Petition launched against ‘academic racism’ at Oxbridge

November 26, 2012 Comments Off
                  

Oxford and Cambridge UniversitiesBy Xin Fan

Russell Group university researchers call on Oxford and Cambridge to stop excluding black academics

A petition calling for Oxford and Cambridge Universities to “stop racially excluding black academics from equal job opportunities” has been launched by a group of academics, many of whom work in or have links to Oxford or Cambridge. It has attracted signatures from researchers at Russell Group universities.

A petition calling for Oxford and Cambridge Universities to “stop racially excluding black academics from equal job opportunities” has been launched by a group of academics, many of whom work in or have links to Oxford or Cambridge. It has attracted signatures from researchers at Russell Group universities.The petition, to be delivered to the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, has the aim of “fighting and removing institutional racism” in elite British higher education (HE) institutions.Campaign volunteer and Oxbridge alumnus Charlotte Goldenberg stressed this was “not the usual Oxbridge-bashing”, telling Cherwell, “The campaign was started by a group of current scholars, alumni, and academics from all racial backgrounds.“These people love and cherish Oxford and Cambridge and want to see them change in the right direction on equal job opportunities for black and minority ethnic academics.”The petition claims that black academics are “systematically excluded”, leading to Britain “losing out on highly skilled and intellectually creative black graduates”, who have “no choice” but to go and work abroad.It describes the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a body established by the 2006 Equality Act to promote and enforce non-discrimination laws, as a ”fangless cobra” on black academics’ rights.A spokesperson for the University of Oxford described the university as “an international community that has always thrived on diversity”, and stated, “The University is committed to increasing its proportion of black and minority ethnic (BME) staff and always particularly welcomes applications from those staff. Panel chairs must undertake a course on recruitment and selection.”However, Goldenberg dismissed “positive action statements” as “acting covers for excluding blacks in favour of candidates with similar characteristics to existing white-dominated staff”.
The petition, to be delivered to the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, has the aim of “fighting and removing institutional racism” in elite British higher education (HE) institutions.

Campaign volunteer and Oxbridge alumnus Charlotte Goldenberg stressed this was “not the usual Oxbridge-bashing”, telling Cherwell, “The campaign was started by a group of current scholars, alumni, and academics from all racial backgrounds.

“These people love and cherish Oxford and Cambridge and want to see them change in the right direction on equal job opportunities for black and minority ethnic academics.”

The petition claims that black academics are “systematically excluded”, leading to Britain “losing out on highly skilled and intellectually creative black graduates”, who have “no choice” but to go and work abroad.

It describes the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a body established by the 2006 Equality Act to promote and enforce non-discrimination laws, as a ”fangless cobra” on black academics’ rights.

A spokesperson for the University of Oxford described the university as “an international community that has always thrived on diversity”, and stated, “The University is committed to increasing its proportion of black and minority ethnic (BME) staff and always particularly welcomes applications from those staff. Panel chairs must undertake a course on recruitment and selection.

”However, Goldenberg dismissed “positive action statements” as “covers for excluding blacks in favour of candidates with similar characteristics to existing white-dominated staff”.

When asked why they were targeting Oxbridge specifically, Goldenberg said, “Due to their international status, what happens at Oxford or Cambridge is of great concern and interest to people elsewhere. If they have always led in terms of world-changing ideas, they can be leaders in race relations.”

The University spokesperson asserted, “[We] reject any suggestions that we are systematically excluding black academics from job opportunities, or favouring white candidates. We do recognise that BME groups are under-represented at most academic levels. However, this is true across most leading universities, HE in general, and many other sectors. Oxford is taking steps to encourage applications, offer career support, and monitor progress.”

41 per cent of Oxford academic staff are foreign citizens, and 6.3 per cent of staff describe themselves as UK BME. This compares with 6.7 per cent for academics nationally, and 7 per cent for the entire UK labour force. The University reviews its Race Equality Scheme annually.

MP and former UniversitiesMinister David Lammy spoke toCherwell, indicating support for the petition and describing it as “an area of public life that needs scrutiny”. Pointing to the prominence of black academics such as Condoleezza Rice in the US, he said, “There are real questions about why we’re not seeing that mirrored, particularly in our Russell Group, and why so many black academics tell a tale of woe and discrimination in relation to their progress.”

He called on HE establishments to reassess the exercise of “good faith and goodwill” necessary in Britain, which, unlike the US, does not enact affirmative action policies.

Black students at Oxford, however, were wary of such accusations. One second year undergraduate described it as “a serious charge” and said he “never felt race was a barrier”. He said, ‘Universities simply select those best qualified for the position rather than consciously trying to exclude ‘black academics’. What is the petition ultimately seeking? US style race-based quotas? Not a good idea.”

A DPhil student remarked, “My experience with Oxford is excellent. I held a lectureship, and that opportunity had nothing to do with my colour and everything to do with many other factors – chiefly, what I could actually offer.”

Another doctoral student admitted that there was “noticeable sparseness” in staff minority ethnic representation, but highlighted related factors such as “little or no funding for aspiring students” for MAs and DPhils, which “particularly hits able BME students.”

Second year PPEist Victoria Gbadebo commented, ‘Senior academics often conform to the stereotype of the well-off, white, older man. When elite universities accept more people from less well-off backgrounds, numbers of black and minority professors should increase.’

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