Blackstone is accused of racism

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THE EDUCATION Minister Baroness Blackstone was racist and had a poor opinion of Indian university degrees, a mathematics professor told an industrial tribunal yesterday.

Chandra Sharma, retired maths professor at Birkbeck College, University of London, is accusing the university and Lady Blackstone, Master at the college from 1987-97, of racial discrimination.

He told the north London tribunal that he was unfairly overlooked for a merit pay increase in 1997. Indian-born Professor Sharma said he was paid less than his white colleagues, despite having more experience.

He said: "I am the most senior professor and everybody who is paid more than me is white, but they have less service than me. I have the longest publication list of all the professors and I have more letters after my name than anybody else."

Professor Sharma, 65, ofEaling, west London, gained first- class Masters degrees in both chemistry and mathematics at the University of Patna in India, then joined Birkbeck College in 1962 as a mathematics lecturer. He became a professor of applied mathematics in 1979.

The professor, who retired in September on an annual salary of pounds 39,500, told the tribunal he should have been awarded a pay increase above the standard 2 per cent rise in 1997 because of his experience and work.

But Martin Westgate, counsel for the university and Lady Blackstone, said Professor Sharma failed to inform the university's pay review panel of any academic achievement which would have earned him the rise. Mr Westgate said: "What you had to do was identify any significant achievement which you had accomplished since you last received an award."

Professor Sharma agreed he had applied for a merit pay increase but had failed to cite any personal academic achievements. However, he added: "She [Lady Blackstone] should know. I shouldn't have to tell her if she was doing her job properly."

Mr Westgate replied: "It was quite clear that the burden was on you to show the panel any achievement."

Mr Westgate said Professor Sharma was one of the highest-paid professors in the middle- level category of the university's pay structure.

But the professor, who produced and funded his own mathematics journal while at the college, said: "My salary was to be reviewed every year. It is plain that, apart from a ridiculous rise of pounds 250 per annum in 1989, it was never reviewed with any propriety whatsoever by Lady Blackstone."

Earlier, during his 45-minute opening speech, Professor Sharma accused Lady Blackstone of holding a prejudice against his Indian qualifications. He said: "Lady Blackstone saw me and expressed prejudiced opinions on the quality of Indian degrees.

"Lady Blackstone more than seven years later remembered what she had said and reiterated her assertion when I saw her on July 24, 1996 and lost her temper when I said that what she was saying was a clear breach of the Race Relations Act. She raised her voice and told me not to call her racist."

He added: "There were two things she kept repeating. Firstly, that I should give up any expectation of a pay rise and the other was that the Indian degrees were no good."

The tribunal continues today.