The bullying of academics follows a pattern of horrendous, Orwellian elimination rituals, often hidden from the public. Despite the anti-bullying policies (often token), bullying is rife across campuses, and the victims (targets) often pay a heavy price. "Nothing strengthens authority as much as silence." Leonardo da Vinci - "All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men [or good women] do nothing." -- Edmund Burke
April 27, 2010
Cambridge changes rules to make sackings easier
Ross Anderson has lost count of the times he has made himself unpopular with ministers and big business in the past 20 years. In March last year, the Cambridge University professor of computer security co-wrote a report that found government databases, including a directory that holds the name, address, date of birth, GP and school of all under-18s, were "almost certainly illegal".
In the last few months, Anderson has published papers proving that criminals can deceive high street banks' chip and pin devices to steal their customers' money.
"If I hadn't had the guaranteed security of tenure I do as an academic at Cambridge, I certainly would have thought twice about criticising the government of the day and powerful institutions," he says.
That is why Anderson is so worried by a proposal to reform one of Cambridge's statutes, which he, and others, say will make it easier for the university to sack and silence difficult dons. The reforms have been proposed by the majority of the university's council, which is headed by the vice-chancellor.
This week and next, just over 4,000 members of Regent House — the dons' parliament which comprises half the university's staff and includes academics, heads of colleges, librarians, curators and administrators – will be asked to vote on the changes. If the reforms are passed, it will mean Regent House will be stripped of its right to approve the names of staff pinpointed for redundancy.
Grounds for the dismissal of academics will be changed too. At the moment, they can only be sacked for "conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature, incompatible with the duties of the office or employment". This has hardly changed since the Reformation.
But the wording – thought by some to be "unnecessarily broad" – will be changed, so that academics can be fired if their actions come under "gross misconduct", which includes an "unreasonable refusal to carry out a reasonable instruction".
The changes would mean academics who face a redundancy hearing will be placed on an equal footing with librarians, lab technicians and other non-academic staff who have their cases heard by a tribunal of three people chosen at random by a head of a department at the university. Until now, academics have had the right to have their cases heard by the vice-chancellor and a committee of seven, which acts as a university court of appeal.
The vote will be counted on 7 May and the reforms, if passed, are likely to be incorporated into the university's statutes over the summer.
It is unfortunate timing. Cambridge is having its funds from government cut by 1.9% in real terms from this September, although the university is far less reliant on state funds than many other institutions. Some fear a further £20m cut after the election – 11% of Cambridge's current government subsidy. On top of this, the university's accounts – while healthier than many – revealed a deficit of £19m in November, after a £28m surplus the previous year.
"I am afraid that some people will see this as an easy way to deal with the cuts," says Anderson. "My deep concern is that once tenure goes, the culture will change. We evolved as a bottom-up university, a place driven by the academics. Our administration tries in dozens of little ways to make us more top-down and to replace the culture of academic self-governance with one of managerialism, targets and box-ticking. Giving the managers the power to hire and fire would be a huge step along that road, and must be resisted if Cambridge is to remain great."
The unions are also concerned. The general secretary of University and College Union, Sally Hunt, says: "UCU is strongly encouraging its members at Cambridge to take part in this important ballot, recognising as we do that the very act of exercising a vote on how their university is run has already been eroded at many other institutions. We will resist any attempts at Cambridge, and beyond, to reduce the protection of the rights of academic staff, which is the cornerstone of any university. It is no coincidence that those universities with the highest academic reputations worldwide tend to be those which are the most democratically governed."
Mike Clarke, reader in therapeutic and molecular immunology, is worried that the reforms will be used to weed out academics who "don't toe the party line". "In a university, we need to protect the rights of individuals to fall out of line and speak out against things they are concerned about," he says.
Such anxieties are unnecessary, say those who back the reforms, such as William Brown, professor of industrial relations and master of Darwin College.
There would be no change to academics' security of tenure or any weakening of their freedom of speech, Brown says. "There are no plans to sack academics, although we are having to freeze a regrettable number of posts as they fall vacant, as are all universities. The university is not making it easier to sack academics. Our protections are enviable and envied by most other universities and will continue to be so."
Brown says that at the moment, grievance procedures are "lamentably slow". The new procedures would impose time limits, to stop delays being used as weapons, and would make more use of conciliation to resolve disputes. Grievances take on average a year to resolve at the moment. Academics would also get a right of appeal against disciplinary judgments made by their heads of department.
"Our university's procedures are no longer fully adequate. The absence of effective time limits means that grievances have been slow to resolve. Precisely the same right [on academic freedom] remains enshrined in the statutes," he says
Both sides admit that they can't remember the last time an academic was sacked, but then we are in different territory now. Universities have been asked to make cuts of almost £1bn by 2013.
The knock-on effect is, as a Guardian investigation found in February, that universities across the country are preparing to axe thousands of teaching jobs, close campuses and ditch courses.
Outside Cambridge, institutions are considering using post-graduates rather than professors for teaching and delaying major building projects. Such plans are inevitably being resisted by academics. Just last week, staff at University College London and the University of Westminster voted for strike action over a dispute about funding cuts.
Anderson believes that instead of sacking academics, universities should be encouraging them to pick up the phone and ask businesses for cash to fund PhDs and research.
But for the time being, some Cambridge dons are anxious about the consequences for smaller faculties if these reforms go through. David Abulafia, professor of Mediterranean history, says although his department is large, his biggest fear is for "small departments that might be zealously shaved off the university in the name of financial necessity".
April 26, 2010
Fresh twist in Fredrics v Scott case
Howard Fredrics, a former senior lecturer of music at Kingston University, was convicted in December 2009 of harassing Sir Peter Scott, Kingston’s vice-chancellor, by posting critical messages on a website the lecturer had set up, www.sirpeterscott.com.
Dr Fredrics was found guilty in his absence by Kingston Magistrates’ Court, having failed to appear for the hearing owing to ill health. A warrant was also issued for his arrest.
Judith Jewell, chairman of the bench, said: “We believe the course of conduct he pursued in setting up this website was intended to harass Sir Peter Scott... he ought to have known that such actions would amount to harassment.”
As well as criticising the vice-chancellor, Dr Fredrics had used the site to expose controversial practices at Kingston.
In 2008, he posted a recording of lecturers pressurising students to inflate their National Student Survey responses. [Check: Kingston University students 'told to lie' to boost rankings - Universities face survey warning]
Dr Fredrics’ barrister, Richard Thomas of Doughty Street Chambers, argued that the lecturer was denied the right to a fair trial with legal representation because the court would not agree to postpone the case until Dr Fredrics was well enough to attend.
He also said that the prosecution was an “unjustified interference” with Dr Fredrics’ right to free expression.
On 23 April, the court set aside both the conviction and the arrest warrant on the grounds that the trial should not have gone ahead without the academic being present.
A directions hearing on 14 May will decide how to proceed with both the harassment charge and an outstanding offence under the Public Order Act, which relates to a chance encounter between Sir Peter and Dr Fredrics in Kingston.
The academic is accused of “threatening behaviour” towards the vice-chancellor.
April 25, 2010
PhD students suffer from bullying supervisors
"I'll help you all I can but you have to play ball," he said before inviting her for a meal on Valentine's Day at a very expensive restaurant, "as a treat for all your good work".
"I need a way out," she cries on her anonymous blog.
The exchange, recounted in a conference paper this week, is one of eight de-identified cases that University of Queensland researcher Suzanne Morris labelled "supervisory bullying".
Dr Morris unearthed the examples by trawling the net using the key words "doctoral bullying supervisor". She cut identifiers such as country, discipline and net address as she put together what she believes is the first report on how doctoral students experience bullying at the hands of their supervisors.
The power relationship with a supervisor was a big critical determinant of success for a graduate student, she said.
Postgraduates, estimated to perform 70 per cent of university research, say supervisors have the power to make or break them.
But Monash University's deputy vice-chancellor Max King defended supervisors, saying his surveys showed 90 per cent of postgraduates to be satisfied, 5 per cent neutral and 5 per cent not satisfied.
"Being a supervisor is a bit like being a parent and parents aren't always the best parents," Professor King said.
He said some students could misread as bullying what was intended as constructive criticism or "a rev up" for a poorly performing student.
Meanwhile, the federal innovation department is studying a worrying decline in higher degree starts as part of its emerging research workforce strategy.
That paper was prepared for the department by the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations after a research students' workshop exposed bullying and other issues.
"Student comments suggest that supervisors were directly responsible for both the very best and the very worst of what the research training experience has to offer," it says.
CAPA president Tammi Jonas told the HES bullying could often stem from the misguided efforts of some academics to earn publication points from their students' research, especially in the sciences.
"It's not rife, but we have clear examples that it's a regular occurrence on campus, if not a common one; but [it's] devastating for the student involved," she said.
Bond University anti-bullying campaigner Amy Kenworthy said there was a belief the doctoral process had to be exceptionally difficult to produce high-quality academics. "That, coupled with the power-dependency issue, is like putting gasoline and fire together," Professor Kenworthy said.
Whistleblowers Australia vice-president Brian Martin estimated "a significant proportion of students [would be] experiencing bullying at any one time and a larger proportion at some time during their studies".
"Even if the figure is 5 per cent, it's a lot of people and a lot of damage done," he said.
April 24, 2010
Uni to host meeting on bullying
An international conference on workplace bullying and harassment is due to take place in Cardiff.
The Centre for Research on Workplace Behaviour at the University of Glamorgan Business School is hosting the 7th International Conference on Workplace Bullying and Harassment in June, the first time the conference will visit Wales.
The conference, titled 'Transforming Research: Evidence and Practice', returns to the UK after an eight-year gap and brings together researchers, academics and practitioners at a three-day event.
The aim of the conference is to share knowledge and understanding around the complex workplace issues of bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence.
Co-chair of the conference, Professor Duncan Lewis, of the Glamorgan Business School, said: “This should be an excellent opportunity to bring together world experts to discuss how we take forward the theory and practice of these important workplace issues. We are delighted to be hosting the seventh occasion of this international conference.”
Keynote speakers include Professor Staale Einarsen from the University of Bergen in Norway, Professor David Yamada of the Suffolk Business School in Boston, USA, and Professor Ralph Fevre, lead expert on the UK Government’s 2nd Fair Treatment at Work Survey.
Other speakers include Denise Salin from Finland, Dr Gary Namie from the USA and Rachael Maskell from union Unite.
Professor Michael Sheehan, co-chair of the conference, said: “We are delighted that we have been able to attract many of the leading researchers and practitioners in the field to be the keynote speakers at the conference.
“Equally, we are excited that there is an international flavour to the conference, with delegates coming from across the globe.”
The conference (June 2-4 at the Cardiff Hilton) will welcome 200 delegates, with papers being presented by delegates from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, North America, Japan and Brazil.
Visit the conference’s website at www.bullying2010.com if you are interested in securing one of the last few places available.
The conference is sponsored by the University of Glamorgan, Acas, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Public Service Management Wales, the Institute of Leadership and Management, People Resolutions and Hogrefe.
April 21, 2010
Kingston University: £635,165 on six employment tribunals
From: "Martin George"
Date: Wed, April 21, 2010 12:17 pm
David has passed your email about Kingston University's employment tribunal expenditure on to me. The university disputed the figures they themselves submitted in response to the FOI request, and have now taken over two weeks to get back to us with what they say are the accurate figures. See their attached statement.
They now say they spent £635,165 on the six employment tribunals, including legal expenses from court action linked to your case.
They say nearly three quarters of this relates to your case - nearly half a million pounds. This is the roughly the equivalent to the tution fees of 150 undergraduates, or double the total amount of bursaries offered to international students.
What do you think about this? Are you surprised by this figure? Do you think it was money well spent?
Thank you for your email.
I am most disappointed, but not entirely surprised to learn of the enormity of sums expended by Kingston University with respect to legal costs.
At a time when the government is cutting funding to most higher education institutions, and during a period of economic recession, itappears to me that Kingston University is more concerned with protecting its reputation and that of its senior management than it is with achieving its mission of providing access to high quality education for its students.
The amounts spent by the University to pursue unsuccessful and misconceived legal action with the World Intellectual Property Organisation against a disabled and unwell former staff member, and to defend against legitimate claims in the Employment Tribunal, lodged in response to what I experienced as a culture of bullying and discrimination, could have been much better spent on improving academic standards, on improving the health and well being of staff, and most of all on providing financial support to deserving and well-qualified students in order to enable them to achieve their full potential.
I understand that the University plans to increase the use of voluntary severance programmes for staff members at a time when student numbers are increasing.
In my view, that can only lead to increased stress levels for remaining staff and a reduction in the quality of academic experience for students.
This unfortunate state of affairs could have been mitigated had the University responded positively to staff concerns instead of attempting to cover up the University's shortcomings by spending disproportionate sums of public funds on legal costs to silence matters of wide public interest.
---------- Original Message -----
From: Coslett, Cara
To: Martin George, David Rankin
Sent: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 12:13 PM
Subject: Legal expenditure statement
Hi Martin, David,
Please see the attached statement on Kingston University's legal expenditure on employment tribunals.
The figure quoted gives you the amount spent on legal fees incurred in relation to employment tribunals, but also includes those fees incurred due to a court action that was linked to one of these tribunals. We have been unable to remove the cost of this court case as we have changed solicitors since the action was taken, and have not been able to access this information.
Please accept my apologies for the delay in getting this information to you, it has been a very complicated process and I wanted to be certain that I was providing you with the correct information. Unfortunately we have discovered that there were inaccuracies in the figures supplied in response to the original FOI request due to complications related to academic, financial and calendar years. I want to thank you for bringing this to our attention, we have now been able to supply this updated information to the person who submitted the original FOI request.
Press Officer, Kingston University
Room 2, River House, 53-57 High Street,
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT1 1LQ
Statement on legal expenditure on employment tribunals
With more than 2,000 staff and 23,000 students, Kingston is one of the larger higher education institutions in the country and takes its responsibility as an employer very seriously. To this end the University is committed to ensuring that due process is followed in relation to all employment matters.
During the three years from January 2007 to December 2009 the University incurred legal fees in relation to six employment tribunals. It also incurred legal expenses due to a court action linked to one of these tribunals. These totaled £635,165. Nearly three-quarters of this amount relates to one long-running case, which the employment tribunal struck out earlier this year.
April 20, 2010
Abuse of PhD students
April 17, 2010
Legal and other costs - the University of Leicester and others
As someone who has, in the last three years, brought legal proceedings against the University of Leicester, the University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Robert Burgess, and the University's (now former) Director of Personnel Services, Dr Alison Hall (see the item posted on this website on 21st January 2010 - 'About the University of Leicester'), I would be interested to know why the information regarding the University of Leicester runs only from the 'Period since Dec 2008', when information was sought for 'the last 3 years'.
I wonder whether my two Employment Tribunal claims against the University, Professor Burgess and Dr Hall, lodged in November 2007 and July 2008 respectively, should have been included in the figure in the first column (Question 1).
If the figure showing 'the total expenditure on legal expenses ... in relation to the above disputes' (Question 5) had covered all claims 'submitted to the employment tribunal service' (Question 1), not just claims that were settled (Questions 2, 3 and 4, and 'Summary', 3rd entry), and if Leicester's figure in the first column should have included my claims, I imagine one could confidently assume that the figure in column 5 for Leicester would be significantly higher. Such reasoning would of course apply also in relation to any other institutions in a similar position.
For information, the University of Leicester has been assisted in my case by both a firm of solicitors (Mills & Reeve LLP) and Counsel (Mr Sam Neaman of Littleton Chambers).
In addition to costs resulting from claims brought in courts, not tribunals, other expenditure affecting figures for legal costs would be sums spent on legal assistance relating solely to dealing with grievances (including negotiations aimed at securing a compromise agreement before legal proceedings were brought). In my case, four grievances were presented between March 2005 and August 2006, while I was still in employment, and two grievances were submitted after I resigned in May 2007. A written response of the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Burgess, in respect of my fifth grievance indicated that the University had consulted its solicitors from the time I submitted my first grievance.
Other costs might be those associated with appointing external mediators or members of grievance panels. For example, the chairperson of a grievance committee appointed in my case was a barrister and part-time employment judge, Mr Mark Sutton of Old Square Chambers.
There may be an additional category of expenditure in disputes of the kind mentioned in the AcademicFOI.Com information. In November 2006, while I was still an employee of the University of Leicester, I submitted an Employment Tribunal claim alleging disability discrimination against the University alone. I withdrew the claim in February 2007 for health reasons. I am in possession of papers - obtained through a subject access request under the Data Protection Act - showing that shortly after that claim was lodged, certain of the University employees referred to in the claim were each offered 'up to a maximum of £1,000 (inclusive of VAT)' towards obtaining 'independent legal advice from an employment law specialist', for which 'invoices or claim forms' were requested. It was said that the University's solicitors, who would be preparing the University's defense, would be able to supply the contact details of such a specialist if that would be helpful. I do not know whether this offer was made to all of the relevant employees. For example, I have no evidence of Professor Burgess or Dr Hall having been included in that group. I also do not know whether those whom I know to have been recipients of the offer accepted it.
Glynis M. Truter
April 11, 2010
Prisoners of Fear
IT IS THEN UP TO THE REST OF US TO SIGN THIS PETITION ON THEIR BEHALF.
April 07, 2010
Australia: Staff and students back Newcastle University bully claims
More than 20 people contacted The Herald in response to yesterday's report about an academic who says she suffered years of harassment after reporting plagiarism in 2003.
It took the university more than five years to investigate the allegation and two staff members were counselled regarding "acceptable publication practices" last year.
Dr Michelle Adams's case will go back to the Industrial Relations Commission tomorrow. University Vice-chancellor Nick Saunders has strongly denied a culture of bullying at the institution.
A former geographer, who worked in the same faculty as Dr Adams, told The Herald she was forced to leave the university following a "major breakdown" due to years of bullying.
The academic said she also supported a student in a plagiarism claim, this time against another student. The woman, who signed a confidentiality agreement when she left, said the university had a history of "eliminating people who report misconduct because they do not want it exposed".
"I felt very isolated and bullied throughout the whole thing."
Another former academic, Stuart Pearson, said he chose to leave rather than put up with bullying. Dr Pearson described what he witnessed at Newcastle as "vicious" and "dysfunctional".
"When you leave you realise just what the place is like, it's like a weight lifts off your shoulders," he said.
Two other academics, who still work at the university, said cliques and bullying were part of the institution's culture and had been for a long time.
The pair, who work in the same school, said people with dissenting voices were hounded into submission or bullied out.
"In so many cases the bullies are actually rewarded for their actions and when staff see this happening it creates a culture of fear," one said.
The university did not respond to The Herald's request for comment yesterday.
April 04, 2010
So you want to know how some universities waste taxpayer money and who the biggest offenders are?
366 resulted from employment tribunal claims that were settled prior to hearings.
These settlements involved payments to staff of £4.4M and legal costs of £7.1M.
A total of 810 staff submitted claims to employment tribunals.
64 were settled without signing NDAs.
2,361 staff have signed NDAs in connection with research projects. More than half of these were at just one university.
2,801 have signed NDAs for reasons other than tribunal claims or research such as restructuring, grievances or disputes.
Q1 Over the last 3 years how many current or former university staff have submitted claims to the employment tribunal service?
Q2 How many of these were settled prior to a full hearing date?
Q3 How many of these settlements involved the insertion of a non disclosure (commonly known as gagging) clause in the terms of the settlement?
Q4 What is the total figure that has been paid out in these settlements?
Q5 What has the total expenditure on legal expenses been in relation to the above disputes?
Q6 Over the last 3 years how many current or former staff have signed non disclosure agreements purely in relation to the confidentiality of research activities?
Q7 Over the last 3 years how many current or former staff have signed non disclosure agreements for reasons not covered above?
Top 5 Employment Tribunal Claims
Leeds Met 31
Top 5 Settlement NDAs
Manchester Met 11
Top 5 Settlement Costs
Liverpool John Moores £ 362,108
Manchester £ 247,881
Bristol £ 165,000
East London £ 156,210
Cambridge £ 148,505
Top 5 NDAs For Other Reasons
Glasgow Caledonian 247
Plymouth Marjon 131
West of Scotland 136
Check how your university rates: http://www.academicfoi.com/untoldstories/
Problems in the Osteoporosis Research Group at Sheffield University
This statement follows procedures carried out by the University in reaction to recent press reports (3, 4).
In the opinion of many, the University have not dealt with these problems in a realistic way. A tangled web of procedures have been employed in an apparent attempt to avoid necessary action, and to protect Professor Eastell.
The University maintain that their procedures are 'robust' despite much worrying evidence to the contrary (see Statement to Redundancy Appeal Hearing - 18 Mar 2010). Professor Eastell has received considerable funding from industry.
Several academic staff, including myself, have complained about pressure placed upon them to publish scientific reports for commercial companies which do not reflect the underlying data. Staff have complained about suppression of publication, and that publications have been generated in the absence of data. Academics who have complained have seen their research and reputation blackened and undermined. Colleagues have been encouraged to present the work of these academics as if it was their own and to sign misleading statements of attribution.
At the centre of the recent press reports was a very simple event. As an experienced, professional and highly qualified post doctoral fellow and as a radiologist, I decided to submit two meeting abstracts without the explicit consent of Professor Eastell. I submitted these abstracts without the consent of a pharmaceutical company. I did not invite other scientists whose work I was criticizing to co-author the abstracts with me. I received a direct order from the University to withdraw the second abstract within 24 hours. I failed to respond to this order. I have still failed to follow this order.
Yesterday (23 March 2010), the University held a promised 'independent review' of its actions (4). The University have attempted to give the impression that they wish their actions and the context of these actions to be judged through such a review. This review replaced disciplinary procedures which should have taken place. Having initiated this 'review' it would have been expected that the University would have provided an honest and complete summary of the context they wished to be reviewed. The University did not however provide such information (see Statement to Independent Review - 23 Mar 2010). The purpose of the University in calling for such a review is therefore unknown.
I believe that the University have refused to renew my employment contract specifically in order to prevent publication of scientific findings and to prevent publication of an atlas of radiological images. These images would allow debate about the interpretation of drug trials. The University have maintained that access to these data and images will be prevented by the University upon termination of my contract of employment. I have however agreed to remain attached to the University for no salary until fellow scientists are permitted the opportunity to examine the science in whichever forum I choose. During a redundancy appeal hearing, the University suggested that suppression of scientific findings through redundancy is not a valid ground for appeal against redundancy at Sheffield University.
The so called independent review of yesterday has not yet reported, but was not encouraging. Given the desperate manoeuvres to prevent scrutiny and transparency, it seems unlikely that this will help the University to restore its reputation. In contrast to the intended disciplinary procedure (3, 4), this 'review' is not subject to appeal. It is outside the University's procedures. No witnesses were heard. Such was the desire for transparency that the University found it necessary to inform me the day before that the 'review' would be held in secret. They informed me that I would not be permitted to know or to listen to the arguments the University provided, or to listen to the testimony of Professor Eastell. I was refused the right to tape record the reading of my own statement. Furthermore, the University provided a set of documents to the review which made it impossible to believe that the University really wish to have their actions examined as they maintain they do (See Statement to Independent Review - 23 Mar 2010). The University have not responded to explain why reviewers were associated with the University of Sheffieldor why they could not be selected by anyone other than the University itself.
The University of Sheffield called for this review itself because it wished to give the impression that the University wanted its actions to be judged honestly and transparently. As such, the decisions of the University remain inexplicable.
1. Statement to Redundancy Appeal Hearing (18 Mar 2010), Dr Guirong Jiang
2. Statement to Independent Review (23 Mar 2010), Dr Guirong Jiang
3. February 18 2010 Contractual ties trip up radiologist
4. March 4 2010 Volte-face in radiologist case
5. PDF copy of this Press Statement (24 Mar 2010)