Academics at one of the UK’s most prestigious universities claim bullying and harassment has destroyed careers and left staff living in a “culture of fear”.
In a leaked letter seen by the Guardian, nine academics from University College London’s (UCL) Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction said they needed to break their “silence”, alleging that complaints of bullying are “simply ignored”.
It comes after UCL apologised for a “culture of bullying” dating back decades at the Bartlett School of Architecture, which is in the same faculty as the school of sustainable construction.
An investigation by intelligence company Howlett Brown into the architecture school found a “boys’ club” setting. It found some people had been left “deeply traumatised” by their experiences in what was described as a “toxic” and “unsafe” learning environment.
The report has prompted a backlash, with 30 architects and academics accusing the university of a “witch-hunt”. They criticised the decision to publish the findings of an investigation into alleged abuses at the school before the conclusion of a disciplinary process.
The letter from the Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction nowargues there is nepotism when it comes to high-profile appointments within the academy, as well as harassment and bullying of older and senior staff to “precipitate resignation or early retirement in order to replace them with cheaper junior staff on fixed-term contracts”.
The letter reads: “We are writing to you because you collectively have the fiduciary duty to govern UCL in the interest of its students and staff. This fiduciary duty includes ensuring that all reports of misconduct and fraudulent behaviour within UCL are diligently investigated through a transparent process.”
It alleges: “We have seen our own academic careers and lives and those of our colleagues destroyed through bullying, harassment and other predatory practices and know that any effort to raise the issues of misconduct or fraudulent behaviour would lead to retaliation endangering our own careers and lives.”
The academics call for complaints to be dealt with appropriately and to end the use of confidentiality clauses so people can speak without reprisal. They accused UCL of not looking sufficiently at the staff experience in their investigation of the architecture school.
Academics from the construction school, speaking about their experiences, say they have witnessed worrying levels of “bullying and deep racism”.
They claim this includes firing faculty members with no due process or warning and “extending probation discriminatorily”.
A UCL spokesperson thanked the individuals for coming forward, promising to launch an investigation, adding they were “sorry to hear about their experiences” and “troubled” by their stories.
“While the Howlett Brown investigation looked into the culture, educational practices and environment at the Bartlett School of Architecture, we know that unacceptable behaviour happens elsewhere in UCL and is not isolated to just one department or school,” they said.
“We are committed to tackling inequalities and to ensuring that our university is an environment in which students and staff can thrive in their diversity.”
They added that others with concern should raise it via university support services. “We guarantee that anyone who speaks to us will be treated with sympathy and confidentiality.”