Imperial College London’s chief financial officer Muir Sanderson has announced he is resigning in the wake of a no-confidence vote triggered by an investigation that found he had bullied a member of staff.
The resignation is immediate, but Mr Sanderson told Imperial staff in an email that he would “assist with handover and support the college” until 31 August. The CFO’s departure will coincide with that of his boss, Prof Alice Gast, who last year announced she would stand down at the end of her term in August 2022 in the wake of the same bullying investigation.
A 2020 independent inquiry led by Jane McNeill QC found that Gast and Sanderson had each bullied a separate staff member. Moreover, McNeill said the senior leaders permitted favouritism, exclusion and a lack of respect in the university. Her censure was, perhaps, sternest in the case of Sanderson, who she said had “created or contributed to a culture where aggression and… inappropriate and offensive comments [are] tolerated”. Both Sanderson and Gast have apologised for their actions.
The report’s publication in January 2022 led to an extraordinary open meeting on 11 February where 93% of Imperial staff present backed a motion of no confidence in Gast and Sanderson and called for a review of Imperial’s governance structure.
Following the vote, and with a new vice-chancellor to start at Imperial later this year, Mr Sanderson announced his resignation. On 22 February, he emailed to tell staff: “I will always be proud to have worked at such an amazing institution and at what we have all achieved together. I look forward to seeing the college going [sic] from strength to strength.”
The university published McNeill’s recommendations in 2020, but the remainder of the McNeill report was – until January 2022 – unpublished. A case challenging this decision was brought before the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and upheld. Imperial complied with the ICO ruling that said Imperial should release sections of the report containing “less specific summaries of events” and “more general observations about management, leadership and organisational culture at the college”.
John Allan, Imperial’s chair of council, told the college community that Sanderson had “put the college in a stronger position financially and strategically” during his decade-long tenure. But Mr Allan said that the publication of the McNeill report “caused renewed disquiet, frustration and anger across the college community”, which “leads us to again ask important questions about the sort of institution we want to be and how we work and study together”. He said the university “must rebuild trust, and that starts at the top”, adding: “The strength of feeling is clear, as is the need for action.”
The incoming vice-chancellor, Hugh Brady, would “deliver changes based on the lessons learned from these events to ensure we realise the culture to which we aspire”, Mr Allan continued. “I am talking to heads of department and many others this week about how best to achieve this. We will consider further reforms, including to governance. We will also consult staff on our bullying and harassment policy.”