Letter to Baroness Royall regarding Unconscious Bias Training at Somerville College

Former Somerville student Margaret Thatcher

One of our members, a student at Somerville College, Oxford, contacted us after receiving an email form the College Principal, Baroness Royall, informing them that all students at Somerville were required to take an unconscious bias training course and score 100% in the course assessment. Our member was understandably anxious that if they refused to take this course, or scored less than 100%, they might face disciplinary action.

We wrote to Lady Royall, pointing out that insisting our member take this course could be a breach of their contract with the College and, further, that requiring them to get a perfect score in the course assessment, since it involved them answering at least one of the questions in a way they believed to be false, is a breach of the Human Rights Act 1996 and the Equalities Act 2010.

Baroness Royall replied to our letter, acknowledging that she had made a mistake. “On reflection, it has been agreed that completing the test with less than 100% will be seen as the opportunity for a chat about the issues involved, nothing more.” She continued: “I am happy to confirm that there was never even the slightest question of disciplinary action following a student not completing the test or scoring less than 100%.”

We are grateful that Baroness Royall has dropped the requirement that all students must achieve a perfect score on the assessment, but we do not think she has gone far enough. We will shortly respond to her letter, asking that she make it clear to our member – and, by extension, all Somerville students – that the training course is optional, and their performance in the assessment will by anonymised so there is no question of their being summoned for a “chat” if they score less than 100%.

Stop Press: The Dail Mail has published a story about this episode headlined: “What would the Iron Lady say? Margaret Thatcher’s old Oxford college Somerville makes all students take an ‘unconscious bias’ test… until outcry over free speech forces it to U-turn.”

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