In June 2020, an independent investigation was opened in response to whistleblower allegations about workplace bullying and misconduct directed at Alice Gast, Muir Sanderson, and Amanda Wolthuizen - the President, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief of Staff of Imperial College London respectively.
The whistleblower allegations describe a workplace culture of bullying and harassment run by the accused individuals, whose conduct allegedly involved frequent disrespectful and derogatory behaviour towards senior staff members. The independent investigation, commissioned by the Chair of College Council John Allan, was led by Jane McNeil QC and lasted several weeks over the summer. This involved speaking with around 50 individuals across College to collect witness statements and corroborations.
A report was published following the QC’s investigation, which included a compilation of witness statements, a conclusion that verified the claims of bullying and harassment, and recommendations for the organisation. Amanda Wolthuizen, the Chief of Staff, was fully exonerated from the allegations. The report is currently not publicly available to “protect the identities of those who gave evidence”.
Despite the report’s findings and the verified claims of misconduct, the College Council has taken a stance supportive of the current leadership. An email sent by the Chair of College Council to all Imperial staff states that he is “more confident than ever that Imperial has the right leadership”. College Council oversees the appointment of the President and is responsible for arrangements to monitor the President’s performance. However, it is known that the report was distributed only to a fraction of the members on College Council, in addition to the whistleblower and accused individuals.
Council Chair John Allan stated that the recommendations of the report have been “implemented in full” but no further information about the extent of the allegations or the accepted recommendations have been given.
Though the investigation occurred over 5 months ago, Imperial’s students and staff have only recently been made aware of it. On November 24th, Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West, submitted a written question asking the Secretary of State for Education about the Office for Students’ (OfS) response to the investigation’s report. National media outlets have since picked up the news, and an article by the Daily Mail was published on Sunday evening with quotes from sources inside College. After the Daily Mail made inquiries to the College, the Chair of Council sent an email to all staff about the allegations two days before the Daily Mail article would be published, and a similar email was sent by the Provost to all students later that day.
For many weeks prior the College had kept a lid on the matter, leading to accusations from some that the university was engaging in a cover-up. The College claims to be keeping the report private to protect those who were able to speak openly to the QC under conditions of confidentiality. In fact, many senior members of staff claim to have had no knowledge of the situation until Friday and no knowledge of the nature of the allegations.
The Daily Mail article reports that Professor Gast issued ‘whole-hearted apologies’ in response to the allegations. However, only private apologies to the individuals involved have been made, and as yet there has been no official public statement.
The situation has garnered attention from other national news media, such as The Guardian, and Times Higher Education, who both published an article on December 7th about the matter.
Imperial College Union’s Officer Trustees released a public statement on December 7th calling for the College to live up to its ethics of ‘honesty, fairness, and transparency’, and to provide information on how the allegations and recommendations align with College’s zero-tolerance policy on bullying. They ask “whether it would be possible for a redacted version of the report, which protects the identities of those who gave evidence, to be made available publicly.”
A spokesperson for Imperial College London has given the following statement: “The report from this inquiry, which is confidential, made recommendations which the College has fully accepted and is implementing. We will not comment further on this personnel matter.”
An earlier version of this article did not mention that Amanda Wolthuizen was fully exonerated of the allegations made against her.