Victoria University of Manchester Guilty of Racial Discrimination
Article Reproduced from Times Higher Education, 1st Aug 97

                     Asif Qureshi

 

 

 

 Jobs for the white Boys: Dr Adel Nasser settles out of Court

  

 

 

Dr Aneez Esmail accuses Manchester University of Institutional racism

 

Dr Judith Purver my fight against Job Bias

 

 

 

How a Law Faculty got Court Out

It is not the done thing for a law lecturer to take his department to court, but Asif Qureshi has  dared to do just that Alison Utley reports

 

It is one thing for say a geographer to challenge his university through the courts.  It is quite another for an academic lawyer. Lawyers inhabit a small world and the tend to close ranks. “The measure of academic lawyers is not so much the insight they provide into justice but the manner in which they engage in it. “says Asif Qureshi who should know.

Judged by his own measure , Qureshi rates highly.  An academic lawyer , he has been struggling for justice for the last five years.  A tribunal has concluded that he was, as he claimed, victimised and discriminated against by his employer.  The fact that the respondent was the law faculty at Manchester University a leading centre for anti-discrimination law, makes the victory doubly significant.

The irony that the late Harry Street, professor of law at Manchester, was involved in drafting the Race Relations Act, is not lost on Qureshi.  He believes the University’s overriding concern throughout the proceedings had been face-saving.  Yet he is careful not to use the judgment as a tool of personal revenge against a department which the tribunal said had unlawfully discriminated against him during promotion rounds and subsequently victimised him several times.

He prefers to stress wider consequences, hoping others will gain the courage needed to challenge the system.  “In litigation it is often said there are no winners but in discrimination cases I believe there should be winners so that lessons are widely learnt, and because the case against discrimination is overwhelming”.

Qureshi’s victory has come at a high price.  During the first tribunal hearing a threatening letter urging him to go back to Pakistan arrived at his home, followed by human excrement.  He does not know who was responsible but both events took place at critical junctures during the dispute. Even now

Even now, after the tribunal’s vindication of his case, Qureshi, a lecturer in international law with degrees from the University of London and the LSE,  says the university continues to haggle over the terms it is prepared to offer him.  In February, before his successful tribunal hearing , he says he was offered a substantial sum and promotion to reader in return for his resignation.  Qureshi rejected the deal.  The latest offer, made after his victory, is significantly less and, in his view, inadequate.   The university said “that even if I succeeded the only solution was severance of my employment.”

Quereshi 41, is a reserved man who acknowledges the anguish the case has caused him.  Challenging the system while continuing  to be employed within it posed distressing difficulties.  “The legal profession is a very close knit  and mine was a lone battle” he says ( see Judicial Complaints). 

“The obstacles to fighting for reform  from within the institution are formidable, but those who merge with the system,  those who shy away from breaking ranks, are seriously lacking in intellect  and delude themselves  that  they are part of the system.”

The university, his employer  for the last 11 years,  disputed  that it had overlooked  Qureshi for promotion  to senior lectureships several times because of his race.  It had a serious  backup –five professors and two senior lecturers  gave evidence on the University’s behalf.

The first tribunal hearing in 1994 produced  a highly unusual 70-page judgment.  Although the university was criticised, the tribunal did not uphold more than a minor element of Qureshi’s case.  Against all odds he appealed and won a fresh hearing.

The second tribunal, which had different members to the first, reversed the earlier decision  and found the university  unlawfully discriminated against Qureshi during promotion rounds in 1992, 1993 and 1994.   He was also victimised  a number of times.  The tribunal declared the university displayed “a serious failure to understand concepts of equal opportunities

 

The tribunal were also "astonished" that during a that during a promotion round in 1992 all eight members of a faculty review panel claimed to have read the CV's of all applicantsd , but none noticed that copies of Qureshi's CV had four pages missing. "I believe we are all capable of prejudice in varying degrees". Quereshi says. "And we may succumb to victimising. What is crucial, however is that we recognise our capacity to do this”.

The tribunal  found the university took self-righteous stands, and that its assessment of teaching “allowed subjectivity a free reign”.  The excuse was the notion of academic judgement.  “There are several examples when the response of the faculty and also the university itself to equal opportunities issues was negative inadequate even hostile “ says the judgment.

Quereshi describes the criteria for promotion as byzantine.  He is convinced that government funding of universities should be dependent not only on quality of teaching and research but also upon the manner and spirit which they approach equal opportunities.

The university will not discuss the case publicly, although it says its equal opportunities policies are now under review. Is this too late for “Quereshi? “While I feel I have been robbed of some of the joy that comes from promotion.  I feel in some respects my victory can be considered a more fulfilling endeavour,” he says “And I would do it again”.