March 10, 2009
Kingston University has engaged the services of a London Top 50 law firm to press its complaint to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) against a former staff member, Dr Howard Fredrics, after he registered the domain name, sirpeterscott.com. Although the domain has been in active use for more than two years, the University has only recently taken action to wrest control of the domain name from its owner, after the website, http://www.sirpeterscott.com posted documentary evidence of alleged wrongdoing by the University and a number of staff members, including, Sir Peter Scott.
The site, which has received over 300,000 hits, was the first to reveal recorded evidence of senior staff members in the Psychology Department at the University presurizing students to falsify their 2008 responses to the National Student Survey in order to raise Kingston University's standing in the League Tables, a ranking system developed by the UK Government that is linked with levels of funding and which has become an important public relations and marketing tool for many UK universities.
Despite confirmed reports that University officials, including its Vice-Chancellor, were informed of this widespread practice at the University, Sir Peter Scott issued repeated public denials that he was aware that this incident was anything more than a one-off. The Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) later found Kingston guilty of the alleged offense and ordered the University's Psychology Department removed from the 2008-09 League Table results.
The site was also the first source to reveal efforts by the now defunct School of Music at the University to pressurize one of its External Examiners into changing her damning 2004 report of the School's standards. The Surrey Comet and BBC have both since reported the fact that the Examiner did, indeed, change her report to be less critical in response to efforts by the School's administration, including BMus Course Director, Gloria Toplis, MA Course Director, Mike Searby and then Acting Head of School, Carol Gartrell to convince her that the School's survival would be placed in jeopardy if an accurate report were to be published.
Dr Fredrics reported this clear breach of ethics to the HEFCE, who then forwarded the complaint to the UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). The QAA conducted an investigation into the allegations under its Cause for Concern procedures and concluded that the allegations should be upheld in full. In October, 2008, Chief Executive, Peter Williams released details of QAA's findings to a Parliamentary Select Committee as part of its inquiry into standards in British higher education.
Although Dr Fredrics presented and published substantial documentary evidence of the hatching and actioning of a plan to presurize the External Examiner, Kingston University has continued to deny the authenticity of the evidence, despite the fact that press accounts by the BBC report that the Examiner, herself, confirmed the facts cited in the allegations.
The site also refers to allegations of witness intimidation and harassment by the University, its senior officials, and its lawyers, Charles Russell Solicitors, with evidence suggesting, among other things, that Sir Peter Scott authorized or was aware of efforts to send threatening letters to Dr Fredrics, his wife and his solicitor in connection with efforts to suppress recorded evidence gathered by Mrs Fredrics that suggested improper conduct by the University's Board of Governors and Vice-Chancellor during an internal University grievance appeal process. According to Court documents published on the site, the University Secretary, Donald Beaton sent a series of threatening and intimidating letters demanding that Dr and Mrs Fredrics turn over all existing copies of the evidence under threat of criminal prosecution and civil penalties.
The complaint to WIPO refers to Dr Fredrics' site as containing 'defamatory' and 'insulting' material, however the University has not filed Court action alleging defamation, copyright or trademark infringement. Dr Fredrics maintains that the material on the site, which is drawn principally from documentary evidence, including audio recordings, published press accounts, court documents, and witness statements, is not defamatory, that it contains 'Fair Use' parodies, and that it represents an effort to present vital information in the public interest.
The complaint by Kingston University represents the opening of a new battlefront in the ongoing war between employers, who want to defend their ability to silence 'rogue' employees, and whistleblowers, who continue to strive to defend their right to expose wrongdoing without fear of reprisal. A decision by WIPO is pending and could result in the forced shut down of the website and seizure of its domain name.