UCL apologises for ‘culture of bullying and sexual misconduct’ at architecture school

‘Possibly xenophobic treatment’ of students went unpunished in Bartlett’s ‘toxic’ environment


An independent investigation into sexism and racism allegations at The Bartlett School of Architecture (BSA) has revealed “uncomfortable truths and several ‘open secrets'” about the school.

The resulting 119-page report found, among other issues, a “‘boys club'” culture that harbours favouritism, protection of abusers, and fear for victims of bullying, discrimination, and sexual misconduct to speak up.

Allegations made in the investigation included a student being told “you should be grateful for what your family has immigrated to” and a staff telling their class to “turn away for the strip show” when a female student removed her jacket to show a part of her project attached to her body.

A “small group of staff” was also subjected to claims of serious bullying and discriminatory behaviours, sexual harassment, and dating, partying, and taking drugs with students.

Following this report, UCL’s President and Provost, Dr. Michael Spence, acknowledged students and staff who spoke out and apologised “to everyone who has suffered because of the culture of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct within the BSA.”

Even though there have been allegations “spanning the last three decades,” this investigation by external agency Howlett Brown was appointed after a 2021 dossier of 21 student testimonials alleging certain Bartlett staff “sexually harassed female students and made derogatory comments about race.”

The Howlett Brown inquiry, which involved more than 300 current and former staff and students, found “the structural and procedural aspects of BSA culture [and] a small group of staff” to be “the central cause for many of the issues identified, and the troubling experiences endured by students and staff.”

Allegations made against members of this mentioned group included “serious misconduct involving bullying, misogynistic and anti-Semitic behaviour,” verbal and physical aggression when critiquing students’ work, sexual harassment, and inappropriate relationships with students.

In addition to this group, the report identified a “varying degree of complacency” among other staff members that made abuse by these “few bad apples” “an open secret” and contributed to the fact that 27.1 per cent of students experienced discrimination at BSA and 43.3 per cent know someone who did. This is worsened by the fact that support and complaint processes are under-used due to the distance between the UCL and BSA campuses, lack of awareness, and victims being gaslit and threatened by abusers.

Participants in the investigation also described the acclaimed curriculum structure of Bartlett to be “a pervasive culture of psychological games” that is “stressful for everyone involved” and favours students “not from a working-class background, and likely from South England.” 

In response to the report, UCL “removed a number of staff of the BSA from student-facing and administrative duties” and accepted its recommendations “in full,” which included further investigation and amendments to the curriculum processes.

Provost Michael Spence said: “I am deeply shocked by the experiences of some of our students and staff during their time at the Bartlett School of Architecture. 

“Their 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. 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. 

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

Professor Christoph Lindner, Dean of the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, said: “This report contains shocking testimonies and highlights a number of unforgivable incidents. I am truly sorry that some of our students and staff have been subjected to such behaviour during their time at the Bartlett School of Architecture.

“It’s time for us to have some difficult conversations about how we disrupt existing structures of privilege and power, making space and opportunities for those who have previously been marginalised.

“While the report and recommendations largely focus on abuses that have occurred within the BSA, the wider investigation also highlighted that the vast majority of staff at the BSA are well-liked, respected and valued by their students and their peers. My thoughts are also with these colleagues as they digest the report. I know they will be passionate in supporting our students through this and will be crucial in driving forward positive cultural change at the BSA.”

Current and former students impacted by this report can get support by calling a dedicated BSA Care First helpline on +44 (0) 333 212 3183 or speak to UCL’s Support and Wellbeing Team.

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