A group of architects and top academics have accused University College London (UCL) of sparking a ‘witch hunt’ of staff at the Bartlett School of Architecture by current and former students.
The group, which includes Amin Taha, said UCL’s decision to release a bombshell report into alleged abuse at the school before disciplinary proceedings were concluded had led to staff suffering a ‘wave of whistleblowing’ .
In an open letter, published in full below, the group expressed solidarity with “the majority of decent and talented teachers” it said had been named on social media blacklists inspired by the report.
He added that student activists were demanding that more than 83 staff be fired for “unspoken crimes”.
He also said UCL had launched a “Kafkaesque” staff investigation in which “the defendants do not know what they are accused of or who brought the charges”.
Nearly 30 architects and scholars have signed the letter, including Royal Academy of Arts Director of Architecture and Heinz curator Vicky Richardson and architect Piers Gough.
UCL has suspended a number of Bartlett staff following the release of the 120-page report, which was released earlier this month, and apologized for a ‘culture of unacceptable behaviour’ which spans decades.
The school’s principal, Bob Sheil, also made a “personal decision” to resign in response to the report. He was due to step down at the end of this academic year before US academic Amy Kulper begins her term in September.
It followed an investigation by intelligence firm Howlett Brown into allegations of bullying, racism and sexism.
>> ALSO READ: Bartlett suspends staff as probe reveals decades-long ‘toxic’ culture
The report described a “toxic culture” run by a circle of employees who allegedly created a “boys club”, with a senior executive being named 27 times for a series of abuses, including anti-Semitism.
UCL also said it had launched a review of the school’s criticism process, which the report identified as a significant source of “upheaval and fear” for students, to ensure it is delivered” fully fair and inclusive”.
The image of the school painted by Howlett Brown and UCL was challenged by the open letter, which described the critical process as “important in preparing students for the practice of architecture”.
The letter added that the “creative tension” implicit in the discipline can only be explored through public exhibitions and reviews. He said the “vast majority of criticism is educational, productive and supportive”, and that “long-time activists” against the process monopolized a “very narrow discourse”.
The group also questioned the report’s descriptions of inappropriate staff behavior, arguing that it had confused serious accusations of sexism, racism and bullying with “meaningless allegations about informal socializing between staff and students”.
More than a third of respondents to the report told Howlett Brown they had seen or heard of abuse of authority by staff, including having intimate relationships with students.
A current staff member said there was a ‘strange boys’ club’ that went out with students. Another staff member alleged that it was “common knowledge that two [junior members of staff] had stayed outside with the students and slept with one of them”.
The open letter states that “cultivating fear and recrimination will not solve the problems that exist at UCL”, and calls on the university management to “end this public spectacle which poses as a disciplinary procedure”. .
UCL, in its statement following the report, said the culture of misbehavior at school “sets against the backdrop of long-standing issues with the culture of the architectural sector more broadly”.
The university added that it was “fiercely committed to lasting and radical change” and that it had issued invitations to other institutions and practicing architects to tackle the issues highlighted in the Bartlett report.
UCL has been contacted for comments.
Open letter to UCL
June 30, 2022
Letter to publish
We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned about the blacklisting of Bartlett School of Architecture staff following UCL’s publication of the Howlett Brown report in June. We write to express our solidarity with the majority of decent and talented teachers who have been named on the social media blacklists inspired by the report. There are times when institutions need to discipline staff, but UCL has, in Kafkaesque fashion, suspended staff and launched a disturbing and seemingly never-ending investigation into all staff in which the accused do not know what they are up to. are charged or who made the charges.
The Howlett Brown report relies on anonymous and confidential reports and combines serious accusations of sexism, racism and bullying with trivial claims about informal socializing between staff and students and studio critics. By making the report public before the end of the disciplinary proceedings, UCL encouraged students to engage in public humiliation. ‘Activist’ students are now demanding that more than 83 staff be fired for unspoken crimes. UCL acted to preserve its reputation, while subjecting all of its staff to an opaque and hopeless “investigation”.
The Instagram activity of a relatively small number of students and alumni has led to something akin to a witch hunt. Anonymous complaints about criticism from tutors sit alongside demands for dismissal. Many UCL students have gone online to defend named staff, but their voices are not appearing in the press.
Discussions about design teaching methods are always useful, but this wave of denunciations is not constructive. A culture of fear and unbalanced press reports has led to a situation in which long-time activists against “criticism” monopolize a very narrow discourse. The “critical” process is important in preparing students for the practice of architecture. The plurality and creative tension implicit in the discipline can only truly be explored through public exhibitions and reviews. Despite uncritical media reporting on the “toxic culture” of architecture, the vast majority of critiques are educational, productive, and supportive.
Cultivating fear and recriminations will not solve the problems that exist at UCL. We call on the management of UCL to put an end to this public spectacle which poses as a disciplinary procedure. The Howlett Brown debacle does not conform to the principle of “innocence until proven guilty” nor to a culture of open and honest discussion traditionally associated with all good universities and art schools.
Vicky Richardson BA (Arch) MA FRIBA
Penny Lewis, Lecturer, Architecture and Planning, DJCAD, University of Dundee
Alan Dunlop FRIAS FRSA
Lorens Holm RIAS, Reader in Architecture, DJCAD, University of Dundee
Roz Barr RIAS RIBA
Austin Williams, Director, Future Cities Project; Course Leader, Architecture, Kingston School of Art
Gian Luca Amadei, lecturer, writer and university researcher
Brendan Woods AA Dipl.
Paul Finch, UCL honorary member
Shelagh McNerney M.Phil. Urban planning, Research diploma in built environment
Tim Ronalds, architect and teacher
Vanessa Norwood, curator and writer
Sandra Denicke-Polcher, National Teaching Fellow HEA, Deputy Head of Architecture, School of Art, Architecture & Design, London Metropolitan University
Steve Jensen, Tutor, Royal College of Art
Peter Murray OBE
Ben Addy RIAS RIBA
Kenneth Frampton, Emeritus Professor of Ware Architecture, GSAPP, Columbia University, New York