UCL apologises for ‘inexcusable’ culture at Bartlett School of Architecture

A six-month inquiry heard hundreds of reports of racism, sexism and bullying at Bartlett School of Architecture, dating back 30 years

A six-month inquiry has led University College London (UCL) to apologise for a “culture of unacceptable behaviour” at the Bartlett School of Architecture (BSA).

Following claims of systemic racism, sexism and bullying at BSA across three decades, in October 2021 UCL commissioned Howlett Brown to carry out an independent investigation of the accusations.

By the time it concluded in April, the intelligence consultancy had recorded hundreds of testimonies via written submissions, a survey, focus groups, and individual interviews.

The results exposed an “inexcusable and pernicious underbelly of bullying and other unacceptable behaviour,” admitted Dr Michael Spence, president and provost of UCL, when the report was published earlier this month.

“I want to apologise to everyone who has suffered because of the culture of bullying, harassment, and sexual misconduct within the BSA,” he added.

“What you have been through is wrong and should not have been allowed to happen. I recognise your pain and distress and the myriad long-term consequences of what you have experienced.”

The report could scarcely be more damning about an endemic culture at BSA. Fully two-thirds of student contributors to the investigation said that their time at the institution had negatively impacted their mental health, with 60% – together with 63% of staff – claiming to have witnessed inappropriate behaviour from members of staff.

Forty-three percent of students said they knew someone who had experienced discrimination at BSA, while more than a quarter (27%) said they had faced it themselves.

Thirty-nine percent of students reported that they knew peers at BSA who had experienced bullying and harassment.

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The report is littered with examples of inappropriate behaviour dating back to the early 1990s, such as the participant who said they were told “you should be grateful for what your family has immigrated to”.

In an anonymous report filed by an undergraduate last year, one “extremely racist” tutor was accused of “honestly shocking” behaviour, and “loved the white students and spent an hour tutorial with them and 20 minutes with the non-white students.”

Investigators recorded a number of first- and second-hand accounts of staff allegedly engaging in intimate relationships with students.

UCL’s personal relationship policy, which includes a ban on relationships with those under 18, was found to fall well short of safeguarding students from sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct.

“While the report acknowledges that not everyone at the BSA has been a part of this culture, that these behaviours have been able to persist over a timespan of years means that something has gone terribly wrong,” said Spence.

“We must and absolutely will address that swiftly and robustly.”

What you have been through is wrong and should not have been allowed to happen – Dr Michael Spence, UCL

Spence’s words were echoed by Professor Anthony Smith, UCL vice-provost (faculties), who has been charged with overseeing UCL’s action plan and response to the investigation.

“Following receipt of the report, we have removed a number of staff of the Bartlett School of Architecture from student-facing and administrative duties with immediate effect, while we carry out further investigations,” he said.

“We are establishing a working group with staff and student representation to take forward all of the report’s recommendations, which will report back at regular intervals to UCL’s senior management on progress in making these changes.”

Those recommendations include overhauling the structure of hiring tutors (almost exclusively recruiting from a pool of current students reportedly led to a perpetuation and deepening of the culture), changes to staff training, and offering long-term counselling and support options.

BSA students who have yet to come forward are encouraged to share their experiences via UCL’s anonymous report and support online tool.

“Coming forward to disclose what [people] have been through has taken enormous courage, and I really admire and thank them for doing so,” said Spence.

“We know we have a long way to go to rebuild trust, but we are committed to taking action.”

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