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Manchester vice-president told to apologise over racism row

Image: Mike Peel [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Internal investigation recommends training for senior leaders on awareness of dynamics of race and power

One of the vice-presidents of the University of Manchester has been told to apologise after denying there was institutional racism at the university in an email to a Black professor there who has since quit.

An internal investigation found failings within senior management of the university, and recommended training on institutional racism and the dynamics of race and power for all senior leaders.

It also recommended that Martin Schröder, university vice-president and dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, apologise to geoscientist Christopher Jackson, the Black professor who received the email from him.

Jackson has since left the university to work in industry—in part, he says, because of the incident. “The incident here contributed to my decision to leave,” Jackson told Research Professional News. “It certainly did not give me a reason to stay.”

Jackson said he has not yet received an apology.

Institutional racism row

The incident dates back to October 2021 when Jackson told the BBC that UK research was “definitely institutionally racist” and that the problem was compounded by the fact that senior white scientists do not recognise racism in their own institutions.

A few days later he received an email from Schröder, who wrote that he did “not believe that the University of Manchester is ‘institutionally racist’” and linked to an article published on the website of the right-leaning broadcaster, GB News, to back up his views.

Schröder’s email was sent to five other colleagues at the institution, three of whom were senior to Jackson.

Jackson interpreted the email as a personal attack aimed at undermining him and his views on racism, and he was disappointed by what he said was the lack of support from colleagues who received the email. This led him in November to file a formal grievance to the university, which investigated five senior leaders at the university and concluded this April.

“I was incredibly upset and unbelievably angry,” said Jackson. “I was not, however, shocked, given racialised power dynamics such as this are common across the university sector and broader society.”

Research Professional News has learned that the investigation found no evidence that Schröder’s actions were a deliberate attempt to upset Jackson, but it did recommend he provide an apology for any upset caused and for the manner in which other colleagues were copied into the correspondence. The investigation heard that Schröder had tried to contact Jackson since sending the email to understand how he might have upset him.

Adèle MacKinlay, director of people and organisational development at the university, said: “Our internal investigation into this matter has concluded and we are focused on ensuring that the recommendations and actions from the report are taken forward. Professor Martin Schröder was keen to engage with this process and fully understands that colleagues involved have been impacted deeply.”

She added, “We have made Professor Jackson aware of the report’s findings and I would like to take this opportunity to wish him every success in his future career.”

Schröder declined to comment.

Change needed

The investigation found evidence of lack of awareness among the senior leadership of the university of issues including challenges individuals from ethnic minorities face in speaking openly and how the dynamics of race and power can play out within predominantly white institutions.

It recommended a range of training for the university and its faculties on issues of creating ‘safe spaces’, active bystanders, and the importance of listening to, acknowledging, and seeking to understand the lived experiences of colleagues from Black and other minority groups.

Jackson welcomed the recommendations, saying that individuals “need to continue educating themselves about the myriad of ways in which racism manifests itself in academia”.

“People need to reflect, deeply, on how institutional structures, and the way they actively or passively uphold them, present barriers to participation for racial and ethnic minority groups. We collectively need to turn action plans into action.”

A version of this article also appeared in Research Fortnight