SOAS University of London

SOAS Board accepts recommendations of independent external investigation in full: Director to stay on with restorative justice process in place

5 May 2021

The SOAS Board of Trustees met on Tuesday 4 May and have accepted in full the recommendations of the independent external investigation into the meeting of 11 March and events arising from that. 

On the morning of Wednesday 5 May, SOAS staff and students received the following email from Marie Staunton, Chair of Board of Trustees:

Outcomes from independent external investigation into 11 March student meeting and events arising

I am emailing you to inform you about the outcomes from the independent external investigation into the 11 March student meeting and events arising from that. I hope you will appreciate that this email and the further detail on MySOAS is at some length, since we are seeking to cover the process, recommendations, outcomes and context for this important matter.  

Introduction

The Board of Trustees met on Tuesday 4 May and have accepted in full the recommendations of the independent external investigation. We are publishing in full all of the recommendations that the investigation has made. The detailed findings in the report necessarily remain confidential since they contain personal information.

We want to start by acknowledging the pain and distress caused to many in our community – and we thank everyone for their engagement with the independent investigation. We are taking this opportunity to apologise again to all those who have been so affected and distressed by these events.

As we said when we announced this investigation, fairness, urgency and transparency are at the forefront of the Board's mind. The outcomes are important both to the SOAS community and to SOAS as an institution itself.

Having taken this approach of an independent and external investigation that was diligent and thorough, we believe the whole SOAS community – with varying views on this matter – can have confidence in our approach to these very challenging circumstances.

I also want to thank Judy Clements and Marie Stewart for their work on this investigation.  About their work they have said:

“This has been an important investigation for SOAS to have commissioned. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to this investigation. We reviewed a wide-ranging body of evidence and presented our findings in confidence to the Board for their deliberation. We wish the institution, its staff and students, well for the future.”

Summary of actions being taken

The Board has accepted all the recommendations from the investigation and we are taking specific action on all of them. The actions being taken include:

  • putting in place a restorative justice approach for the meeting of 11 March and events arising;
  • developing, as recommended, a clear policy for the SOAS community on the use of the n-word;
  • continuing to take forward the process of dialogue between the SOAS community of staff & students and SOAS leadership;
  • providing specific advice and support for the Director on equality, diversity issues in the HE sector;
  • producing in due course a statement from the Board on lessons learned from this experience and regular reporting to the SOAS community.

With the understanding that all these actions are being put in place, Professor Adam Habib will be resuming his duties as Director from Monday 10 May.

You can read the full set of recommendations and action in the information we are publishing on MySOAS.

Specific issues relating to language used on 11 March and subsequent events

I want to be clear especially on the use of the n-word: the report notes that the Director spoke the word in full while trying to say that it should not be used within the SOAS community, and that he has since acknowledged that speaking the word in full was a mistake, for which he has apologised.

The report was nonetheless critical of his response to students at the meeting and in his subsequent tweets. The report found that Professor Habib’s mistake of vocalising of the n-word in full, while trying to say that using the word offensively is unacceptable, did not in itself make him a racist.

In a statement after the Board meeting last night, Adam has said:

“I accept the judgements of the independent investigation unreservedly. I completely support their recommendations, and the Board’s decisions on how this will be taken forward. I commit to implementing them under their guidance.

“I want to again apologise to all the SOAS community for my conduct, for the offense and hurt, and for the disruption this has caused.

“I reiterate my commitment to act against all forms of racism, and to work with the SOAS community in identifying and fashioning specific interventions to address the exclusionary experiences of black people and other communities within the institution.

“There is a lot to do to rebuild from this. There is action to be taken to address racism and anti-Blackness. I believe we can and should do this together. I understand why some in our community will take a long time to trust me. I promise I will do all I can to re-earn your trust and respect.”

We understand that those who had called for Adam to step down may not be happy with the recommendations of the investigation and these outcomes.  We ask that they read the independent report recommendations and ask if they can bring themselves to work with SOAS to implement action so that together we can achieve the important work that is at the heart of SOAS.

Reminder of other action in place

We want to reaffirm that SOAS is committed to anti-racism, to tackling hate and anti-Blackness, to bringing people together and to listening and learning throughout life. It is important that we move forward collectively as an institution now in the best interests of everyone in the SOAS community.

In setting up the 11 March investigation, and the separate investigation into past complaints, we also committed to ensuring that we take action on the range of concerns about racism and anti-Blackness at SOAS. That is being taken forward as set out in the linked statement, reflecting among other things the work of the Race Accountability and Listening Action Group over the last year ( RACE@SOAS); and actions proposed by the Black staff group in their March Statement on Racism and Anti-Blackness.

This range of action has been referred to the SOAS Equality and Diversity Committee – the lead body in the School on these matters - and this work will lead to an action plan coming forward this month to EB to prioritise action across a range of policies and practice for both students and staff.

Support for staff and students

We want to ensure members of the SOAS community who are affected by these events continue to be given appropriate avenues of support. We have provided direct support to all our students and staff – building on the excellent existing student support and staff support mechanisms across the school. Students can speak to their Academic Advisor or their Student Support Officers. Students may also wish to seek support through the Student Advice and Wellbeing team email studentadviceandwellbeing@soas.ac.uk  

Further detail

You can read more detail on the context for the investigation, the process, recommendations, outcomes and context for this important matter. We have placed this on MySOAS for students and staff.

Conclusion

The different representations from the SOAS community made during the course of the investigation, particularly as to the preferred outcome, reinforced how complex a situation we find ourselves in. These representations also included a proposal to explore a restorative justice approach, which was picked up by the investigators in their recommendations, and has prompted the Board to think whether there is a better way forward than the adversarial approach that might have been taken in the past, particularly as some of the world’s leading experts on restorative justice are at SOAS. There is more detail on Restorative Justice on MySOAS.

It is the long-standing duty of the Board to do what is best for the future of SOAS as a whole. And it is with this long-term lens that the Board has understood reactions to the events on 11 March also relate to deep and long-standing issues around racialised attainment gaps and anti-Black racism. It is why we have asked the SOAS community to draw on the advice of our experts to find a new way forward to resolve this difficult and painful issue.

As a leadership group and team we clearly need to learn important lessons from this and make sure we ensure SOAS drives forward the range of action on critical areas around race. I personally commit to making sure as Chair that we do this for the benefit of all and the Board has set up oversight mechanisms, including a twice-yearly report back to the SOAS community on actions taken.

I finally want to repeat my own personal apology to the students and staff most directly involved, and all those who have been affected by this. 

Marie Staunton
Chair of Board of Trustees