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Issue 1794 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

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Sandergone - Controversial CFO at Imperial no Muir

Muir Sanderson, the CFO and “de-facto COO” of Imperial College London, has resigned.

Icl Cfo 027 105121 001 Photo: Imperial College London


in Issue 1794

Muir Sanderson, the CFO and “de-facto COO” of Imperial College London, has resigned.

Sanderson sent an email to all College students and staff on Tuesday morning announcing that he will resign, his last day being the 31st of August. This leaves a notice period of just over six months.

Soon after, it was clarified by Council Chair John Allan that Sanderson will immediately cease his duties as CFO and will remain in post “to assist in handover and support the College” until his leaving date.

The announcement follows the release of a redacted version of the infamous “bullying report” on February 3rd, investigated and authored by retired lawyer and QC Jane McNeill. The report, released with all details that could lead to the identification of any of the witnesses omitted, outlined the behaviours of Sanderson and College President Alice Gast surrounding allegations that they bullied staff members on multiple occasions near the beginning of the pandemic.

The report showed Sanderson to have acted in a way widely perceived to be worse than Gast. Specifically, the report concludes, without giving specific detail, “there are behaviours that cross the line between strong management and bullying (MS [Muir Sanderson] only), aggressive behaviours (MS only) and the use of inappropriate and offensive language (MS only)”.

Examples included in the report include Sanderson using the phrase “leave the plantation”, though context for this has been redacted. It also says that a comment, made by a now ex-employee of the College, about a “one-armed black lesbian” was treated “as a joke” by Sanderson.

Overall, the report describes Sanderson’s behaviour as undermining, condescending, offensive, aggressive, intimidating, distressing, disparaging, excluding, disrespectful, humiliating and abhorrent. 

The news means that Sanderson joins President Alice Gast in leaving the College near the middle of 2022. In the 2017/18 academic year it was decided that Alice Gast’s term length would be extended to 1st August 2022, taking her total tenure to 8 years.

Despite the report into the bullying allegations specifically stating that the decision for the College Council to send the December 2020 email, which said that they are “more confident than ever that Imperial has the right leadership”, was a judgement call, no wrong-doing has been admitted by the Council.

In his email on Tuesday, Allan notes that the publication of the report has caused “renewed disquiet, frustration and anger across the College community”. It is unlikely these feelings would have been felt if Gast and Sanderson had been asked to resign shortly after the conclusion of the investigation was made, and before anyone in the wider community knew any of the details.

191104 John Allan Chair Council 006 Photo: Imperial College London

Many members of the Imperial community, some of whom have written to or in Felix, have called for the resignation of Gast and Sanderson for over a year, since the report was alluded to at the end of 2020 in an email from the College Council.

Sanderson’s CFO role will be temporarily assumed by the College’s current Director of Financial Management, Tony Lawrence. Allan added in his email that the search for a permanent new CFO will begin shortly.

An anonymous student familiar with Lawrence described him as a “nice guy” and “quite student-friendly”. 

The departures leave the top leadership roles in the College to be filled at roughly the same time, with Hugh Brady taking over the role of President on August 1st 2022.

Allan’s email says the report “leads us to again ask important questions about the sort of institution we want to be and how we work and study together”.

The report highlighted the “perceived problem of power being centred in two or three individuals at the College and the exclusion from the decision-making process of those who should be included in the interest of good governance”.

These factors together could suggest a restructuring of the College leadership to more evenly spread power and “rebuild trust”.

On changes going forward, Allan says “The Council and leadership team, including our next President Hugh Brady, will work with Consuls, student leaders and others throughout the community to deliver changes based on the lessons learned from these events to ensure we realise the culture to which we aspire”.

It is unclear what role Sanderson will move to after leaving Imperial College.

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