University College London apologises for bullying and harassment of architecture students

University College London Credit: PA

One of the country's most prestigious universities has apologised for a “culture of bullying” dating back decades at its school of architecture.

An investigation into allegations of sexism and racism at University College London uncovered a "boys' club" setting at its Bartlett School of Architecture, a 119-page report has found.

Some people were left “deeply traumatised” by their experiences in what was described as a "toxic" and “unsafe” learning environment, intelligence company Howlett Brown found.

Racism and the 'Bartlett army"

Allegations concerning one senior tutor included that they had directed bullying, sexist and racist remarks towards Chinese students, and had thrown materials at or near students.

One student was told “you should be grateful for what your family has immigrated to”.

The report said that some staff members were alleged to have ripped up students’ work, physically pushed them and verbally taunted them.

Students were found to be under significant pressure from some staff members, with one student told: “This is what we do, we break you and build you into a Bartlett army.”

Students reported being told that they were failing their course, only to be told later that this was a “game”.

Other tutors were alleged to have invited students to parties involving cocaine, and to have dated students during their time at the school.

Findings showed:

  • 27.1% of students had experienced discrimination at the BSA

  • 39.4% of current and former students who participated said that someone they knew had experienced bullying and harassment.

In June 2021, the Guardian and the Architects’ Journal reported a series of allegations of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, at the school.

Allegations included that tutors encouraged a “drinking culture” within the BSA, resulting in “an inappropriate blurring of personal and professional boundaries”, sexual relationships between staff and students, and racial and sexual discrimination, while individuals from more affluent backgrounds were favoured.

The investigation included 49 individual interviews, focus groups, written submissions and a survey with more than 300 respondents, and found there were “systemic” issues at the school dating back to the 1990s, with some female students reduced to tears.

Apology and recommendations

“I want to apologise to everyone who has suffered because of the culture of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct within the Bartlett School of Architecture,” said Michael Spence, UCL’s president and provost.

Dr Spence added that student testimonies “expose an inexcusable and pernicious underbelly of bullying and other unacceptable behaviour that is completely at odds with the values on which UCL was founded.

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

Professor Anthony Smith, UCL vice-provost (Faculties), who will be overseeing UCL’s action plan and response to the report, said: “We are grateful to Howlett Brown for the diligence and sensitivity with which they have conducted this complex investigation, and for their recommendations which we accept in full and will start implementing immediately.

“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.

“We are unable to share the names of these individuals as this could prejudice these investigations.”

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