‘Gypo’ memo gets music lecturer wrongly sacked

A lecturer at the Royal Academy of music was sacked after describing violinists of the orchestra as ‘gypos’. The tribunal ruled that the lecturer was wrongly fired and awarded Francesca Carpos a £180,000 pay out.

Carpos, a celebrated bassoonist was fired from her post at the London College of Music in November 2017 after she sent a memo to her 800 students on how to earn a good reputation. The memo backfired on her.

The memo claimed that slang used for orchestra ‘tribes’ often included phrases such as ‘gypos’ for violinists and ‘pond life’ for string players. Dr Carpos, aged 59, also advised her students on how to fit in and achieve bookings by saying that they should go to the pub, play golf and bridge, join social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and be ‘clubbable’. They should also bring a corkscrew on tour.

After the memo had been circulated around the campus 58 students signed an open letter about the establishment of a student-led working group for equality and diversity.

The letter stated that Dr Carpos was accused of encouraging the development of a toxic environment in which musicians were complicit in the harassment of colleagues as well as being discriminatory against some students. Carpos was dismissed immediately.

Following a lengthy battle, the tribunal ruled that Carpos had been wrongly dismissed from her position as lecturer and awarded her £186,181.

Dr Carpos defended herself by saying that there had been an outpouring of hysteria from some of the student body. They had found some of the points she had made in her notes to be offensive. The notes had been lecture notes and not advice notes.

What happened next, Carpos said, was chilling. Senior management was so ineffective in dealing with the students’ reactions, and behaved as if employment law did not exist. She was dismissed immediately for gross misconduct. The dismissal humiliated her and had a detrimental impact on both her professional and personal life.

Dr Carpos went on to say that she considered herself to be an advocate for diversity and equality in the music industry, but she found that she had been labelled as a person who warranted instant dismissal and who held racist views. No one at the Royal Academy of Music had shown any common sense or apologised to her.

Carpos said that the students’ response had been one of over-reaction, extreme political correctness along with a sense of humour failure and a lack of common sense.

While Carpos was pleased with the result of the tribunal ruling, she admitted she had spent a difficult year in a legal battle for ludicrous reasons and had spent a huge amount of money in the process. The whole issue had been entirely senseless and a waste of money.

Tribunal chairwoman Judge Sarah Goodman commented that Dr Carpos’ words had been used out of context. While they were ironic in tone, they had been intended to convey the situation in which musicians and singers would find themselves in when looking for work and building their careers. The memo as designed to inform them on how to behave in the precarious world of sessional bookings.

Included in the notes was advice from Dr Carpos on how students on tour should have the ability to read a map without the use of the Satnav, wear earplugs and avoid complaining about noise. She also advised them to ‘look young, up-together and cool in rehearsals, and smart in concerts because they were living in a superficial and ageist world.’

Carpos said that slang terms were often used when referring to musicians. These included words such as ‘kiss of death’ meaning talking to the conductor, ‘squeaky’ for contemporary music and ‘heavy metal’ for brass players.

The Royal Academy of Music declined to comment.


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