A taxpayer-funded charity that runs a prestigious art school in Rome has been accused of breaching its duty of care after allegations of mismanagement, a ‘toxic’ work environment and working practices unfair.
The British School at Rome (BSR) launched an investigation after 24 staff, former employees and alumni complained about the charity’s operations in April 2020 to its trustees. Staff were alleged to be suffering from ‘physical and mental health issues’ due to poor working conditions.
It is alleged that a ‘grievances committee’ set up by the charity’s trustees to investigate claims was suspended before reporting its findings. The charity said last week it had carried out a “full, independent and confidential” investigation.
BSR was established in 1901 and is housed in a neoclassical building in Rome designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Alumni include Turner Prize winners Elizabeth Price and Mark Wallinger. It receives more than half of its funding from the British Academy, which is supported by a grant from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
A two-page complaint drafted in April 2020 was sent to the charity’s board, whose members are its trustees. The board is chaired by Mark Getty, a member of the Getty family’s oil dynasty and co-founder of the Getty Images media company.
The complaint seen by the Observer said there were serious concerns at the school about mismanagement, unfair labor practices and allegedly demeaning language toward some female employees. The letter complained of a “toxic” and “divisive” working atmosphere.
The document stated: “Since July 2019, a number of administrators have been approached and these issues have been brought to their attention, but nothing positive has come of it. People should have the opportunity to express themselves in a safe and protected environment.
In a case of allegedly unfair working conditions, a veteran arts researcher who lived at the school and spoke to the Observer said she had to act as a ‘concierge’ on some nights and was given a torch and a high-visibility vest to patrol the premises.
She said: ‘I actually found a naked man in the amphitheater on a Saturday night and had to deal with that. I think he was on drugs. When she complained that after-hours duties weren’t in her contract, she says she was told she wouldn’t get her vacation leave unless she took it. agrees to do the work outside working hours. The researcher was fired after refusing to work outside working hours, but claims she pursued an unfair dismissal case in the Rome courts and received compensation as part of a settlement.
The board overseeing the charity commissioned an independent review in June 2020. The committee recommended forming a grievance committee and also identified a ‘very urgent’ need for staff to have access to advice and support in terms of human resources.
A grievance committee made up solely of solicitors appointed by the BSR was conducted with hearings in July 2020. In September of the same year, 37 staff, former employees and former pupils wrote to the British Academy, complaining of they were not informed of any of the committee’s findings and the charity had ‘failed in its duty of care’.
The British Academy and the BSR have reviewed the governance of the association. Reforms have been proposed, including a new code of conduct, the formation of a leadership team and a new approach to diversity and inclusion. The British Academy reported to complainants in June 2021 that the board had “decided to suspend the operations of the Grievances Committee despite the absence of any resolution of the issues brought before it”.
The charity, which has around 30 staff, said last week that all of the review’s recommendations had been implemented. He said he could not fully respond to specific requests due to confidentiality agreements, but no staff members were disciplined.
He said he consulted with staff last summer about the grievance committee and the board concluded it was appropriate to consider the proceedings closed. He said no researchers were asked to act as janitors, but residential staff had shared duties for out-of-hours emergencies. Since the spring of 2020, a professional security service had been in place, the association said. An HR manager was appointed in 2021.
Mark Getty, Chairman of the Board of BSR, said: “I am confident that with an improved framework for BSR’s governance and a dynamic new leadership, BSR is now well placed to grow the UK’s creative and academic presence. in Italy.
The British Academy said it was not within its purview to investigate specific employee complaints, but said it was confident the issues identified in its governance review were “ongoing”.
Professor Stephen Milner, director of the association at the time of the complaints, left at the end of his secondment in January 2021. Milner, Serena Professor of Italian at the University of Manchester, said last week that the BSR would respond to the question.