Oxford University Institutionally Racist
 




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  "It is increasingly clear that the purpose of Oxford University's current method of handling ethnic minority complaints is to exhaust complainants in order to force them, for the sake of Oxford's brand name, to withdraw their grievances."  

Letter from an Oxford academic to Kofi Annan prior to Annan's acceptance of an honorary Oxford degree in July 2001


Keble College Oxford pays Asian accountant 'substantial' racism damages

Exclusive Akme eyewitness report, 13th July 2005

Diamond Versi's long battle for justice against Keble College, Oxford and its Bursar Roger Boden finally came to an end after farcical courtroom scenes at the Employment Appeals Tribunal in London yesterday (12th July). Following the failure of Keble's appeal against an earlier finding of unfair dismissal, the college and Mr Versi came to an out-of-court settlement which is confidential, but believed to run well into six figures.

Versi, a Zanzibari who had been the college accountant for 15 years, was euphoric. "At last I have been vindicated, totally vindicated," he said. "I have always believed there to be much covert racism and discrimination within Oxford University, and so it has now been proved. As a result of my case, for the first time the colleges have all been obliged to institute genuine equal opportunities measures, although I note that there is now not a single senior non-white face in any of their administrations."

In March Versi had successfully proved his claim before a Reading Employment Tribunal, which unanimously found the Oxford college and its bursar guilty of wrongful dismissal and racial discrimination. The Tribunal publicly criticised Keble's internal grievance procedure as "a sham", saying it took "a most unfavourable view of the prestigious Oxford college... where in practice very little was done regarding the implementation of equal opportunities." The court also heard disturbing evidence concerning the college Warden Averil Cameron's salary, and of other examples of discrimination against Keble's ethnic minority workers. The Tribunal concluded: "We are manifestly of the view that his claim for race discrimination succeeds."

Keble at once hired top London solicitors Clifford Chance to fight an appeal in the London Employment Appeals Tribunal, contesting every aspect of the Reading decision and attempting to defer the assessment of Mr Versi's damages, which were scheduled for hearing on 14th July. Averil Cameron took the unusual step of publicly stating: "The college is very shocked and upset by the tribunal; we don't recognise its findings."

However, before Keble's barrister Mr Leiper had even spoken yesterday, the leader of the Appeal Tribunal Judge Ansell made it clear that, having carefully studied the mass of evidence, the court would not countenance any re-examination of Mr Versi's unfair dismissal claim, which it again unanimously found to be supported by "a substantial body of evidence".

"There is nothing in the [Keble/Boden] submissions that begins to cross the high hurdle of proving perversity in the [Reading] tribunal's fact-finding" he said, repeatedly echoing that both the college's accounts department 'restructuring' and its internal grievance procedure had been "shams".

Mr Leiper battled to persuade the court to allow the introduction of new evidence, and in particular sought to highlight that the assistant (a white woman) whom the college had appointed as Mr Versi's successor was "one of Britain's longest surviving heart and lung transplant patients". This provoked some polite laughter in the courtroom and a retort from one of the judges that she was on a salary two grades lower than that of Mr Versi, who is an experienced qualified accountant.

Mr Leiper also attempted to introduce new testimony allegedly omitted from the previous hearing, but was then obliged to concede that Keble's previous Oxford solicitors had failed to take any notes of it. Judge Ansell promptly deepened his embarrassment by ordering the production of any notes of the missing evidence made by the Tribunal itself.

The court was prepared to allow the college, subject to radical and speedy redrafting, to proceed to appeal on a more detailed analysis of the racist motive behind Mr Versi's dismissal, but following the hearing the college threw in the towel and offered Mr Versi an out-of-court settlement, thereby avoiding the potentially adverse publicity of a damages hearing.

"Apart from anything else, this has been a colossal waste of money," commented Mr Versi afterwards. "The college is supposed to be an educational charity and the university is supposed to be short of funds. If Keble had treated me decently in the first place none of this would have happened. Even during the litigation I suggested a very modest settlement, but they refused. Now by their prejudice, arrogance and stupidity they have landed themselves with this enormous bill. All ways round it has been a big disgrace for the college and for Oxford."

In July 2004 Keble was revealed as one of Oxford's poorest colleges (31st out of 36), with endowment assets of just £16 million, yielding only a 1.7% return. It can ill-afford, critics say, the half million pounds the action is at least thought to have cost. The evidence had showed that over his 15 years Mr Versi had achieved a spotless record of service and on numerous occasions had saved the college considerable sums of money. A Keble Fellow who did not wish to be identified spoke of "a lot of resentment amongst both staff and academics" at how Mr Versi had been treated.

Oxford sources have also suggested that Roger Boden, whose Fellowship was recently extended for seven years, should now resign his Bursarship. During the proceedings Boden had publicy accused Mr Versi of extortion and, to the surprise of the JCR, e-mailed every student with an assurance that he was not racist. Averil Cameron, who backed Boden, is due to retire next year.

The historic case, the first of its kind ever successfully brought against an Oxford college, comes as bad news for the University, which, on top of all its other problems, is still digesting its own internal Heath report of March (see also The Daily Mail) which found "a troubling net disadvantage for South Asians" in its undergraduate admissions procedures.