Staff departures spark race row

College principal agrees to inquiry to test procedures. Joe Clancy reports

A race row has erupted at a college where two black vice-principals have left in acrimonious circumstances within two years.

The Commission for Racial Equality called on Croydon college in south London to hold an inquiry into its race relations procedures following complaints from staff. Now the principal, Mariane Cavalli, has agreed to an independent review at the 100-year-old college.

Chris Mullard, chairman of Notting Hill Carnival Limited, is leading the investigation, with former CRE chairman Lord Herman Ouseley acting as an adviser.

Professor Mullard said both vice-principals will be interviewed as part of his inquiry. "We will be seeking to establish whether racism is an institutional feature of college life," he added.

One vice-principal, Trevor Gordon, quit his job after being employed by the college for less than a year. He said: "If you are a black vice-principal and your boss doesn't support you in the management of your staff, you are dead. I felt I was being undermined in my dealings with heads of department and I resigned. I have been in further education for 20 years and this was my first job as vice-principal. It has put me off working in colleges for life."

The second to go was Conchita Henry, currently on "gardening leave". She refused to talk about her departure. It is believed a financial settlement she agreed with the college is subject to a gagging order.

Ms Henry was quality manager at Lewisham college when she was headhunted for Croydon. She was a founder member of the General Teaching Council for England, nominated by the Association of Colleges.

The Network of Black Managers has supported staff at the college who have lodged complaints. Its executive director Robin Landman said: "We have concerns about race equality procedures at Croydon college. That is evidenced by the fact that they have had two black senior members of staff leave in rapid succession. It is also amplified by the fact that there are allegations of malpractice by rank and file teaching staff. The college may not have followed normal human resources procedures."

The CRE said: "We received complaints about race equality practices at the college. We made enquiries and advised the college to carry out an independent review, which they agreed to do."

Mr Gordon set up a consultancy advising the FE sector about equality and diversity after quitting Croydon. His business turned over pound;113,000 last year. He said: "The sector is crying out for ethnic minority staff to get into senior management positions, but they are prevented from succeeding unless they are prepared to compromise their dignity and morals."

Ms Cavalli is among the highest- paid principals in the country, on a salary and other remunerations in the region of pound;120,000. She joined Croydon four years ago, succeeding Stella Mbubaegbu, who went on to become the first black woman principal in the country at Highbury college, Portsmouth.

Croydon college refused to comment, referring enquiries to Professor Mullard.

Black leadership 2

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