Advances in Applied Sociology
2013. Vol.3, No.2, 93-101
Published Online June 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 93
The Erasure of Race and Racism
Andrew Pilkington
School of Social Sciences, University of Northampton, Northampton, UK
Email: Andrew.pilkingto
Received March 14th, 2013; revised Apr il 15th, 2013; accepted April 22nd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Andrew Pilkington. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
With the advent in the UK of a new Labour government in 1997 and the publication of the Macpherson
report in 1999, public debate over race and racism was reactivated after a long period when such concerns
had remained dormant. In this article, I shall draw upon an ethnographic study of one university in the UK
over a ten year period (Pilkington, 2011a). Here I shall focus on the early part of that period, predomi-
nantly 1999-2003 when arguably issues relating to race and racism were at their height. I examine how
Midshire University responded in turn to the Commission for Racial Equality’s (CRE’s) leadership chal-
lenge; the government’s strategies for higher education relating to widening participation and equal op-
portunities; and the race relations legislation. The story is not a happy one, with the institution constantly
subsuming race under a more general agenda and in the process failing to address the specificities of race.
Midshire University is unlikely to be the only university to do this. Universities in U K are typically char-
acterised by the “sheer weight of whiteness” which blinds senior managers and academics to racial ine-
qualities in their midst.
Keywords: Race; Racism; Equality; Diversity; Higher Education; Widening Participation
The Leadership Challenge
The CRE issued its leadership challenge to higher education
institutions (HEIs) in June 1997. The Committee of Vice
Chancellors and Principals (CVCP) was an early signatory and
thus committed Midshire University, along with other HEIs, to
give consideration to the issue of race equality. At Midshire
University, the first indication that the issue was being ad-
dressed was in February 1998, with a paper from the Vice
Chancellor to the university’s equal opportunities working
group (EOWG) outlining the challenge and requesting sugges-
tions as to how the university might respond.
A subgroup of the EOWG met to consider proposals, with
the equal opportunities coordinator eventually writing back on
behalf of the group to the Vice Chancellor with nine recom-
mendations. These comprised nine ethnically targeted initia-
tives. The initiatives were not at all idiosyncratic but reflected
recognised good practice and covered measures relating to eth-
nic monitoring; target setting; positive action; impact assess-
ment; training; mentoring; special interest groups; and research.
In most cases, the initiatives were already integral parts of
the race equality plan, which had been devised between 1992
and 1994, approved subsequently by Senate, and launched as
recently as 1996. That plan only two years later, however, was
already languishing in a filing cabinet, forgotten except by a
few diehards. At a workshop in April 2000 on institutional ra-
cism, only one of the fourteen participants knew about the plan
and at a repeat workshop on another campus, only one of the
participants knew of it. Even some members of the EOWG
were unaware of its existence. The Chair of the group and the
equal opportunities coordinator remembered it, but some
members had no inkling of its existence and even those who
said they knew of the plan were often thinking of something
else. Two members of the group whom I interviewed, in 2000
and 2002 respectively, for example, indicated that they did
know about the plan, but when asked what they understood by
it, referred to more contemporaneous policy statements (the
Vice Chancellor’s millennium pledge and a proposed new equal
opportunities statement). Since the race equality plan was al-
ready a dead document in 1998, it is perhaps not surprising that
the recommendations put forward to the Vice Chancellor were
presented as though they were new ideas.
The Vice Chancellor formed a working group of ten staff and
two students to take the leadership challenge forward. The
group comprised staff and students whom he knew were com-
mitted to equal opportunities. The group held its first meeting
in April 1999, two months after the publication of the
Macpherson report. The Vice Chancellor reported back to
EOWG in October 1999 on the “outcome of its deliberations”.
He reported that the group saw race as part of a wider set of
issues; that he was taking forward the challenge in relation to a
millennium statement/pledge and asked the group to devise a
resource neutral action plan to promote race equality.
This paper is revealing because it heralds an approach to race
that becomes the institutional norm. Race is not specifically
addressed but is subsumed under a more general agenda. The
Vice Chancellor presents the group’s thoughts in the following
way: “We did not wish to isolate racial issues from other as-
pects of intolerance and prejudice. This has led directly to the
establishment of a group under my chairmanship to take for-
ward my millennium commitment to tolerance and equality of
opportunity. This is not to suggest that we do not support the
objectives of CRE; Leadership Challenge and I reaffirm my
commitment to giving a lead in promoting the principle of ra-
cial equality together with the practical action that will make it
reality” (Midshire University, 1999b).
When it comes to EOWG’s recommendations for “practical
action”, the Vice Chancellor’s response is interesting. The “I”
becomes more pronounced and the “we” now refers no longer
to the VC’s group but to a purportedly consensual institution.
After summarising EOWG’s recommendations, he writes: “In
the light of these consultations, I would wish the Equal Oppor-
tunities Group to review these various practical issues and to
develop an action plan in relation to the promotion of racial
equality at Midshire ... It must be realistic in terms of what
hard-pressed colleagues can be expected to undertake, and what
the institution can take on board ... There can be no expectation
of additional funding to support this. The Working Group must
therefore address priorities for racial equality against other
Equal Opportunity requirements, particularly in relation to the
institution’s responsibilities under the Disability legislation”
(Midshire University, 1999b).
The EOWG formed a subgroup to devise an action plan, but
this did not meet prior to the EOWG meetings either in De-
cember 1999 (Midshire University, 1999a) or February 2000
(Midshire University, 2000a). Eventually the equal opportuni-
ties coordinator concocted a one page draft plan for the EOWG
meeting in June, 2000. The plan was a generic equal opportuni-
ties one. Race was only mentioned once and that was in relation
to a proposal to “explore the possibility of commissioning a
research project to monitor EO, in areas of race, gender and
disability”. It was agreed to forward the plan to the Senior Ex-
ecutive Team (comprising the Directorate and Deans). The
Chair subsequently reported in October 2000 (Midshire Uni-
versity, 2000a) that the Pro Vice Chancellor was taking the
recommendations forward. Given the vagueness of the plan,
that was effectively the end of any serious action plan to pro-
mote race equality emanating from the challenge. The race
equality plan approved by Senate in 1996 had not been resur-
rected. Instead, the recommendations relating to race equality
presented to the Vice Chancellor (VC) in 1999 had been thrown
back to the EOWG. These in turn had eventually been sub-
sumed into a more general plan and then disappeared from
This is not to say that nothing happened as a result of the
CRE’s leadership challenge. The Vice Chancellor’s group con-
tinued to meet and on the surface its deliberations were very
productive. It discussed the wording of the VC’s millennium
pledge and sought to give substance to this pledge in number of
ways. These included conducting an EO audit and passing the
results to the EOWG for consideration; hosting two events in
2000 relating to racial and sexual discrimination, respectively;
and following up these events with workshops on both cam-
puses on race, gender and disability.
The millennium pledge was issued on January 13, 2000 to all
staff. It was entitled “Millennium commitment from the Vice
Chancellor” and entailed a pledge to uphold certain basic prin-
ciples: Midshire University commits itself for the millennium
to the continuing values and fundamental principles of Euro-
pean Universities. For Midshire University to realise such prin-
ciples it will:
Preserve freedom in research and teaching, and recognise
that the freedom of the academic community must be
available to all members of its community
Ensure that its students’ freedoms are safeguarded and that
they enjoy conditions in which they can maximise their
educational opportunities
Regard the mutual exchange of information for the ad-
vancement of learning as essential to the steady progress of
knowledge. In committing Midshire University to these
principles and in pursuit of their implementation, the Vice
Chancellor commits the leadership and direction of Mid-
shire University to the principles of academic freedom and
of equality of opportunity. In that context, this Millennium
Pledge reaffirms the Mission and Equal Opportunities Pol-
icy of the institution, with the recognition that
All discrimination is discrimination
Equality is due to all
Through its practices, Midshire University will demonstrate
an institutional commitment to the equality of opportunity
[policy] and to the monitoring of its effectiveness at all levels ...
Equality and excellence in higher education are recognised as
necessary prerequisites for each other. Hence this commitment
reaffirms the University to both the traditions and values of
academic freedom and tolerance, and to the ideals and expecta-
tions of equality. The realisation and re-evaluation of both is the
challenge for Midshire University in the coming millennium’
(Midshire University, 2000b).
While the Vice Chancellor’s statement was publicised as the
“Equal Opportunities Millennium Pledge”, the pledge arguably
prioritises academic freedom. The first three bullet points con-
cern academic freedom and, in the subsequent sentence, aca-
demic freedom is mentioned before equality of opportunity. The
statement is as concerned with what the VC considers to be a
serious threat to academic freedom from state intervention as
equality of opportunity. In an interview with him, this becomes
evident: “Government is increasingly interfering in the running
of universities. If you look at our funding, more and more is
being given for specific purposes, ‘ringfencing’ activities, so it
becomes increasingly difficult to say that we have freedom over
how we choose to direct our activities. The ‘Millennium Com-
mitment’ sets out what I see as the basic principles of European
universities; they are not tied to the state; they are free to chal-
lenge opinions and to challenge the government and should not
be at risk if they do so”.
While the millennium statement asserts that the principles of
academic freedom and equality of opportunity are compatible
and mutually entail each other, there is some recognition in the
penultimate sentence that these principles have different roots.
There is certainly a tension between them in practice and, as I
have argued elsewhere (Pilkington, 2011b), it may take state
intervention to stimulate the academy to take race equality se-
The statement pledged the university to monitor the effec-
tiveness of its equal opportunities policy and the Vice Chancel-
lor’s working group seemingly contributed to fulfilling this
pledge by conducting an audit of current practice in January
2000 against a checklist formulated by the VC the previous
November. The outcomes of the audit were written up and pre-
sented in a paper to the EOWG meeting in February 2000
(Midshire University, 2000a). Although it was entitled an audit,
it was not based on an examination of any university docu-
ments and entailed no interviews. It differed markedly in this
respect from internal audits conducted during 2000 as part of
the university’s investors in people designation and the external
“continuation audit” of the university conducted by the Quality
Assurance Agency (QAA). In contrast to these audits, where
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
assertions needed to be evidenced, the EO audit comprised on
its own admission “the reflections of people around [a] table”
(Midshire University, 2000c). It is noteworthy that these reflec-
tions made no reference to race.
The discourse was markedly different from that found in au-
dit reports, with constant reference to feelings and unsubstanti-
ated thoughts. Here are some extracts: “Ethos: We felt that this
was good compared with many other institutions of which we
had knowledge; it seemed that the Mission and the Equal Op-
portunities Policy were reflected ‘down’ through the institu-
tion ... Language and imagery: We welcome the extent to which
the institution had moved on from slavish political correct-
ness ... Staff development and training: Members believed that
there were excellent opportunities at Midshire University. Con-
cern was, however, expressed as to the basis for some manag-
ers’ selection of staff for development opportunities and the
extent to which this could be justified in terms of equal oppor-
tunities” (Midshire University, 2000c).
The four page report was sent to the EOWG with this preface
from the VC: “As its final task my working group ... undertook
an ‘audit’ of our equal opportunities practices. We submit it to
the Equal Opportunities Group on behalf of my working group,
with the hope and expectation that you will use it as a checklist
against which to review the effectiveness of our Equal Oppor-
tunities Policies and Practices, and to inform your thinking and
advice, regarding the future development and operation of
these” (Midshire University, 2000c). The paper was received by
the EOWG at its February meeting, where it was decided that
the subgroup supposedly developing a race (sic) equality action
plan would consider it further. The VC’s hope and expectation
that it would inform the group’s thinking were not fulfilled.
In addition to conducting an audit, the VC’s working group
sought to give substance to the millennium pledge by hosting
two events and following these up with workshops. At the in-
stigation of the equal opportunities coordinator, the university
decided to host an exhibition, Anne Frank: A History for Today.
The exhibition was launched on 21 March 2000, with Richard
Stone, one of the three advisors to Sir William Macpherson on
the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, giving the keynote lecture. The
exhibition, which included displays on the Third Reich but also
on the life of Stephen Lawrence, lasted till 7 April 2000. In a
letter reported to the EOWG at its meeting in June 2000, the
VC complimented the equal opportunities coordinator on the
launch: “The opening event was a great success ... Many col-
leagues and Governors who were present spoke to me about
how they felt that this had been a very good occasion for Mid-
shire University (MU) in relation to the wider community ...
Though I know the purpose of the occasion was not to reflect
‘glory’ on MU, nevertheless it did, and that in return impacted
on the real purpose of the Exhibition” (Midshire University,
2000a). Thus an event “that documented ... racism ... got
quickly translated [and] became usable as a measure of good
performance” (Ahmed, 2007: p. 599).
The exhibition was followed up with two workshops in April
and November, 2000. They were advertised in relation to the
question, “Is Midshire University characterised by institutional
racism?” Fourteen people attended the first workshop with
approximately the same number putting their thoughts in email
correspondence. The workshop culminated in a brief report
from the equal opportunities coordinator. This provided a
summary of the workshop and concluded that the participants
from across MU agreed that MU was not as serious as it should
be on equal opportunities. The following examples were given
to justify the claim that MU does not take equal opportunities
The Chair of the EOWG is not a member of the Director-
The EO co-ordinator is only part-time;
The [Race Equality] Policy document has not been properly
There is no systematic monitoring or target setting;
Monitoring that is done is not used effectively (Midshire
University, 2000d).
These comments informed the subsequent nine recommenda-
tions which related to leadership and staffing in EO; action
planning; review and monitoring; staff development and train-
ing; and research. The report was forwarded to EOWG and was
received at its meeting in June where “as a way forward the
Chairman agreed that [it] be sent to the Vice Chancellor in the
first instance for his consideration” (Midshire University,
2000a). At the subsequent meeting of EOWG in October, 2000
it was reported that the “report ... had been received with inter-
est by the Vice Chancellor. A repeat of this workshop would
now take place at Field campus” (Midshire University, 2000a).
The proposals in the paper had fallen on barren ground. The
subsequent workshop, which attracted slightly more partici-
pants, culminated in a call for research on institutional racism at
Midshire and a reminder to EOWG that there had been no re-
sponse to the previous workshop’s proposals. The silence was
The leadership challenge led to some activity but it led to lit-
tle action that made a difference to equal opportunities let alone
race equality at Midshire University. The ball was continually
passed between the EOWG and the VC. This partly reflected
the governance arrangements. The EOWG was an advisory
group to the Vice Chancellor. The group included few academ-
ics or senior staff and was chaired by a Head of School who
had no executive responsibilities for equal opportunities. Deci-
sions were continually deferred and instead proposals were
forwarded to the VC and Senior Executive Team (SET) for
their consideration. While the VC did devote some time and
energy to equal opportunities issues, he was mainly concerned
with key principles. He saw strategic issues as the purview of
SET and implementation issues as the responsibility of EOWG
and the equal opportunities coordinator. SET, however, paid
scant attention to equal opportunities during this period and
thus received rather than discussed EOWG’s minutes, while
EOWG did not have the authority effectively to implement
equal opportunities policies and the equal opportunities coordi-
nator only held a fractional 0.5 post.
In conversations I had with the VC, Chair of EOWG and the
equal opportunities coordinator, I discovered that each of them
recognised that the current arrangements were unsatisfactory.
The VC referred to the EOWG as “a talking shop where
like-minded people don’t do anything but just talk sweet noth-
ings to each other”; the Chair acknowledged that “EOWG
need[ed] to become more action centred [and] there also
need[ed] to be a stronger central steer from the Directorate”;
and the equal opportunities coordinator expressed frustration at
what she saw as “going through the motions where those whose
responsibility it is to lead have just passed it down and passed it
This is not to say that between 1999 and 2000 race issues
were completely bypassed. Participation in the national men-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 95
toring scheme run by the University of East London for minor-
ity ethnic students continued; a summary of the Carter et al
report (1999) was produced by the equal opportunities coordi-
nator for members of the EOWG; the Anne Frank exhibition
was launched with follow up workshops; and a series of rec-
ommendations focusing on race equality were forwarded to th e
VC. Nonetheless, what above all characterises the university’s
response to the leadership challenge is the way race was sub-
sumed under a more general agenda and any specificities were
lost. It is revealing in this context that the item in the EOWG
minutes that initially was entitled “Race equality—leadership
challenge” later transmogrifies into one entitled, “Millennium
commitment to tolerance and equality” (Midshire University,
1999a, 2000a).
Widening Participation
A concern with access was evident at Midshire University
well before widening participation became a national priority.
During the 1980s, “access was seen as a means of helping us
maintain our market position to recruit students” according to
the Director of Widening Participation (WP). It became less
significant “towards the end of the 80s when recruiting was
easy” and A level points were seen as a performance indicator,
but “it’s come back on the agenda in the last five years because
of government policies about expanding higher education and
the realisation that you can’t do that effectively unless you
widen it”.
Midshire University’s first foray with the national agenda on
widening participation was in 1998. The university received
funding along with a number of local FE colleges and the local
education authority (known collectively as the Midshire federa-
tion) for a one year research project to produce social and
demographic data on Midshire in order to facilitate strategic
planning to widen participation in higher education. The final
report was produced in January 2000 and informed the subse-
quent three year proje c t.
This project focused expressly on students from poor socio-
economic backgrounds. A widening participation unit was set
up and a progression partnership (with ten schools identified in
the earlier pilot project as located in deprived wards and/or with
low educational achievement relative to county norms) became
the main vehicle for increasing participation from low partici-
pation neighbourhoods and lower social classes. An independ-
ent evaluation report produced in January 2003 indicated the
project was successful and that there was a sound base for the
development of a sub-regional Aimhigher: Progression for
Partnership. The latter began operating in April 2003 but only a
year later in August 2004 transmogrified into Midshire Aim-
It is noticeable that between 1998 and 2003 no reference is
made in any of the pertinent documents to race. Successive
outreach programmes exclusively focused on social class. It is
only with the emergence of Aimhigher in 2004 that any concern
with students from minority ethnic communities is manifest. In
addition to these partnerships concerned with outreach activi-
ties, Midshire University since July 2001 had its own widening
participation strategy. The strategy developed in 2001 was ex-
pressly concerned with improving the recruitment of specified
target groups, notably students from lower social classes, stu-
dents from low participation neighbourhoods and mature stu-
dents. In addition, the strategy was concerned with improving
retention and progression generally and especially for target
groups. An additional set of targets included raising institu-
tional degree profiles and employment outcomes. The strategy
document noted that “Midshire University will use the PIs pub-
lished annually by HEFCE as its key measure of success”
(Midshire University, 2001b). Since these take no account of
race, the strategy virtually ignored this dimension of inequality,
with the institutional widening participation plan for the period
from 2001-02 to 2003-04 identifying only one target on race,
namely increasing the participation of minority ethnic students
on the national mentoring scheme.
The institutional strategy insisted that schools produced their
own widening participation plans. An analysis by the Director
of Widening Participation of plans in 2001-02 revealed that the
overwhelming focus of these plans was on recruitment rather
than retention, and that the main target group comprised lower
socio-economic groups. The lack of attention given to retention
was almost certainly disadvantageous to minority ethnic stu-
dents who were more likely than White students to be admitted
but less likely to be successful.
Only two out of twelve schools mentioned race or ethnicity.
The School of Education identified a specific target for re-
cruitment of students from minority ethnic groups, while the
School of Health indicated an intention to target minority ethnic
groups through advertising in community journals. These ref-
erences at least indicated an awareness of the need to take ac-
count of race. However, the first reflected the fact that the uni-
versity was below its benchmark for teacher training with the
target being set by an external agency, the Teacher Training
agency, while the second did not specify any numerical targets.
While the implementation of the institution’s widening par-
ticipation strategy continued to prioritise class, more attention
was given to race after the approval of the institution’s race
equality policy and implementation plan in July 2003. The in-
stitution’s annual monitoring statement for widening access and
participation for 2004-2005 doubled the targets relating to race
from the one submitted a year earlier, while the proportion of
schools which included in their plans ethnically targeted initia-
tives rose from 16.5 per cent to 50 per cent between 2001-2002
and 2003-2004.
Despite this, as the Director of Widening Participation put it
to me, “If you go back to access in the 1980s, it was all about
gender, you know, women into non traditional areas, [and] eth-
nic minorities. It wasn’t really about social class at all. Now in
the last five years ... it’s really about social class, isn’t it?” In-
terviews with the Chair of the EOWG and equal opportunities
coordinator indicated that they shared the same perception.
The lack of attention to minority ethnic communities appar-
ent in the institution’s approach to widening participation was
greeted with dismay by a Black member of staff: When we
started widening participation, I spoke to the Head of the Wid-
ening Participation Unit (WPU) and I said to her, “Why aren’t
you coming to Welton to the Hindu temple [and] to the Afro-
Caribbean community? Why aren’t you speaking to the com-
munity leaders there? There’s a lot of Black males. You need to
get them back into education if you’re wanting participation”.
And I said, you know, “These are the communities that you
should be engaging in”. And she said to me, basically I don’t
know how to speak to these communities. I’m White and mid-
dle class. How do I speak to this community? And I said, “Well,
that’s your job; this is why you took the job on” ... I mean,
shouldn’t we employ seasonal workers to go out ... who can
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
speak the language and dialogue with the Bangladeshi commu-
nity ... When I spoke to [the head of the WPU], she said, Oh,
you know the students we are going to concentrate on are from
Corling. [They] are predominantly White. But there are other
communities in Midshire that you can target. That’s not been
happening, you know. So are we saying you are just targeting
the White community who suffer from low socioeconomic
backgrounds or are we saying, you’re being all inclusive ... [If
you’re only doing the former], that’s not equality; that’s not
Equal Opportunities and Human Resources
The VC inaugurated the academic year, 2000-2001 by iden-
tifying twelve priorities in his annual statement to staff. These
included a “reassessment of Human Resources policies and
practices” and two relating to equal opportunities: “a review of
gender issues in relation to staffing” and “the better presenta-
tion and promotion of our achievements with respect to dis-
abilities” (Midshire University, 2000e). It is noticeable that no
reference was made to race, presumably because it was as-
sumed that this had been prioritised in the previous academic
The VC’s prioritisation of human resources anticipated the
announcement by the government later in the year of additional
monies becoming available to recruit, reward and develop staff,
and modernise HR management. This announcement promised
to facilitate an agenda concerned with equality and diversity
issues since equal opportunities was one of the priority areas
identified by HEFCE in March 2001 for inclusion in institu-
tional HR strategies. Unfortunately there were financial diffi-
culties in the academic years 2000-2001 and 2001-2002. The
university failed to meet its recruitment targets in 2000-01 and,
with claw-back threatened by the funding council, staff in cer-
tain areas were declared “at risk of redundancy”. In this context,
all new appointments were frozen. This meant that the equal
opportunities coordinator, who had left the previous term, was
not replaced, and instead the Director of HR was handed re-
sponsibility for EO. Since the primary concern of HR was
dealing with fall out from the financial position of the univer-
sity, equal opportunities received little attention, especially in
2000-2001. This particularly applied to race where the only two
targeted initiatives were not effectively implemented. The deci-
sion of EOWG to have promotional material translated into
different languages was not followed through and fewer minor-
ity ethnic students were recruited to the mentoring scheme
(Midshire University, 2000a, 2001a, 2002a).
The emerging HR strategy was received by EOWG at its
meeting in June 2001 (Midshire University, 2001a). The strat-
egy had three components: a resourcing strategy; a reward
strategy; and a development and involvement strategy. The
resourcing strategy included two equal opportunities objectives:
“review and refine MU’s policy and practice in relation to
Equal Opportunities” and “audit MU in relation to Equal Op-
portunities practice as a precursor to the identification of sub-
stantial change projects to promote Equal Opportunities at MU”.
In addition, the reward strategy identified a series of objectives
relating to equal pay for work of equal value. Although the
objectives relating to equal opportunities were very vague and
there was no explicit reference to race, there was at least an
acknowledgement that there was a need to establish “baseline
data” in the first year of the strategy “from which targets could
be developed” in subsequent years (Midshire University,
In 2001-2002, some of the additional monies from the R and
DS initiative were used to prevent staff in certain areas from
being made redundant. The equal opportunities coordinator was
not replaced but instead two White male academic members of
staff were partially redeployed for a year to lead projects in
equal opportunities. Both were redeployed for 0.5 of their time,
on staff and student related EO projects, respectively. The first
was given responsibility for commissioning an audit of EO at
the university by the ECU and providing baseline and com-
parator data relating to EO and staffing, while the second was
given responsibility for managing the mentoring scheme and
providing baseline and comparator data relating to EO and
students. The Director of HR announced at the October meeting
of EOWG that the two staff “would be seconded jointly to un-
dertake the role of equal opportunities coordinator in order to
progress appropriate aspects of the HR strategy” (Midshire
University, 2001a).
Although she tried to involve the two staff in what she saw as
a shared agenda, both felt distant from what they saw as ad-
ministrative work and neither attended any of the EOWG
meetings. As one said, “It was the pistol to the head. I volun-
teered for the role as part of a redeployment package. The brief
was very vague, with no specific title and a fairly rough set of
objectives. It was a pretty amorphous type of project”. The
projects entailed above all the production of baseline and com-
parator data, but unfortunately neither of them was proficient in
statistical analysis. As one said: For me, as someone not trained
in social science research, I found it quite time consuming ...
masses and masses of data to look through which was not par-
ticularly to me, to the untrained eye, very revealing ... After a
while, I began to spin on it and had to throw a lot of data to one
side. The hardest thing was ... to make the data understandable
in broad terms.
At face value, the academic year, 2001-2002 witnessed some
developments in equal opportunities:
At its October 2001 meeting, EOWG agreed “to convene a
subgroup to undertake a review of the Equal Opportunities
Policy Statement and the Working Group’s terms of refer-
ence” (Midshire University, 2001a). This culminated in the
production of a new equal opportunities policy that was sent
out for feedback from staff and students in April 2002.
At its January 2002 meeting, an academic presented a paper
to EOWG which analysed monitoring data on staff ap-
pointments collected by the university over four years from
1997-2000 (Midshire University, 2001d). This indicated
that Black applicants are less likely to be short-listed and
also (though to a lesser extent) less likely to be appointed
than White applicants. The same is true, though in a less
marked manner, of Asian applicants.
At the EOWG meeting in January 2002, the Director of HR
“confirmed that ... the findings would [feed into] the review
work of her department with regard to MU’s policy and re-
cruitment practices” (Midshire University, 2002a). The pa-
per was subsequently taken to SET and included in a hand-
out on Trends and issues emerging from analysis of equal
opportunities recruitment and selection data, 1997-2000
(Midshire University, 2002c). SET agreed that “more analy-
sis [was] required” (Midshire University, 2002d).
A staff attitudes survey, with some questions on equal op-
portunities, was completed in May 2002 (Midshire Univer-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 97
sity, 2002e) and its results presented to EOWG at its June
meeting (Midshire University, 2002a).
The papers by the staff seconded to work on staff (Midshire
University, 2002f) and student related (Midshire University,
2002g) aspects of EO were completed in June and sent to
the Director of HR.
On closer examination, the above developments turned out to
be less impressive than they sounded in the summary of pro-
gress for equal opportunities projects in the full HR strategy
produced at the end of May 2002: The full human resources
strategy stated that “extensive consultation had taken place on
MU’s new Equal Opportunities Policy” and that “approaching
100 people actively contributed during the exercise from a di-
verse range of backgrounds” (Midshire University, 2002b):
What failed to be mentioned, however, was the fact that the
original intention had also been to review EOWG’s terms of
reference and, more importantly, that the consultation had been
about a policy statement rather than a policy, and that the
statement was never in fact approved.
The full human resources strategy stated that the university
had “commissioned detailed analysis of all its equal oppor-
tunities recruitment monitoring data for the past four years
and [had] identified issues and action planned accordingly”
(Midshire University, 2002b). While this was partially true,
the results were misrepresented to SET where it was stated
that that there is evidence that applicants from ethnic mi-
norities [were] more likely to be short listed for interview,
though “less likely to be successful at the selection for ap-
pointment stage” (Midshire University, 2002c). While the
formal procedures for short listing and interviewing were
subsequently tightened, the only ethnically targeted initia-
tive did not flow from the analysis of monitoring data or
from the handout given to SET. The latter pointed out that
“MU attract[ed] a good proportion of applicants from ethnic
minority groups (17.6 per cent of the applicant pool com-
pared to 6.7 per cent within the UK population overall)”.
Despite this, the one targeted initiative was to “activate a
programme of job advertisement experimentation, including
use of the ethnic minority press to reach a wider pool of ap-
plicants for its posts” (Midshire University, 2002b).
The full human resources strategy pointed out that “MU
[had] undertaken its first Staff Attitudes Survey for all
staff ... and targets set for a repeat survey in 12 months time,
to inform future planning” (Midshire University, 2002b).
This was true, but unfortunately there were very few ques-
tions relating to equal opportunities and these were not re-
peated in subsequent years to enable trends to be identified.
While in 2002, 85 per cent of staff said they were familiar
with the institution’s equal opportunities policy, only 41.3
per cent agreed with the statement, “There is genuine equal-
ity of opportunity at MU” (Midshire University, 2002e).
The following year, there was no question on staff aware-
ness of policy and the closest question to the one on percep-
tions was one which asked respondents to agree or disagree
with the statement, “There is no discrimination at MU”. A
similar proportion (40%) felt that there was no discrimina-
tion in 2003 to the proportion that the previous year felt that
there was genuine equality of opportunity.
The full human resources strategy reported that the univer-
sity had “commissioned a project to determine its staff re-
lated baseline data ... and that this [had] informed target set-
ting in EO terms” and that it had “commissioned a project
to review MU’s student baseline data in terms of Equal
Opportunities to inform target setting also”. The papers pro-
duced by the two seconded members of staff on secondment
were indeed completed. However, they only reached the
Director of HR in June 2002, after the full human resources
strategy had been sent to HEFCE. Neither paper was pre-
sented to EOWG or any other university forum, and the au-
thor of one of the papers never even received an acknowl-
edgement that his paper had been received. The Deputy Di-
rector of HR, who temporarily took over responsibility for
HR when the Director resigned in February, indicated less
than a year later that she knew nothing about these papers
and could not locate them. As for the papers themselves,
they made some interesting observations, but they did not
produce systematic baseline and comparator data. This was
acknowledged in April 2003 when the Deputy Director and
newly appointed Director of HR confirmed that the staff
profile data was out of date and was especially poor in rela-
tion to ethnicity where there were far too many unknowns.
Finally, the full human resources strategy indicated that the
university had commissioned the Equality Challenge Unit
to conduct an EO audit at MU in September 2003. This
never happened.
The section on equal opportunities in the full human re-
sources strategy document outlining plans for 2002-2003 and
2003-2004 remained very vague, with the only specific one
relating to job evaluation. The plans included “implementation
of MU’s revised policies in respect of equal opportunities as a
whole”; harnessing “the outcome of its comprehensive review
and consultation exercise on the wording and scope of its Equal
Opportunities policy ...combined with the outcomes of audit by
the Equality Challenge Unit to address ... staff and student per-
ceptions of EO”; “target setting and action planning to enable
MU to make significant progress” towards ensuring “its staff
profile ... reflects [that of] student communities”; “to ensure
equal pay for work of equal value”; to implement job evalua-
tion using the Higher Education Role Analysis system (HERA);
and to “continue to experiment with advertisement of posts in
ethnic minority publications”. While the review of the institu-
tion’s equal opportunities policy(sic) was linked in the docu-
ment to the requirement of the Race Relations Amendment Act,
the only ethnically targeted initiative related to advertising in
community journals.
By September 2002, the Director of HR recognised that spe-
cialist staff were required in relation to equality and diversity.
Together with the Director of WP, she presented a case to the
Directorate for two equality and diversity officers. This was
turned down on the grounds that the income streams (R and DS
and the WP premium) were not guaranteed to last. By this time,
the Director of HR felt completely ground down and she re-
signed from her post in January 2003 (Midshire University,
2003a). Her tenure was an extremely difficult one, especially
given the financial difficulties facing the university, the de-
mands to modernise HR and the requirements to respond to
new legislation. In many ways, this period was one when, fol-
lowing a period of treading water in addressing race equality,
the institution began to sink.
Race Relations Legislation
Although the deadline (31 May 2002) was the same for the
submission of the full human resources strategy to HEFCE and
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
he publication of the institution’s race equality policy and im-
plementation plan (a requirement under the Race Relations
Amendment Act 2000), the preparations at Midshire University
for the latter started much later. The first mention of the RRAA
requirements was in January, 2002 at a meeting of EOWG. At
this meeting, the Director of HR announced that “the Race
Relations Amendment Act Steering Group would be established
in connection with the implementation of the RRA at Midshire
University with a view to contributing specifically to the
strands that focus on students” (Midshire University, 2002a).
This group never met and the Director of HR’s attempts to in-
volve EOWG members and in particular the two seconded
members of staff in the development of the university’s race
equality policy fell on barren ground. She did not line manage
these staff who were therefore able to ignore, for example, re-
quests to attend pertinent c on fe rences with impunity.
The university was reminded by the Equality Challenge Unit
of the deadline for the production of a race equality policy and
implementation plan in February and in the same month re-
ceived initial guidance from the ECU and CRE on what was
required. EOWG met in March but remarkably there were no
agenda items on the RRAA (Midshire University, 2002a). The
first stab at developing a new policy and plan was undertaken
single handedly by the Director of HR in a paper for the Gov-
ernance and Employment Comm it tee of the Governing Council.
The paper asked the Governors “to endorse the proposed new
policy statement ... and the proposed action plan for consulta-
tion [and] to note [their] responsibilities enshrined in the legis-
lation [as] Governors” (Midshire University, 2002h). The paper
recognised that there were resource implications and indicated
(misleadingly) that “two additional posts, already planned, will
underpin fulfilment of these responsibilities” (emphasis in
The emphasis in the paper was on consultation, with the first
two appendices containing the proposed policy statement to be
sent out for consultation and the proposed approach to consul-
tation. In addition, two further appendices drew attention to the
wide range of policy items that needed to be reviewed and a
proposed schedule for fulfilling the requirements of the legisla-
tion. The paper did indicate an understanding of the legislation,
with the proposed new equal opportunities policy statement
translating the general and specific duties relating to race into
general and specific duties relating to all strands of equality.
The proposed statement contained three paragraphs with the
first paragraph relating to the general duties enshrined in the
legislation, and the second and third paragraphs relating to
some of the specific duties in italics. It is sufficient here to
quote the first paragraph in order to give a flavour of the pro-
posed policy statement: “Midshire University (MU) recognises
and values its role in a diverse society and is opposed to, and
will positively address, all forms of unfair discrimination, on
whatever grounds. MU will promote equality of opportunity
and good relations between people” (Midshire University,
What is evident is the way that race was subsumed under a
more general equal opportunities agenda. This is evident
throughout the paper, including the exceptional moments when
there was explicit reference to race. The proposed schedule for
example identified two issues that needed to be addressed be-
fore 31 May: to “prepare and plan to maintain a written state-
ment of MU’s race equality policy for promoting race equality
as part of its overall Equal Opportunities policy” and to “de-
velop and secure agreement to an action plan to meet MU’s
duties to eliminate unlawful discrimination; promote equality of
opportunity; [and] promote good relations between people of
different racial groups, as part of its overall Equal Opportunit ies
action plan” (Midshire University, 2002h).
Leaving aside the misleading section on resource implica-
tions (the proposal to have any posts in equality and diversity
was consistently rejected by the Directorate as unnecessary and
unaffordable before 2003), what was most remarkable about the
paper was the lack of explicit reference to race and the insis-
tence, when reference was made to race, on placing it under a
broader agenda. This tendency was even more apparent in the
university news briefing at the beginning of May 2002 in the
section headed, Equal Opportunities Policy and Initiatives Re-
lating to Race Relations (Midshire University, 2002i). The item,
which included the draft policy statement on equal opportuni-
ties, stated: The Governor’s Governance and Employment Sub
Committee endorsed the draft policy, consultation plan and
draft implementation plan ... This policy will be inclusive of
MU’s race equality policy and plan for promoting race equality.
We are now seeking to get feedback on the policy from staff
and students. Interestingly, the policy statement was now a fully
fledged “policy” and the schedule of what needed to be done
was now an “implementation plan’’ (my emphasis).
The first paragraph of the three paragraph policy had
changed marginally since the meeting of the Governing Coun-
cil’s Governance and Employment Committee. It now read:
“Midshire University (MU) recognises and values its role in a
diverse society and is opposed to, and will tackle, all forms of
unfair discrimination, on whatever grounds. MU will promote
equality of opportunity and good relations between all people
of diverse backgrounds” (Midshire University, 2002i). It should
be noted, however, that the policy, though supposedly inclusive
of race, still refused to make any reference to race or address
any specificities relating to this strand of (in)equality. This was
surprising because by this stage, the Director of HR had been
briefed by colleagues who had attended the ECU/CRE confer-
ence in April on “meeting the deadline”.
No progress was made on the institution’s race equality pol-
icy and implementation plan before the end of May. While the
submission of a full human resources strategy to HEFCE met
the 31 May deadline, the only written race equality policy
available at that time comprised the above new equal opportu-
nities policy statement. The EOWG met in June 2002 (Midshire
University, 2002a). The agenda again remarkably did not in-
clude an item on the RRAA and, even more remarkably, the
VC’s annual address to the group expressly mentioned gender
and disability, but remained resoundingly silent over race.
Nonetheless an item entitled, EO Performance Indicators and
Targets, related to a report by the Director of HR “on equal
opportunities policy and practice impact assessment and targets
for improvement 2002-2005” (Midshire University, 2002j).
This paper drew heavily on the section in the full human re-
sources strategy on equal opportunities, but it did include for
the first time some key performance targets that had been in-
formed by the limited baseline data available. While five of
these did not relate to ethnicity, three did. The baseline data
indicated that “staff from ethnic minorities” comprised 2.8 per
cent of the total (when i n the county, minority ethnic communi-
ties comprised 3.5%); that the “per cent of senior salaried staff
from ethnic minorities” comprised 2.9 per cent (one person in
fact); and that the “per cent of academic staff from ethnic mi-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 99
norities” was unknown. This data informed the targets for 2003,
2004 and 2005: “per cent staff from ethnic minorities 4 per cent,
5 per cent, 6 per cent [UK benchmark 11%] ... per cent senior
salaried staff from ethnic minorities 4 per cent, 5 per cent, 6 per
cent [UK benchmark 11%] [and] per cent academic staff from
ethnic minorities 10 per cent, 11 per cent, 12 per cent [UK
benchmark 11%]”. In addition under a heading entitled, “KPI—
Race Relations Impact Assessment”, the paper briefly summa-
rised the evidence presented (inaccurately) to SET (Midshire
University, 2002c) on ratios relating to staff recruitment and
selection by ethnicity and gender, and identified targets. Those
relating to ethnicity were as follows: “ratio of per cent appli-
cants from ethnic minorities in applicant pool: ratio of ethnic
minorities within economically active UK population—equal to
or greater than 1:1; ratio of per cent applicants from ethnic
minorities in applicant pool: short listed pool—equal to or
greater than 1:1; ratio of per cent applicants from ethnic mi-
norities in short listed pool: appointed pool equal to or greater
than 1:1” (Midshire University, 2002j).
The EOWG met again in October, but there was still no
agenda item on the RRAA and no further progress was reported
(Midshire University, 2002a). In the same month, HEFCE in-
dicated that it wished the university, like other HEIs, to submit
its race equality policy and implementation plan to the council
by November 1, 2002 so that it could fulfil its monitoring remit
under its own race equality scheme. Midshire University duly
obliged and forwarded its response with an accompanying letter
from the Pro VC which pointed out that “to date we have held
extensive consultation and dissemination on reviewing and
revising our policy, have carried out impact assessments, and
have detailed the further action to be taken”. The document was
entitled revealingly, Equal Opportunities at MU and contained
five sections [the “draft new policy statement”; an “overall
action plan”; “impact assessment 2002 (Staff related)”; “Targets
2002-2005 (Staff related)”; “Detailed monitoring—key per-
formance indicators (Staff related)”] and an appendix contain-
ing the “existing equal opportunities policy” (Midshire Univer-
sity, 2002k).
The new policy statement was the three paragraphs on equal
opportunities discussed above. The only reference to race was
in the second paragraph which stated, “Inductively this policy
refers to opportunities for career advancement, staff develop-
ment and training, as well as fairness in student admission,
assessment, progression, and access to support services. It in-
corporates MUs Race Relations Policy” (emphasis in original).
The overall action plan was an equal opportunities action plan
(just over a page) which made only one reference to race, nota-
bly to “develop a strategy on race promotion”. The other three
sections were exclusively related to staff. The one on impact
assessment (two pages) summarised some data relating to the
staff profile, the analysis of the monitoring data on the recruit-
ment of staff over a four year period and the staff attitudes sur-
vey. In each case, the summary focused on equal opportunities
rather than race specifically. The one (one page) on targets re-
produced the key performance targets identified earlier in the
paper presented at the June meeting of EOWG, while the one on
detailed monitoring (two pages) cut and pasted a section of the
full human resources strategy relating to equal opportunities
with the remaining part of the section on KPIs in the paper
presented to EOWG in June. In both cases, race was subsumed
within an equal opportunities agenda and, while race was men-
tioned in these sections, this was alongside other strands of
The document submitted to HEFCE did not indicate that
Midshire University had taken on board the guidance produced
by ECU and the CRE. The document was about equal opportu-
nities and not race and did not demonstrate how its policy and
implementation plan addressed the general duty or the specific
duties enshrined in the legislation. It completely ignored the
specific duties relating to students and only made tangential
reference to matters pertaining to the specific duties relating to
The Vice Chancellor heard back from the ECU on 12 Febru-
ary 2003 (Midshire University, 2003b) and a week later from
HEFCE on 20 February 2003 (Midshire University, 2003c).
The ECU reported that Midshire University was “considered
not to be aligned with the requirements of the Race Relations
(Amendment) Act, and that in consequence the whole approach
need[ed] urgent revision” (Midshire University, 2003b). The
race equality policy analysis of the university’s document was
completely damning: “Midshire University has not submitted a
Race Equality policy or any other document for satisfying the
requirements of the legislation”. Judged against a template of
26 items, MU was identified as wholly failing to fulfil its obli-
gations on 24 and only partially fulfilling them on the other two
(Midshire University, 2003b). The follow up letter from
HEFCE “reiterated the risk that non-compliance with the
RRAA brings”, given “the Commission for Racial Equality’s
new enforcement powers” (Midshire University, 2003c). Ac-
cordingly, the university was asked to resubmit a revised policy
and plan by the end of May, 2003.
Explaining Failure
The author of the document left the university a couple of
weeks before the university heard that its policy and plan were
unsatisfactory. She was therefore an easy scapegoat who could
be blamed with impunity for this failure. And this was a com-
mon response. Asked why the university had received the low-
est grade, one Pro Vice Chancellor was adamant: “It was Y’s
fault. The problem was that nobody could manage her and she
created obfuscation by quoting employment law. She reassured
the Governors but in retrospect they should have followed mat-
ters up. [The senior PVC] now regrets sending the stuff off to
HEFCE”. The Chair of EOWG was more graphic: “Y cocked
things up and didn’t bother to let EOWG know what she was
The Director of WP agreed that the Director of HR was to
blame but expressed more sympathy towards her. Asked why
the university failed to get it right, she said: “It was Y, you
know. It’s the way she worked. She just wasn’t somebody who
worked well with other people ... She was so overloaded that
when it came to it she had to produce something ... There
seemed to be lots of cases of staff who were kind of making
complaints against other members of and HR having to get
involved. I can’t remember, but it was kind of thirty, forty indi-
vidual cases. I mean, it was amazing. You wouldn’t have be-
lieved it. I remember at one point Y produced this kind of paper
of all the ongoing work, and it was huge. But it did range from
very, very serious big things, you know, through to more triv-
ial... At the end of the day there was nobody at Directorate level
saying. Th is matter s, we must get this right, and pass other stuff
down the line”.
While the response of senior staff was to blame the Director
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 101
of HR for the university’s ignominious failure, there is some
recognition in the quotations above that an individualistic ex-
planation is insufficient. The PVC referred to the Governors,
and it was the governing body that signed off the policy and
plan “that so patently fail[ed] to satisfy the requirements of the
legislation” (John, 2003: p. 5). The Chair of EOWG referred to
EOWG, and it was indeed the case that this body lacked suffi-
cient authority or expertise to challenge the Director of HR.
The Director of WP referred to the Directorate, and it was in-
deed the case that the Director of HR was not effectively man-
aged or supported by her line manager. Unfortunately, the PVC
who was her line manager became seriously ill in January 2003
and never returned to work. Although an Acting PVC and later
a newly appointed PVC took over line management responsi-
bilities, the Director of HR was not given the requisite help at
Directorate level to identify priorities. One writer has argued
that “the [race equality] documents were produced by individu-
als in situations of extreme pressure” (Ahmed, 2007: p. 592). If
this was true across the sector, it was particularly true at Mid-
It is helpful to do a thought experiment. As one commentator
points out, “Few, if any, governing bodies would adopt a ‘take
it or leave it’ attitude to health and safety legislation, public
indemnity insurance legislation or, increasingly these days,
sexual harassment legislation” (John, 2003: p. 5). As for the
Directorate and Senior Executive Team (SET), it is unlikely
that such a hands off approach would have been taken towards
issues relating to quality assurance, given an impending institu-
tional review from the QAA. In fact, great care was taken to
ensure that the illness of the PVC’s did not impact on quality
assurance. It seems evident that, for both the governing body
and senior management, the development of a race equality
policy and action plan was not considered a priority.
It is difficult not to conclude that an adequate explanation for
the failure of the university to develop a satisfactory race equal-
ity policy and implementation plan must therefore move be-
yond the level of the individual and even the level of govern-
ance arrangements to that of the institution as a whole. We saw
earlier, in the university’s response to previous initiatives, that
there was reluctance at the university to address race issues.
The failure to produce an appropriate race equality policy and
plan was thus the latest example of a knee jerk reaction to sub-
sume race under another agenda and thus to deprioritise race
equality. Midshire University is unlikely to be the only univer-
sity to do this. For, as I have argued elsewhere, universities in
the UK are typically characterised by the “sheer weight of
whiteness” which blinds senior managers and academics to
racial inequalities in their midst (Pilkington, 2013).
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