Response from the Chair of Council to UCU leadership
Thank you for sharing your and your members’ views, and for your further questions.
1. According to Imperial’s charter, College Council has ultimate responsibility for the appointment of both the President and the Chief Financial Officer, and the good conduct of all the affairs of College. Given these responsibilities, has the McNeil report been shared in full with all members of the Council, and if not how are the members of Council expected to fulfil their obligations under the College charter?
Disciplinary investigation reports are not shared beyond the panel, the complainant and the defendant, as is our protocol.
Members of Council were informed of the Whistleblowing allegation and I oversaw measures to ensure that it was dealt with appropriately. Throughout the process, I have kept Council informed of the outcome of these actions, conveying information in line with the disciplinary protocols appropriate to the exercise of Council’s responsibilities.
Council is confident that the investigation and the subsequent disciplinary process were carried out absolutely in accordance with our ordinances and policies.
2. Following the report, did the subsequent College disciplinary panel talk to the victims of the bullying and if not, how was the panel able to reach a considered judgement of the bullying that took place?
The disciplinary panel was provided with details of the incidents outlined in the QC’s report and also had full sight of the evidence provided as part of the QC’s investigation. Both the President and the Chief Financial Officer and Council accepted the findings of the QC’s report, and as such it was not necessary for the disciplinary panel to speak to others involved.
3. Subsequently, the Chair of Council and Provost sent an email on 8 December to give assurance that College policy on harassment and bullying had been followed which stated:
"The process clearly followed the guidelines as laid out in our whistleblowing and disciplinary procedures. Our policy is clear that zero-tolerance means any complaints must not be ignored and will be thoroughly investigated. That’s exactly what happened.”
However, the statement above cited an unauthorised policy mentioning “zero-tolerance" that had been incorrectly posted. This demonstrates that neither the Chair of Council nor the Provost were aware of the correct College policy, in particular that bullying should be treated as “gross misconduct”, a phrase removed in the unauthorised policy. How can we therefore be sure that College policy was followed? Specifically, who had the information to make an informed judgement about College’s response to the McNeil report in the light of the College policy on bullying and harassment, given that neither the Chair of Council nor the Provost were apparently correctly briefed on the policy?
The investigation and the disciplinary panel were undertaken under the rubric of the approved November 2019 policy.
The Director of HR personally managed the disciplinary process and he made it clear in writing to all parties that ‘possible sanctions range from a formal disciplinary warning up to and including summary dismissal’ and that ‘the allegation on bullying is an allegation of gross misconduct which, if upheld, is serious enough to possibly warrant dismissal with or without notice (summary dismissal)’, and that ‘the outcome of the hearing may result in a formal disciplinary sanction’.
The College’s zero-tolerance position for bullying and harassment is stated in our EDI Strategy ‘Inclusive Excellence’ approved in September 2018, which initiated a review of our Bullying and Harassment Policy. The wording of the policy was changed on 1 December 2020 removing the statement that bullying was considered to be gross misconduct. Neither I nor the senior leadership team were aware of, or involved in, the approval of those changes.
4. The Office for Students requires registration of any organisation that wishes to receive funding from either student fees or research-council grants. One of the conditions for registration is the organisation’s leader and senior managers are “fit and proper persons” who have not committed “serious misconduct”. Given that College considers bullying is “gross misconduct”, do you believe in this case the behaviour of the President and CFO nevertheless did not amount to serious misconduct?
The Office for Students, with whom we have been in dialogue, have now decided to launch an investigation into regulatory matters relating to management and governance arrangements in relation to the independent investigation. We fully support OfS undertaking this investigation and have provided all relevant information as requested. Council has confidence in the process and its outcomes and we await the OfS findings. We are confident that the outcome of the investigation and disciplinary process overseen by the Council is appropriate. I do not intend to comment further at this time.
Chair of Council