A University of Oxford leader has told a Glasgow employment tribunal that  “only white men” turn down academic duties that “don’t lead to promotion”.

Professor Jonathan Michie OBE, a leading economist and Pro-Vice-Chancellor, said that historically, it wasn’t unusual for men to be handed research opportunities that were “brilliant for CVs” and likely to lead to a step up in their careers.

He added: “I’m slightly embarrassed to say that happened to me.”

Prof Michie, who is President of Kellogg College, was asked by Jeanette Findlay to act as a referee for her application to become a professor of economics at the University of Glasgow  in 2020. 

She is suing the university claiming direct and indirect discrimination led to her application being unsuccessful.


Ms Findlay, who was made a professor of economics at the Adam Smith Business School earlier this month, claims the criteria used to decide promotions requires out-of-hours work and freedom to travel which is more difficult for women, like her, who have caring responsibilities.

She said male applicants were offered informal mentoring in advance of the promotions round but she was not.

READ MORE: 'Shameful' failings over women in senior roles at Scots university 

Prof Michie said he believed there was “no intrinsic reason" why her promotion shouldn’t succeed. He described the university’s promotion criteria as, “narrow and restrictive.

He told the employment tribunal he believed that Ms Findlay met the qualifications to become a professor in 2020 but had been rejected by the institution because of its “old-fashioned” promotions system.

He said the University of Glasgow’s requirement of high levels of “esteem”, which can be measured by published work and travelling for research papers, was emphasised more than at other institutions.

Cross-examined by the university’s lawyer, Neil Maclean, he said it was the responsibility of heads of department to allocate duties to academics and said it was his experience that,“the only people who have ever refused [work] are white men.”

He added: “Some of them just want to go to the library and write and get published.” 

Mr Michie said that historically male academics applying for promotion would be asked what they plan to achieve in the next ten years while women would be asked “if they were planning to have babies.”

He added: “Sadly I imagine there are some heads of dept who are still pretty old school while they are others who go the extra mile. Most are somewhere in between.

READ MORE: University boss admits female academic 'treated unfairly' in promotions round

“In the past men would be given research type roles and women would be asked to sort out the teaching. That’s been part of the historic problem.

"Work they [women] were given was time consuming.” 

He said it was now standard practice for research opportunities to be offered to everyone by email but said “some universities and some departments will do it better than others.”

He said  gender imbalance amongst  professors was worse in economics than in many other disciplines.  

The university’s lawyer said the Adam Smith Business School was Athena Swan accredited, a UK accreditation scheme that celebrates good practice in higher education towards the advancement of gender equality.

Earlier, the tribunal heard from James Conroy, Vice-Principal (Internationalisation) at the University of Glasgow who was appointed to oversee Ms Findlay's grievance after she was rejected for promotion.

She was unhappy that he suggested there were "other routes" to promotion through learning and teaching despite her having a higher grant income for research than most economists and 'four star' publications.

The tribunal continues.