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£554k university chief keeps her job after issuing apologies following bullying probe

£554k university chief keeps her job after issuing ‘whole-hearted apologies’ following bullying probe into ‘vipers’ nest’ at Imperial College London

  • Professor Alice Gast  keeps her job as president of Imperial College London
  • She was investigated over ‘an alleged culture of bullying and harassment’
  • Dozens of academics and other staff gave evidence via Zoom over the summer

Britain’s best-paid university boss has avoided the sack after being investigated over ‘an alleged culture of bullying and harassment’.

Professor Alice Gast – on a £554,000 annual package as president of Imperial College London – yesterday issued ‘whole-hearted apologies’ over claims her behaviour led to ‘disfunction in governance and reputational damage’.

Founded in 1907, the institution has been granted millions in Government funds to work on a Covid vaccine but has been rocked by claims of ‘brutal’ mistreatment of staff and a ‘vipers’ nest’ environment.

Professor Alice Gast was investigated over ‘an alleged culture of bullying and harassment’

It is also the workplace of Professor Neil Ferguson, whose controversial virus modelling was crucial in the first lockdown.  

Jane McNeill QC was brought in to investigate the whistleblowing claims against Professor Gast, 62, and two lieutenants in June as Imperial led the battle against the virus.

It is understood dozens of academics and other staff gave evidence via Zoom over several days in the summer after being assured they would suffer no ‘detriment’ for speaking out.

They are said to have complained about being publicly belittled and accused of incompetence by Professor Gast, with some even needing to sign off sick due to the ‘toxic’ environment. 

Imperial College London  has been granted millions in Government funds to work on a Covid vaccine

Imperial College London  has been granted millions in Government funds to work on a Covid vaccine 

One source told the Mail: ‘You are either in with her crowd, one of her favourites, or you are not, and if you are not you can be dealt with pretty brutally.

‘Senior staff have been branded “hopeless” and reduced to tears. It is like working in a vipers’ nest.’

They claimed that up to 40 people had given evidence in the probe which also examined bullying claims going back two years. 

The Mail understands it did make adverse findings against Professor Gast but the university has refused to reveal their extent or publish the report.

Imperial says it has ‘zero tolerance’ towards bullying and harassment. 

All incidents are ‘taken seriously and could provide grounds for disciplinary action that may lead to dismissal’.

Professor Alice Gast is the president of Imperial College London

Professor Alice Gast is the president of Imperial College London 

But in Professor Gast’s case, a disciplinary panel decided her dismissal was not called for, the Mail has established.

After the paper’s inquiries, the college’s Chair of Council John Allan sent an email to staff on Friday described as ‘tin-eared’ and ‘ridiculous’ by critics.

He wrote that he was ‘more confident than ever that Imperial has the right leadership. Alice Gast and her team continue to do an incredible job’.

Mr Allan said the results of the ‘rigorous, thorough and independent investigation’ would be kept secret but included several recommendations. 

Chair of Council John Allan

Chair of Council John Allan

He did not say what they were or how they would benefit staff.

Documents seen by the Mail reveal that the basis of the probe was ‘an alleged culture of bullying and harassment and the bullying and harassment of individuals’. 

One confidential letter said: ‘The allegations are made against the president, the president’s chief of staff and the chief financial officer. 

‘A consequential disfunction in governance and reputational damage are alleged.’ Regulators at the Office for Students can sanction institutions which do not have ‘fit and proper’ leaders but has said it could not comment on active investigations.

Professor Gast was born in Texas and has a background in engineering. 

Besides her lavish pay package, she has also attracted controversy for large expenses claims. 

In April, she said she would take a 20 per cent pay cut for six months because of the pandemic.

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