Imperial is publishing the actions it is taking in response to an independent investigation into allegations of bullying and a dysfunctional culture.
On receipt of allegations, Imperial’s Chair of Council immediately appointed an independent QC to investigate them, given the President’s involvement. That process led to a disciplinary hearing for both the President and Chief Financial Officer, and has concluded.
I am very sorry that I bullied someone. Professor Alice Gast President
The details of the investigation and disciplinary process remain confidential to protect the privacy of those involved, including witnesses.
The investigator found that Imperial’s President had bullied one senior colleague. The CFO was found to have bullied two colleagues between late February and mid-March.
In a message to the Imperial community, President Alice Gast said: "Last Tuesday I spoke to Heads of Department and shared my heartfelt apologies for the mistakes I have made. I am now writing to apologise to the entire community. I am sorry that, at times, I made some senior staff feel unappreciated and left out. I am very sorry that I bullied someone. I have offered full apologies to colleagues who have been personally affected. Making difficult decisions, often under time pressure, is expected of a leader and I have fallen short. I have learned a lot from this experience and have focused on using it as a catalyst for positive change for me and my leadership team."
Chief Financial Officer Muir Sanderson said: “I continue to be immensely sorry that I bullied two colleagues. My actions don’t reflect my values and most certainly do not reflect the College’s. The bullying was during a three-week period earlier this year when I was under significant pressure. However, that is no excuse. It is when things are most pressurised, that we need to support each other most. The whole investigation has caused me to reflect not only on this event but on my behaviour more generally and there are lots of things I need to improve. I am fully committed to implementing all the recommendations. I have offered and continue to offer my apologies to those I bullied, but I also want to offer my sincere apologies to the whole university for not behaving in the way I should. I was wrong. I let you down. I am truly sorry.”
The independent investigator made 12 recommendations to Imperial’s Chair of Council. While they cannot be shared in full to avoid identifying individuals, in summary those recommendations are:
- That those who were accused receive relevant extracts of the report as well as support for their wellbeing.
- That specific support is offered to the complainant as a result of the findings of the report.
- That the College’s Harassment, Victimisation and Bullying Policy is reviewed.
- That job descriptions are updated and reviewed, including for senior staff.
- That the President and CFO are offered coaching.
- That the director of HR speaks to an individual about issues raised in the report.
- That annual appraisals for the President’s direct reports are conducted with improved record-keeping and oversight from HR.
- That the Chair of Council oversees a series of improvements and clarifications to governance structures in collaboration with key staff.
- That the Chair consider whether to hold a disciplinary hearing on allegations against the President and CFO. (The Chair chose to do so, and that process has concluded.)
- That key parties be informed of the findings, and, in those cases, apologies be offered. Those subject to bullying have also been offered support.
- That a 360 appraisal system for senior leaders is considered.
- That further training on certain HR processes, such as those around bullying and harassment and on the use of settlement agreements, is provided to senior managers.
Recommendations 3, 4, 7, 8, 11 and 12 are being implemented; all the other recommendations have already been implemented.
Action and improvement
Imperial’s leadership team will drive changes as a result of these recommendations, while redoubling ongoing efforts to improve the College’s operations, culture, transparency and management. They will build on a great deal of established and ongoing work from people throughout Imperial who are helping develop a better working environment.
The leadership team are also seeking to learn lessons from the pandemic, including how different parts of the community collaborated, found new ways of working and dealt with crises.
These changes are already underway and include:
- Improving the ways we work together, using community forums, such as HoDs lunches, for discussions and exchange of ideas and taking more opportunities to engage staff and students to inform our decision making.
- Expanding President’s Board to include operational leads.
- Adding the Assistant Provost (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion) to both President’s and Provost’s Boards.
- Coordinating President and Provost Boards and their engagement with key stakeholders like Heads of Department.
- Setting up education and research committees as Provost Board subcommittees with a wide membership to inform PB decision-making.
- Retaining online HoDs lunches to facilitate attendance from across the College.
- Aligning Silver, Gold and President’s Board communications during crises.
- Improving reporting and sharing of decisions, clarity of remits and focus on crisis management at all levels, including: a clearer distinction between strategic and operational decision-making within Gold and Silver during crises.
- Rotating the chairing of Silver.
- Aligning executive committees with Council committees.
- Both President’s and Provost’s Board undertaking a self-evaluation.
- Improving relevant HR processes.
- Ensure senior leaders (President’s Board and Provost’s Board) undertake bullying and harassment training courses.
- Improve use of personal review and development plans (PRDPs) across the College to ensure alignment of expectation and clarity of objectives.
- Team coaching and senior team development.
Both the President and CFO wholeheartedly support the recommendations.
President Alice Gast said: “I am personally committed to implementing the recommendations from the investigator. I will lead with oversight and advice from colleagues as we work on these improvements.”
The improvements are being led by the Chair of Council, President, Provost and Director of HR and overseen by the Council.
The leadership team will continue to consult widely as they deliver on these changes, and will update the community on progress in the Spring.
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