January 31, 2009

Former PhD student hopes to fund legal action via web

A disaffected student has set up an internet campaign in a bid to raise £20,000 to sue the university where he failed to obtain his PhD.

Paul Jones, 26, who was a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Exeter Business School until last year, claims that unreasonable teaching demands were placed on him and that he received inadequate supervision after his tutor went on sabbatical and left him in charge of a specialist third-year undergraduate teaching module.

His website, student4justice.com, aims to reveal the "darker, less well documented world of academia". It is dedicated to students deemed to be "snotty and litigious" by their universities.

Last year, Mr Jones made an official complaint to the university. He went through all four stages of Exeter's grievance procedure, but his complaints were not upheld. As "a gesture of goodwill", the university has offered to pay a year's tuition fees at another institution to fund the completion of Mr Jones' thesis. It also agreed to pay for the additional work he undertook delivering the module.

But Mr Jones, who says he has been left depressed by the experience and is now unemployed, hopes to raise funds through his website to bring legal action against Exeter for breach of contract.

"This is the only means of recourse I can pursue against the university that will allow me to seek damages, with the ultimate aim of allowing me to continue with my studies at an alternative university," the website claims.

The site, which names all the academics involved, includes extracts from emails and statements Mr Jones said he had uncovered using the Data Protection Act.

One email published on the site, written to colleagues by Steve Brown, head of the university's department of management, warned of "a few 'worried points' on Paul Jones' teaching for the first semester".

"As Paul is a GTA, it would be unwise to let him take entire charge of the module, especially a specialist third-year module, even though I understand it is 'in his area'," Professor Brown wrote.

"My fear is that students are becoming increasingly 'snotty' - litigious even - and I think we need to cover all the angles with this."

He asked Janet Borgerson, a reader in philosophy and management who was responsible for the module that Mr Jones was teaching, to "make sure that Paul is ready to deliver the material on this - he may need more support so that he has course and other material ready.

"I hope this isn't coming across as too paranoid but I just want to make sure that we don't have a bunch of students sending in letters and so on."

Mr Jones hopes his website will "highlight the plight of postgraduate students who are ... neglected or subject to mounting pressure to accept teaching duties traditionally performed by senior academic staff".

In a statement, Exeter said it had looked "in great detail" at Mr Jones' complaints but that none was upheld. "The hearings did not accept that unreasonable teaching demands were placed on Mr Jones without due regard for the likely consequences for his ability to complete his PhD studies," the statement says.

It adds that Mr Jones had been "well qualified" to deliver the module, "given that he was at the time already an experienced graduate teaching assistant".

From: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk

January 28, 2009

...a fudge

Tomorrow there will be an extraordinary meeting of the Board of Governors. Perhaps we will get the truth and Simon Lee [VC of Leeds Met] will be exposed publicly for the psychopath he is. More likely we will witness a fudge. The management team that supported Simon Lee will remain in place and will carry on as before.


January 27, 2009

Cases of political psychology

Southern Illinois University and the American Psychological Association (APA)

In this case, an SIUC faculty member was mobbed by the university administration with the help of some of her departmental colleagues because they disliked her opinions, which were expressed through grievances, guest columns and letters to the editor, speeches, union activism, and by joining in a suit with other faculty members against the board of trustees to protest the firing of a popular chancellor. As a result, her office was moved out of the department and her mail was stolen. Frequent whispering campaigns were held in the hallways by colleagues who quickly scattered behind slammed doors when she was sighted. She was unjustly blamed for negative tenure votes and missing department materials. The nameplate on her door was vandalized and she learned that she was referred to as "the little twerp" by some.

The university administration then hired a licensed psychologist who, the faculty member was told, would conduct counseling and conflict resolution for her deeply divided department, but who instead wrote a report for the administration indicating that the faculty member was destructive and in need of discipline and professional help. The administration disseminated the psychologist's report to over 20 people on the campus.

In this case, the psychologist made an unsubstantiated assessment of the faculty member based solely on what the faculty member's "enemies" had said about her. The psychologist made no effort to verify any of the rumors she had heard and instead wrote them as fact in her reports and made recommendations based on them. As part of the counseling and conflict resolution process, the psychologist also carried on e-mail communication with the faculty member but forwarded this communication to the university's administration without the faculty member's knowledge or permission. The psychologist never told the faculty member that there would be any limits to confidentiality nor did she tell her what process she would be following or that she would be writing reports to the administration. Obviously, if there had been any legitimacy to the psychologist's conclusions and report, the matter would have been handled privately and compassionately by the university's human resources staff.

After complaining about the psychologist, the faculty member was horrified to discover one day that someone was following her car and later saw correspondence between the administration and the psychologist's lawyer-husband suggesting that private investigators be used to seek a way to fire her. Indeed, notes associated with a meeting among university administrators and its chief counsel show that a detailed plan for her termination seemed to be in place.

The faculty member sued the provost, department chair, and psychologist in federal court for conspiring to chill her first amendment rights. She also sued the psychologist for malpractice and filed complaints against the psychologist with the American Psychological Association (APA). The three defendants in the federal lawsuit received legal defense services by the university. The federal lawsuit was settled out of court, with the faculty member receiving a public apology from the university, a year off with pay, and substantial monetary compensation. The malpractice lawsuit against the psychologist is still being prosecuted after five years. The psychologist's position in the claims against her is that consulting psychologists function as management consultants and do not have to follow the APA code of Ethics. Despite having a current state license to practice psychology, serving as head of a university's counseling center at the time, and holding offices in the American Psychological Association, this psychologist essentially didn't consider herself to be a psychologist and seemed to believe that only therapists need to follow ethical codes.

One of the most troubling aspects of this case is the scandalous lack of action by the APA. When the faculty member first filed a complaint with the APA Ethics Office, the Ethics Office opened an investigation and then dismissed it for lack of sufficient evidence. The faculty member then deposed the psychologist and sent the deposition testimony to the most renowned psychologist ethics expert in the U.S. who found numerous serious ethics violations by the psychologist. The faculty member sent the deposition transcript and the expert's report back to the APA and requested that the case be re-opened. This time the evidence was solid. Although the APA technically re-opened the case, it stayed the investigation when the psychologist was elected President of the Consulting Psychology Division of the APA. The APA claimed it was staying the investigation because there was pending litigation; however, it did not stay the investigation the first time, with pending litigation, when there was less evidence available and when the psychologist did not hold a high office. It has been 5 years since the faculty member first filed a complaint with the APA, and to this day, no known disciplinary action has been taken.

January 16, 2009

Is this harassment?

This guy goes around telling his support staff that unless they meet the arbitrary targets he set for them, then their position will become untenable. Is this harassment?


January 15, 2009


Following the increased press coverage of my year long fight with the University of Exeter, I have decided to create this website for three reasons. Firstly, to generate greater awareness of my case and the issues that have not yet been reported by the media. Secondly, to raise funds to bring my case to County Court where I hope to finally receive justice. Thirdly, to highlight the plight of postgraduate students who are either bullied, neglected or subject to mounting pressure to accept teaching duties traditionally performed by senior academic staff.

Read more at: http://www.student4justice.com/

January 14, 2009

Leeds Met VC Resigns

Simon Lee, the vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, has resigned after six years in post... (Read the rest of the article at: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk)

Among the readers' comments about the above resignation, are the following:
  • Anon 14 January, 2009

    Goodbye and good riddance! I hope this will mean the university be a safer, less stressful and pleasant place to work.

  • unfortunately must remain nameless 14 January, 2009

    The culture of Leeds Met IS still rife with bullying mainly because Simon Lee has failed to manage his managers (aka his pitbulls), most of whom are sub-standard middle managers with little or no academic background, little knowledge or interest in academic endeavour, and chips on their shoulders about anyone who is involved in the process of scholarly activity. Hopefully, these are the people who will quickly follow suit, following Simon Lee from Leeds Met in case anyone finds out that their inflated salaries do not match their mediocre skills. Simon Lee is not a bad person but he has installed bad people who have made the culture of the place genuinely unhappy and stressful for many members of staff, and then he has been unwilling or unable to remove or discipline the bullies. I feel cautious about him leaving because I do wonder if anyone will want to take on this mess (finances as well as staff relations) and what calibre of person would accept such a post. However, maybe this means we will no longer have to suffer the affront of daily reflections (in which we often learn what he told us a year ago, or hear about his children's privileged educations) and meaningless insane slogans such as 'rubbing shoulders with champions', which can only be a good thing. I hope we can get back to concentrating on teaching, learning and research rather than 'partnering' sport teams. I, for one, will be relieved not to have sport continuously thrust in my face. In fact, maybe staff development can even be meaningful instead of tea parties, sports people as keynotes, and etiquette lessons. (If only his departure could stop the terrible name change!)

  • Thank God it is over 14 January, 2009

    Many of these posts appear to miss the point. Whether you like the VC's approach or not, or whether you like him as a person or not should not deflect from the fact that he has clearly done a very poor job. There is simply no evidence to support the fact that anything been done has actually enhanced the University in anyway whatsoever. There is plenty of evidence that supports the opposite of course. I work with many staff and students and the fact is that today is seen as a very good day. His tenure as VC has quite simply been a disaster for anyone involved with the University. I only hope that when the truth underneath the spin is revealed there will be something worth saving. Saying you have been a success does not make it so!

Finally tackling the issue...

I see that 'Times Higher Education' is finally tackling the issue head on, they've got a rather interesting blog going that is apparently written by a bullied academic: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=404992&c=1


January 08, 2009

Reviewers raise concerns about RAE gameplaying

The strategic games played by universities to inflate their ratings in the research assessment exercise have been laid bare by the peer-review panels that judged the submissions.

In a series of subject overview reports published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England this week, a number of the panels, which were responsible for assessing research quality in 67 disciplines across 159 institutions, raise concerns. They say that some universities excluded research-active staff from the exercise to artificially "exaggerate" their strengths, while others drafted in research stars on "unusual" contracts who were not fully integrated members of the research team.

David Otley, who chaired the panel that assessed economics, accounting and business and management studies, says in his report: "Some very strong units chose to submit only a proportion of their staff for assessment, despite the encouragement in the criteria for all research-active staff to be submitted."

Because "the panels had no information on the proportion of staff submitted", this meant that some departments "appeared stronger than others solely for this reason".

The business and management studies subpanel says in its report that it "remained concerned ... about the varying degree of selectivity that was apparent in the submissions".

"Although this knowledge was not used in making assessments, it is clear that some submissions included a very small proportion of academic staff from some institutions. This selectivity probably exaggerates the strengths of some institutions."

Unlike in previous RAEs, the Higher Education Statistics Agency was not able to release data showing the proportion of eligible academics left out of the 2008 RAE because of complaints that the guidance on eligibility for submission was unclear. This meant that there was no measure of "research intensity" in departments, prompting claims that the RAE results failed to show the true picture of research.

Times Higher Education understands that some RAE panels penalised perceived gamesmanship by giving a low ranking in the "esteem" and "research environment" assessment categories to departments they believed had submitted a low proportion of their staff. These categories will be published in RAE "subprofiles" in the spring.

The panels' reports also contain concerns about the recruitment of research stars. The subpanel on sociology is "struck by the fact that a few departments placed a great reliance on the presence of highly esteemed academics on fractional contracts or other unusual contractual arrangements".

It adds: "There was not always evidence that these academics ... made an effective contribution to the research culture."

The Asian studies panel's report notes that "the recent appointment of several short-term contract staff" in some institutions "puts a question mark over the sustainability of certain areas of research in the longer term".

Paul Marshall, executive director of the 1994 Group of small research-intensive universities, which submitted a higher proportion of their researchers than the larger research-intensive universities to previous RAEs, said: "Comments emerging from the panels are of great interest and will, we believe, be reflected in the subprofiles achieved for esteem and the research environment."

Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and head of the Million+ think-tank, said: "Some universities have selected their most active staff for submission to gain reputational advantage; whether this will also maximise funding remains to be seen."
The games they play... and these are the ones that have come out. There are others...

From: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk

January 07, 2009

The Ten Recommended Administrative Measures

1. “Focus on the situation, issue, or behaviour, not the person.”

2. Replace quasi-judicial campus tribunals with administrative decision-making.

3. Unless evidence compels them, avoid forensic words like allegations and charges.

4. Keep the rules clear, fair, and simple; keep policy and procedure manuals short.

5. In the face of demands that a professor be punished, entertain not just the null hypothesis but the mobbing hypothesis.

6. Seek proximate, specific, depersonalized explanations for why some professor is on the outs, as opposed to distant, general, personal explanations.

7. Encourage mindfulness of all the bases on which academic mobbings occur.

8. Defend free expression and encourage dialogic outlets for it on campus.

9. Keep administration open and loose.

10. Answer internal mail.

From: http://arts.uwaterloo.ca/~kwesthue/waterloostrategy.htm

January 06, 2009

More painful...

The grievance procedure can be more painful than bullying...


Retribution for asserting (or trying to assert one's rights)

Graduate students are at the mercy of academic bul... Graduate students are at the mercy of academic bullies just as professors are. It appears to be a phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic, as well. In the US, a system of regional accrediting agencies is supposed to ensure students' rights, but in reality these agencies are run by the institutions and do little or nothing to ensure fair processes. In my case, the university administrator in charge of the doctoral program made substantive changes to the program and prohibited doctoral candidates from pursuing their dissertation research until long after advancement to candidacy. She claimed the delay (two full semesters) was for educational purposes, but she provided no rationale and the regional accrediting agency refused to intervene even though such a delay was a clear violation of the agency's standards (WASC, in this case). The university ombudsman offered no relief just as in the case of the post, above. It's a sad commentary on the state of higher education when educated individuals act in such a medieval manner. I'm not a fan of anonymous posts, but you will see that I have posted anonymously. Why? Retribution for asserting (or trying to assert one's rights).