August 03, 2009

MPs single out whistleblower case for scrutiny - UK

A cross-party committee of MPs will highlight the plight of an academic whistleblower in a major report on higher education to be published this weekend.

Walter Cairns, a law lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, claimed that he was scapegoated by the institution after giving evidence about alleged grade inflation to the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills (IUSS) Committee.

He was ejected from Manchester Met’s academic board after he wrote to tell the committee that marks on a course he taught were raised because its failure rate, 85 per cent, was too high.

His case will come under detailed scrutiny when the committee publishes the findings of its nine-month inquiry on students and universities this weekend.

Speaking to Times Higher Education before the report’s publication, Phil Willis, chairman of the committee, said the way Manchester Met handled Mr Cairns’ revelations “took the whole committee by surprise”.

“Because of the range of issues that were brought to our attention, the case at Manchester Met was of sufficient gravity that it required us to investigate it as a specific issue in our report,” he said.

In his written submission to MPs, which concerns a course he taught in 2004-05, Mr Cairns states that marks were changed without his consent despite initial indications from an external examiner that his marking was appropriate.

The university issued a robust defence, saying that it had followed correct procedures and that the abnormally high failure rate reflected poor teaching.

Following coverage of his evidence in Times Higher Education, Mr Cairns was in March dismissed from Manchester Met’s academic board after a vote of no confidence instigated by John Brooks, the vice-chancellor.

The university said Mr Cairns had failed to use the appropriate procedures to raise his concerns.

Mr Cairns has since been re-elected and will attend board meetings again from October.

Mr Willis said: “Academic freedom is a very important principle, which the committee has considered very carefully during the inquiry, and indeed will be making specific recommendations about when it reports.

“Our main concern is to have the highest possible quality of higher education that we can afford and deliver. Part of that is preserving the right of academics to whistleblow when they wish to question standards in individual institutions. Our concern was that when whistleblowers gave evidence to the committee, their evidence should be protected. They should not be punished.”

The select committee report will be published in full on Sunday, when analysis of its findings and recommendations will be made available on Times Higher Education’s website.

Mr Cairns said the select committee had informed him that the report would cover the issues he had raised, as well as the “ructions” that followed. He said he welcomed the report and hoped it would be hard-hitting.

“I will be extremely disappointed if the IUSS committee takes no concrete action on my dismissal from Manchester Met’s academic board,” he said.

Mr Cairns added that he hoped the issue would be referred to the Parliamentary Committee on Standards and Privileges.



Anonymous said...

Comment from Times Higher blog...

... yet more sleaze is seeping out surrounding this case

Dr. Know 4 August, 2009

Dr Cairns has been fortunate in raising the issue of MMU's blatant failure to maintain academic standards under the Leadership of the Vice-Chancellor John Brooks, without being the subject of a prolonged bullying, harrassment and victimisation campaign by this University which his predecessor Dame Sandra Burslem practised on many members of its staff.

The University since her departure has spent over a million pounds on one case to overturn its decision which was obtained without the claimant or his witnesses attending. see

One million pounds buys a lot of judges and their complicity in breaching the claimant's Human Rights is before the European Courts.

The Tribunal bundles in the 2005 case are relevant to the University's denial of bumping marks as documents where coursework marks had been raised by over 50% in the case of some students to allow them to pass were presented as well as documents that the University had falsified - statements stating that students had sat exams when they had not.

The information is in the public domain and we are willing to provide the documentaion for publication to address the University's denial or to a Parlimentary Committee if one was set up to deal with the Issue.



...the level of corruption in our universities appears to be in line with that in the banks and the police and politicians... might have to be the revolution...

...except we are all so busy...

In solidarity and grateful thanks to the courage, creativity and integrity of the staff on the Times Higher...

... which must be due for a change of management pretty soon I would have thought...

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

Some senior academics at one of the most established higher education institutions in the UK have kept quiet about repeated cases of what closely resembles tribal favouritism.