UCL-UCU: Statement on Investigation into Bartlett School of Architecture

14 July 2022

You may be aware of a recent investigation into the bullying and harassment at the Bartlett School of Architecture which makes for shocking reading. UCL UCU, guided by some of its local reps in the Bartlett, has produced the below statement.

It highlights how UCL’s response has fallen short, calls for no scapegoating and for management to take responsibility for their failings, and for the university to undertake key measures to rectify the problems highlighted in the report.

UCL UCU Executive Committee

twitter: @ucl_ucu

UCL UCU website


UCL UCU statement in response to BSA investigation

We read with great concern the external investigation into the Bartlett School of Architecture (the HB report), and express our solidarity with all who came forward. We unequivocally condemn bullying and harassment in all of UCL’s many workplaces, while insisting that all complaints against individuals be subject to due process.

The HB report contains shocking revelations, ranging from one report of rape and multiple instances of sexual and racial harassment and tutors dating students, to a long-term culture of persistent bullying. That it has gone on for this long, and that it took a student campaign threatening to go public before UCL took complaints seriously, should be cause for serious reflection.

Some of these complaints were submitted by UCU members, although neither they nor we have been consulted over this process. Over the years, we have represented Bartlett union members in cases of bullying and harassment with often unsatisfactory outcomes for individuals and with little organisational learning or change.

The current staff in the Bartlett School of Architecture have been silenced, first by the School management condemned in this report, and now by Senior Management trying to manage its reputation. There may also be future plans to change the mode of design teaching practice in the School.

But the future of the BSA can only be decided by its staff collectively, consulting with students - they, ultimately, are the guardians of education. We need truth and reconciliation, not more management edicts.

One of the big problems has been the longstanding practice of hiring teaching staff through self-employment contracts. This matters because such contracts simultaneously weaken staff rights and exclude them from accountability under UCL’s disciplinary policies. Staff can in theory be dismissed at a moment’s notice, so they are effectively silenced.

At UCL this is a practice unique to the Bartlett, although this type of self-employment contracting is widespread in the higher education sector.

Whilst we believe the report is a step forward, there are a number of points we should make. Fundamentally the report is a narrative of institutional failure. HR policy and central oversight failed to address poor local management and teaching practice. The recommendations on training and EDI strategies are too vague to address these basic structural dysfunctions.

  1. The failure of HR and ‘report and support’ as a complaint mechanism. The report outlines several cases where the university has not followed up complaints. We regularly witness HR staff attempting to strike out complaints because they were not made within three months, or because they were previously investigated (often poorly). Victims of bullying often include students, junior or lower paid staff and those who stand up for them.
  2. The report fails to meaningfully address the complaint of racism. Though the findings in the report contain worrying accounts of high dropout rates of non-white students, and reports of directly discriminatory behaviour directed against nonwhite students, particularly Chinese students. The proposed remedies of ‘ensuring that there is diverse representation within candidate pools’, ‘training’ and ‘DEI strategy’ are too vague to be useful. We ask the university to request a breakdown of the data collected by race so we have a clearer understanding of how much worse the situation is for BAME staff and students.
  3. The report does not address the low pay or precarity (job insecurity) of tutors in the recommendations. This is of central importance for the reasons outlined above. There is no need for staff not to be engaged as normal employees of UCL and subject to UCL’s policies and procedures, something that happens in other departments.
  4. What would justice and reparation look like for the victims? This question is not considered in the recommendations. We believe that UCL should properly engage in a process of restorative justice. Will past grades be reviewed? Will victims be compensated? Will HR investigate why previous complaints were ignored and what pressure they may come under themselves when policy has been breached.

We also believe UCL’s general response falls short:

  1. Failures of governance and lack of accountability of senior management. This is not an isolated BSA problem, toxic cultures and systemic discrimination extend across several departments in the Bartlett Faculty. The union is representing an increasing number of serious cases across the Bartlett Faculty that concern competition between departments as well as within departments that leads to bullying and racist discrimination perpetrated by senior managers. We note that problems are often flagged in the process of appointing a Head of Department every four years and which are passed onto the Dean in anonymised form but which are ignored. Appointments lack transparency and often go ahead despite written complaints received. Harvard’s recent sexual harassment review noted the need for vetting candidates for leadership positions for allegations of misconduct . We reject scapegoating of junior members of staff.
  2. Lack of serious commitment by Heads of Department with EDI or EDI-washing has led to the harm of staff and students. Despite a lot of virtue-signalling after Black Lives Matter, staff are now calling for a new organisation, one that is built on UCL’s spirit of freedom and justice and as a global university, is reflective of the global majority in both the nature of teaching, and working. Exclusionary barriers need to be dismantled by active recruitment, retention and promotion of workers of BAME background and any grievances to be resolved and settled by the university in satisfactory ways that align with the law.
  3. End the use of ‘NDAs’, confidentiality clauses and management instructions to keep silent. ‘Non-disclosure agreements’ (often confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements) must not be used to prevent complaints and investigations. We are aware of active measures in BSA to prevent staff discussing the HB report among themselves. Will UCL commit to allowing staff or students who have signed such clauses in the past to break that clause in order for staff and students to file formal complaints as they have been requested to do? Another type of ‘NDA’ is little-discussed: a management instruction to existing staff to keep silent. It is time for UCL to say clearly that they won’t use their position as an employer to silence anyone - current staff, ex-staff or students.

We urge UCL to:

  1. Consider the need for root and branch reform to establish transparency in governance, accountability at the top, operational reform in HR, and due process for all. In particular, the vetting of leadership roles for past misconduct across the university.
  2. Directly involve the union in a community-driven endeavour between all stakeholders to review proposed reforms.
  3. Re-establish regular meetings (monthly) between BSA UCU reps/union members and management (Head of School, School Manager, HR, and finance).