Birmingham UCU has called on Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir David Eastwood to set the record straight over the LGBT charity Stonewall’s involvement in the University of Birmingham’s decision to establish their controversial new campus in Dubai. The campus trade union made the call after Stonewall explicitly rejected Professor Eastwood’s claim that Stonewall “strongly encouraged us to go into Dubai”.
Faced with serious criticism from staff, students and politicians over its Dubai plans, the University has frequently referred to the advice it receives from Stonewall and its supposed adoption of an ’embassy model’ of equality and diversity as evidence that the Dubai campus is consistent with Birmingham’s stated values. At the 2018 Vice-Chancellor Question Time event, Sir David Eastwood even went as far as to say: “[Stonewall] strongly encouraged us to go into Dubai”.
Serious questions for Stonewall to answer
- Does Stonewall provide equalities validation outside of LGBTQ+?
- Did Stonewall ‘strongly encourage’ the University of Birmingham to go into Dubai?
- Does the University’s campus in Dubai meet the requirements of an ‘Embassy model’?
- Is the University’s documentation as clear as you would expect on LGBTQ+ issues in Dubai?
- Is it acceptable for advertised vacancies at the University of Birmingham to require staff to ‘want’ to go to Dubai given the likely discrimination against LGBTQ+?
Slow and limited response from Stonewall
After months of chasing Stonewall for a response to the letter, Birmingham UCU finally received a limited response from Pete Mercer, the charity’s Head of Global Partnerships, on 24 September, failing to directly answer any of the questions that were put to them.
Please accept my apologies for the accumulative time it’s taken to come back to you substantively and thank you for your patience. I acknowledge that the time period has been extensive.
As I had indicated in a previous email to you, we were hoping to discuss the matter on a joint call – however, the university has declined this.
Regarding the central subject of your enquiry, it’s important to clarify that the decision to open a campus in Dubai was the University of Birmingham’s alone. When subsequently developing guidance for staff working or travelling to the campus, the University engaged with us and used our tools and resources to take a strategic and structured approach to LGBT inclusion in Dubai.
As members of Stonewall’s Global Diversity Champions programme, the University has taken a proactive approach to considering equality and diversity when establishing the Dubai campus. Specifically, the main priority throughout has been to embed consideration for staff and student safety into operations.
Any further concerns you have that extend beyond Stonewall’s remit I would suggest you raise with your colleagues at the University.
Head of Global Partnerships
Pete Mercer, Stonewall’s Head of Global Partnerships, writes: “the decision to open a campus in Dubai was the University of Birmingham’s alone.” This is an explicit rejection of Professor Eastwood’s controversial claim that Stonewall “strongly encouraged us to go into Dubai”.
The rest of the message implicitly rejects the idea that Stonewall have provided any validation of the policies and practices of the University in Dubai, merely noting that “the University engaged with us and used our tools and resources”. The praise for “a strategic and structured approach to LGBT inclusion” and a “proactive approach to considering equality and diversity” is also carefully worded to avoid any validation for the products of those approaches.
It is also striking that Stonewall are not prepared to say whether the University’s campus in Dubai meets the requirement of its ’embassy model’, which is described in the ‘Equality and Diversity in Dubai’ document as:
The embassy approach means that – whatever the legal, social and cultural norms of the operating country – we will provide a working and learning environment based on equality, dignity and respect for all, and will expect all members of our community to adhere to those values in their interactions with each other. If members of our community feel they are being treated unfairly on the grounds of any of the characteristics listed in the Charter, they will have recourse to the same grievance and complaints procedures.
Stonewall also avoid taking a view on whether job vacancies based in the UK which require staff to ‘want’ to go to Dubai presents discrimination issues for LGBT+ people. In the absence of a clear answer, this appears to be at odds with Stonewall’s position that “LGBTQ+ employees will not suffer a career detriment if they decline a posting”.
Time for Professor Eastwood to set the record straight
In response to Stonewall’s email, a spokesperson for Birmingham UCU said: “While we’re disappointed with Stonewall’s slow and partial response to the serious concerns we raised with them in March, it is clear from the email that they are keen to distance themselves from the claims Vice-Chancellor Eastwood and the University of Birmingham’s senior management team have made about Stonewall’s role in the controversial Dubai campus.
“Now that Stonewall has distanced itself from Professor Eastwood’s 2018 claim that they “strongly encouraged us to go into Dubai”, we call on the University of Birmingham and Professor Eastwood to correct this statement. Failure to do so will mean staff, students and the wider public will continue to incorrectly believe Stonewall were fully behind the University’s decision to establish the controversial Dubai campus, when in fact the LGBT charity has been acting in a resource-providing capacity after management had already independently arrived at their decision.
“We also continue to call on the University management to enter into meaningfully discussions with ourselves and the other campus trade unions to ensure that we can address the serious concerns staff, students and the wider public have about the Dubai campus.”