Adam Habib cleared, investigation finds 'use of N-word did not in itself make him a racist'

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Adam Habib.
Adam Habib.
Felix Dlangamandla
  • Professor Adam Habib will be resuming his duties as the director of the University of London's School of African and Oriental Studies from next week. 
  • Habib came under fire in March for using the N-word during a meeting with students.
  • He stepped aside while the institution investigated allegations of racism. 

Adam Habib will resume his duties as the director of the University of London's School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS).

An independent external investigation found he should stay on, with a restorative justice approach in place.

The former Wits vice-chancellor had come under fire in March for using the N-word during a meeting with students.

Habib, who had only been in the position since January, stepped aside while the institution investigated allegations of racism against him.

READ | Adam Habib steps aside as SOAS director

The chairperson of the Board of Trustees, Marie Staunton, said it met on Tuesday and accepted in full the recommendations of the independent external investigation.

"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 apologized."

She added 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 the N-word in full, while trying to say that using the word offensively is unacceptable, did not in itself make him a racist," Staunton said.

She acknowledged the pain and distress caused to many and thanked everyone for their engagement with the independent investigation.

"We are taking this opportunity to apologise again to all those who have been so affected and distressed by these events."

READ | Academics, writers support Habib, slam 'woke culture'

One of the recommendations was to put in place a restorative justice approach for the meeting of 11 March, and events arising from it.

Other recommendations were:

- Developing, as recommended, a clear policy for the SOAS community on the use of the n-word;

- Continuing to take forward the process of dialogue between the SOAS community of staff & students and SOAS leadership;

- Providing specific advice and support for the Director on equality, diversity issues in the Higher Education sector;

- Producing in due course a statement from the Board on lessons learned from this experience and regular reporting to the SOAS community.

"With the understanding that all these actions are being put in place, Professor Adam Habib will be resuming his duties as director from Monday, 10 May. 

On 12 March, Habib apologised to students and staff, saying he recognised the hurt and distress his use of the N-word had caused.

Habib explained the context, saying: 
During the meeting, a student questioned SOAS' responsiveness to anti-black racism and suggested that a staff member had used the word without consequences. I responded: 'If someone used the word [N-word] against another staff member, then it would violate our policy and action would be taken.'

"I apologised, saying no offence had been intended, and reiterated that if the word was used against another person, it would be a disciplinary offence as it would violate our policies. Nevertheless, I recognise that, despite the context, many in our community were offended and hurt by the term. And, for this, I apologise unreservedly.

"I am sorry to have caused this controversy, and I am keen to work with the whole school in addressing the issues which will enable SOAS to achieve its mission in both the national and global community."

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