SOAS University boss resumes role after using the N-word

Probe finds School of African Studies University boss is not racist and can resume role after students tried to force him out for using N-word in video call where he told them to report lecturers for using racial slur

  • Professor Adam Habib had been facing calls to resign after he used the N-word 
  • The Soas director used the word during a video meeting with students in March  
  • An investigation ruled that his vocalisation of the word did not make him racist 

A university director who had faced calls to resign after he used the N-word in a video meeting will keep his job after students campaigned to get him sacked.

The director of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, Professor Adam Habib, had said the word as he explained that action would be taken against staff who use it.

But it sparked outrage among student at the university, who set up a petition calling for the removal, resignation or dismissal of Mr Habib within 31 days.

They claimed his actions were ’emblematic of the experience that black students go through at SOAS’ and accused the university of failing to address black students’ concerns.

He issued an apology and stepped down just weeks into the job, but will now resume his role following an investigation into allegations of ‘anti-black conduct’ at the institution. 

Professor Adam Habib, 56, (pictured) had said the word as he explained that action would be taken against staff who use it

Prof Habib had been discussing students’ concerns about lecturers historically using the slur without repercussions.

The 56-year-old, who is of Indian descent, said during the webinar: ‘The issue around that… firstly, on the n*****, somebody making that allegation, then bring it to me.

‘I don’t know the case, this is the first I’ve heard of it.’ 

One of his students cut him off, telling him: ‘Adam, that’s not acceptable to be saying that in a meeting.’

Another student said that they had taken offence to its use before Mr Habib replied: ‘You do? Well, I don’t actually. I come from a part of the world where we actually do use the word… The context matters.’

Prof Habib, who only started in the role in January, will resume his duties as SOAS director from May 10 after the investigation ruled that his vocalisation of the word did not make him racist.

However, a restorative justice process will be adopted after the report was critical of the director’s response to students at the meeting and on Twitter.

In March, Prof Habib agreed to step aside while an external investigation into complaints received about anti-blackness at the institution was underway.

He issued an apology for using the racial slur in a student meeting, but he said he only used it while explaining that action would be taken against its use.

The board of trustees at SOAS have accepted in full the recommendations of the independent external investigation into the all-student meeting in March.

Students at the university (pictured) set up a petition calling for the removal, resignation or dismissal of Mr Habib

The 56-year-old (pictured centre), who is of Indian descent, used the racial slur during a webinar

A clear policy for the SOAS community on the use of the N-word will be developed by the board – and the university will provide specific advice for the director on equality and diversity issues in the sector.

Marie Staunton, chair of the board of trustees, said: ‘I want to be clear especially on the use of the N-word: the report notes that the director spoke the word in full while trying to say that it should not be used within the SOAS community, and that he has since acknowledged that speaking the word in full was a mistake, for which he has apologised.

‘The report was nonetheless critical of his response to students at the meeting and in his subsequent tweets. The report found that Professor Habib’s mistake of vocalising of the N-word in full, while trying to say that using the word offensively is unacceptable, did not in itself make him a racist.’ 

In a statement, Prof Habib said: ‘I want to again apologise to all the Soas community for my conduct, for the offence and hurt, and for the disruption this has caused.

‘I reiterate my commitment to act against all forms of racism, and to work with the Soas community in identifying and fashioning specific interventions to address the exclusionary experiences of black people and other communities within the institution.

‘There is a lot to do to rebuild from this. There is action to be taken to address racism and anti-blackness. I believe we can and should do this together.

‘I understand why some in our community will take a long time to trust me. I promise I will do all I can to re-earn your trust and respect.’

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