report found that Gast had bullied a colleague, which she has apologised for, but that her treatment of some others did not amount to bullying. Sanderson has apologised for bullying two colleagues. The report found he had bullied one person and said it made no finding that he had bullied others.
Barry Jones, the London regional official for the University College Union, said: “It is shameful that President Alice Gast and CFO Muir Sanderson still remain in post after being found to have bullied staff and treated them with such disrespect. UCU members report an endemic culture of bullying at Imperial, a culture which hits marginalised staff the hardest.”
Imperial is subject to an investigation by the universities watchdog, the Office for Students, over the bullying allegations. It was announced last year that Gast – the highest-paid university chief among the elite Russell Group – is to step down from her £554,000 role when her contract expires this year.
Sanderson’s behaviour to one victim was described as “aggressive and intimidating”. She was undermined and spoken to in a condescending and offensive way, with “stark examples” such as being addresses as “young lady” and being told to “watch her tone”...