Notes on: Bhopal, K. (2014). The experience of BME academics in higher education: aspirations in the face of inequality. Leadership Foundation for Higher

David Harris

[Not v powerful smallsample,genral complaints could apply to any new academic]

Despite increases in representation, there is still 'covert and subtle racism'. There is intersectional impact of class and gender especially in senior leadership, and the current economic and social downturn has increased risk inside and outside, increased by the current REF, which has increased insecurity. [Actually not what she found]

This is part of a larger piece of empirical research on career trajectories and focuses on male and female professors in senior leadership roles — 10 in England and 12 in the US. There is no attempt to generalise. 'The overwhelming majority' [sic!] still experience marginalisation and exclusion in relation to racism and feel positioned as outsiders and others, and more attempts are required to include them. Some do progress to senior leadership positions but there may still be exclusionary barriers so greater support is required.

There was a snowball sample and personal networks and links. The UK participants of men and three women were Black British Caribbean, four were British Asian and one British Indian. In the US sample six women and four men were African-American, one Latina and one American with Indian ancestry. They were interviewed and then grounded theory was used to break into segments for further development into categories and analysis, apparently with an attempt to understand what was common. [very little actual analysis -- exampling really]

The background for the UK was the Equality Act and protected characteristics, but there is a weakness in terms of monitoring and enforcing mechanisms, and disparities between public commitments and day-to-day experiences. Student diversity is more carefully audited, and sometimes seems a solution. Public behaviour has been the focus, leaving overt and subtle forms and a 'discriminatory culture' (3). Those managers involved are often important in decision-making recruitment and promotion leading to discriminatory practice and bias which can marginalise BME groups. This can produce a racial attitude which endorses egalitarian values while discriminating 'in subtle "rationalisable" ways' [citing Davidio and Gaertner 2000]. Equality legislation also homogenises characteristics instead of focusing on specifics like race and gender.

Managers play an important role with the managerial revolution in HE and Crofts and Pilkington (2012) have identified different understandings of diversity and equality between staff and senior managers, echoed by UCU. Managers often displace claims as exaggerated. There may be race talk as in Bonilla-Silva and Forman, preserving an appearance of neutrality.

Some of the respondents in the US seem to agree with this. One feels he is marginalised because he does activist research and this positions him as an outsider, [not surprising then]  and that greater support is required. The US respondents see gaining tenure as subjective and requiring good relationships with colleagues, although institutions are also afraid of getting a bad reputation. A strong portfolio can overcome the problems. One found it possible to enforce equality policies, although there was persistent subtle racism.

Much evidence suggests 'institutional racism in higher education' including conscious and unconscious bias in recruitment and promotion. Recruitment favours being able to fit in, for example. BME academics also report covert racism like challenges to their work, high levels of scrutiny, overt racism in terms of differential pay. One source for a lot of this [references on page 6] is the Equality Challenge Unit who have pointed to lower levels of average pay and less likelihood of a permanent contract for BME backgrounds, and this persists in 2012, according to HESA data. It's reflected in other areas too, like NHS. The same goes for disparities in the numbers of BME students at different types of university, and subsequent progress in labour markets. Inequalities are found in other countries as well. [This is the evidence really]

In the USA 'there has been a different historical experience of race relations'(7) especially with employment law, but still evidence of discrimination racism and differences by gender [lots of references]. Merit or collegiality are subjective, and often conceal a reliance on 'similar backgrounds, mutual interests and shared personal and social perspectives', and similar elite backgrounds. This provides difficulties in gaining tenure, and forms of stereotyping such as employing black people only for courses on race and ethnicity, or 'aversive racism'[ Davidio and Gaertner 2000 again — this time referring to the open profession of egalitarianism combined with subtle and rationalisable discrimination]. Bonilla-Silva and Forman get a mention again.

Subtle racism includes greater profiling of the work of white people, a sense of not belonging, a greater sense of tension, low expectations, a difficulty expressing challenges, being treated differently, including '"reluctant respect"', or higher standards and different judgements like lack of forgiveness of mistakes. There is a suspicion of a canteen culture which is hostile.

There is intersectionality. UK respondents talk about race as dominant, however, having more of an impact, even if you come from middle-class backgrounds, or being Muslim, or being on the wrong end of gender class and race and making it difficult to place someone or being a multiple minority. Some US respondents talked about multiple difficulties being a POC and queer and suspecting that their research was political or subjective. An Indian woman was suspected as being less respectable and elite. Gender position some as outsiders. Some faced triple oppression. Having to be at a high level of professionalism, always meeting deadlines or publishing high-quality articles seem to be required, exceeding expectations, committing even more to work rather than childcare. Gay men were particularly supported being politically committed. Power was centred on a white elite. Outsiders were always mediated — a black lesbian a Muslim African.

There seems to be a [separate?] dimension of gender, since statistics show that women are particularly unrepresented at senior management levels, despite some progress such as various ECU charters [which she likes]. There tends to be a particular emphasis concerning middle-class white women. There is also some evidence of a [border zone] with concentration of BME and female academics within post 1992 universities rather than Russell Group.

UK respondents were asked about the impact of the REF, as 'one of the most visible elements of competitiveness' (14). Many welcomed it [!] and saw it as neutralising ethnicity, with the potential to be objective, confirmed by one respondent. Not all agreed and saw it as subjective exercise in ranking journals, relegating some from Africa and Asia, for example. However, REF success can help promotion prospects [but does everyone have an equal chance to write REF articles?]

Respondents did note the greater degree of competition between colleagues and the fears of redundancy, and thought that those from black backgrounds will be disadvantaged because they lacked networks especially to provide information for jobs. American respondents also felt more insecure, even though 'job insecurity is a feature of the current labour market in general' (16). Many felt they had to overachieve as a result. Competitiveness was still felt as more likely to achieve for white middle-class people, partly because they had access to powerful insider networks, including friendship networks and access to academic gatekeepers, including 'the "Journal editorial boards and other panels and committees"'. Fears of insecurity help establish the power of the elite, even the successful BME academics feel insecure and sometimes feel they have to act out another identity, for example not challenging the status quo.

So overall there have been some advances but still problems and a need for more proactive approaches. There are some personal career trajectories but still a pattern of racism, at the subtle or covert level particularly. This is easy to dismiss as exaggeration or 'a "conflict of personalities"' (18). There are ways of excluding people, not contacting them not asking for their opinion, undermining them and criticising their work. The internal culture apparently stresses liberal sentiments, progressive values and meritocracy, but this is 'too rosy', and the interests of elites are often safeguarded instead. We need more positive policy operating at more than the public level.

This requires more BME individuals in senior positions with comparable status, [!] and not just in a tokenistic way. We need to challenge racism every level. Specifically, during recruitment and promotion we need to be aware of unconscious bias, to monitor selection and recruitment processes, including checking hearing shortlisted and why. Follow the ECU in policies such as anonymous shortlisting. Make more transparent and monitor processes for promotion, especially for senior posts. Institutions should examine the support they offer to promotion candidates and generally for BME and other minority staff. (20) [more box ticking].