Birmingham University Censured by Race Watchdog



The University of Birmingham is facing legal action from the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) over the way it has handled recent redundancies, it has emerged.

The CRE says senior university managers have failed to comply with their legal duty to promote racial equality.

In a letter to Birmingham's vice-chancellor, Michael Sterling, the CRE said it was not confident that the university had met all elements of its race equality policy or draft action plan.

It has given the university 21 days to meet a series of demands, or further action may be taken.

These include Birmingham revising its policy and action plan, telling its council about the CRE's complaints at its meeting on July 4 and agreeing to discuss proposed course closures with the lecturers' union.

The row is over redundancies from the university's school of education.

In November last year, the University and College Union (UCU) accused the university of institutional racism for disproportionately targeting black and minority ethnic academic members of staff for redundancy.

The university had decided to cut longstanding courses in community, play and youth work, claiming that they no longer fitted with the university's strategy. This meant that five out of seven black and minority ethnic academic staff were threatened with redundancy.

Today's move by the CRE is part of a joint campaign with the UCU launched in October 2006 to embed racial equality into the heart of universities and colleges.

The UCU says the university has failed to meet its legal obligations for genuine consultation and has not fully considered the potential impact of the course closures on race equality issues.

Peter Hick, a lecturer in the school and assistant honorary secretary of Birmingham's union branch, said: "It is unacceptable that senior management should be so complacent about race equality issues that the CRE has to inform the education minister that the university is apparently failing in its legal race equality duty."

Professor Sterling should apologise to staff for the "shabby way they have been treated", he said.

In a statement, the university said it takes "very seriously its race equality duties and the consequences of any decision affecting the employment of its staff".

The university is confident that it will be able to satisfy the concerns raised by the CRE in relation to the closure of programmes in community, play and youth.

It said it had consulted widely with staff and students about its phased withdrawal from these programmes.

"Before the final decision was taken, we undertook a formal race equality impact assessment. We are also confident that we have done everything possible successfully to mitigate the impact of these changes on the staff and students affected by this decision."

The university said it welcomed the commentary and advice from external bodies such as the CRE in the development of our policies for the future.

Anthea Lipsett 

Tuesday June 26, 2007