May 23, 2011

Stop Bullying at University of Newcastle - Australia

We, the undersigned, petition the Ombudsman to instigate an open enquiry into allegations of workplace bullying / harassment at the University of Newcastle, NSW, and concerns about the way senior management have dealt with complaints about such bullying.

In a survey (166 respondents), conducted via the web-site Stop Bullying at University of Newcastle (Oz), the most common effects of bullying were:

• Sleep problems 75.8%,
• Depression 68.9%
• Headaches 46.2%
• Constant tiredness 36.4%

Of major concern is the fact that 24.2% (32 respondents) had suicidal thoughts.

At the University of Newcastle, workplace bullying has become part of a management culture, and policies on workplace bullying are ignored or are ineffectual in dealing with the problem. Unions recommend victims and witnesses of bullying avoid making complaints if they wish to preserve their career. Survey results of bullied victims report:

• 42.8% of respondents were planning to leave the university
• 34.8% were looking for or had found work outside the university
• 27.7% had asked for or already been transferred to another area of the university
• 31 respondents had themselves, or knew of others who had, been given a payout with a gagging clause

Dissatisfaction with the way bullying is dealt with at the University of Newcastle has come under public scrutiny. Significant amounts of tax payers’ money has been used by the University to cover up the serious nature of bullying in this workplace including so called “independent investigations”, paid for and supervised by the University. Survey results indicate:

• Only 4.5% of respondents were satisfied with the outcome of their complaint
• For over half (51.8%), no action was taken by their supervisor or human resources.

Most cases of bullying at the University of Newcastle are directly or indirectly related to the reporting of misconduct. This bullying of “whistleblowers” at the University of Newcastle was previously scrutinized by the NSW Ombudsman who concluded in 2003, that

“Your case suggests this is another area of the University’s culture that may need to be addressed to make clear that whistleblowers –…– are given wholehearted support and encouragement by the university and staff. Any further indication that there may be problems in the handling of whistleblowers will provide A POWERFUL SPUR FOR US TO COMMENCE A FORMAL INVESTIGATION OF THE UNIVERSITY'S CONDUCT IN THIS RESPECT" (Ref: C/2003/7465) (Capitals added)

Therefore, we ask the Ombudsman to act on their statement and commence an independent investigation into the fact that the University of Newcastle fails to provide a safe work environment for staff or students by condoning bullying behaviour and using bullying tactics against staff and students who speak out against inappropriate practices.

We invite you to join our petition for an investigation into workplace bullying and harassment at The University of Newcastle.

May 15, 2011

The University of Surrey - Part 1

The University of Surrey has changed my absence records without my consent and without my knowledge and is now refusing to correct them when challenged and when faced with clear evidence, can anyone help me please. I have had two strokes in the past and am unable to fight them.


Swindon College - Part 2

I am very worried by this case. I have worked at Bath and Swindon College, where Dr Butts is (or was) a govenor and Robert Rowe remains Director of HR. The fact that unsupported rumour could lead to an otherwise explempary academic career being ruined in what Justice Denyer castigated as a "slap-dash" manner remains a real threat as long as such make-weights hold power and their "might makes right".

It is out of the question for any of us to start a "Rowe Must Go" campaign. An iron gate would shut between us and management and it would amount to professional suicide. We already live in a climate of fear and cuts...more so now that the College will have to pay compensation for his incompetence.

An example of how he has affected us follows. When I joined Swindon College some years ago a collegue warned me out of the blue not to expect much from the HR Dept, and that advice has come to seem the prevailing feeling in the college ever since.

E.G. 'Focus' groups have been introduced by H.R. to solicit the opinions of teenaged students on how their lecturers are performing. Some of the latter may well hold petulant grudges after being told to turn off their mobile phones or Facebook and get to work, or at having been reprimanded for not completing projects on time, being late, etc. But this never comes into the equation as their comments are used to urgently confront staff with "concerns" as though these were "facts". With no objective assessment, staff are read the complaints and offered the chance to comment without having terms defined as in reasonable discourse. The assumption is that they should not need to defend themselves, as such trivial discord should never occur in a classroom. I was told recently, "You have to ask yourself, What would their parents say?" Well, most sentient parents know that their offspring may well say disparaging things about their tutors out of pique or simply because they can. Just as I can here, without the benefit of cross-questioning. However, these comments will not go onto Mr Rowe or Dr Butts's official record.

It follows that to some this "proceedure" may recall the MacCarthy trials as one is never told who said what in whatever context. The assumption is that staff are culpable if not actually guilty. Justification is that this system is beneficial to all concerned as "its good to talk", but it is actually dangerously absurd and demoralising to staff as the there is no question of an open forum. We are tainted by "loud whispers", and these - considering the slap-dash standards criticised by Justice Denyer - may well be used against us in the future by Mr Rowe and his minions.

As Voltaire said "Those who believe absurdities are likely to commit atrocities", and this is what one fears from Mr Rowe, who has a very unclear and emotive view of 'Safegurding", employng as he does, an ex-social worker who has passionately stated to us in our compulsory training sessions that all press reports of social workers mishandling of clients are myths produced by journalistic hacks! Is this the standard one expects from educationalists?

As for Dr Butts, her handling of the aspects of Bath's Centers of Lifelong Learning led to their being closed before others in the country with very similar demographics. Her committment was undeniable, but passion was no substitute for what was actually needed - vision and management skills. At least she has been "kicked upstairs" , or has she?


May 09, 2011

MR ROBERT McKIE (Claimant) and SWINDON COLLEGE (Defendant)

...The claimant was born in May 1953 so he is now nearly 58 years of age. His basic specialism is as an art historian. In the 1980s and early 1990s he taught at various educational institutions in Norwich. In 1994 he applied for a job with the defendant, Swindon College. The title of the job was "Contextual Studies Co ordinator". In January 1995, he was appointed to this position. In the years that followed, he was promoted with in the institution and received bonus awards. As is often the way, as he progressed, his work became more managerial and perhaps less classroom focused.

In November 2002, he left the defendants for a job as "programme leader" at Bath City College. On leaving Swindon and in connection with getting the job at Bath City College, he received an excellent reference from the defendants. This reference is set out at page 1 of divider G. It is not, I think, necessary to read all of it. Let me simply read from the middle paragraph (the third paragraph on page 1):

"Rob has continued to show strong leadership skills in his management of the curriculum area. He has also planned the curriculum well, built an effective team and employed resources efficiently. This area had been performing poorly in terms of meeting Key Performance Indicators, Rob has skilfully brought the area a lot closer to those indicators to such an extent that it is now one of the best performing areas. The staff have a high degree of respect for him. This is particularly noteworthy because, his background is not business, leisure and tourism and when he took .... over morale was quite low."

The next paragraph may be of some significance as well:

"[He] has a positive personality. He is not afraid to challenge but in a constructive way. As a senior manager I value this side of [his] character highly. We need challenging constructive managers to get the feedback and ideas we need to move forward as a college. Just as importantly, if Rob has questioned a decision or a direction in which we are moving and the final decision is not what he would agree with, he will take it forward positively with his staff. [He] can be trusted to manage independently but is not afraid to come and ask when he may need further guidance."

...On 5 June 2008, some two or three weeks therefore after he had started work at the University of Bath, an email was sent from Swindon College to the University. It is set out at various places in the bundle but for reference, I will simply refer to divider G at page 28. It is sent from Robert Rowe, Human Resources Manager at Swindon to his equivalent at the University of Bath. It reads as follows (the recipient being Mr Robert Eales):

"Further to our telephone conversation I can confirm to you that we would be unable to accept Rob McKie on our premises or delivering to our students. The reason for this is that we had very real safeguarding concerns for our students and there were serious staff relationship problems during his employment at this College. No formal action was taken against Mr McKie because he had left our employment before this was instigated. understand that similar issues arose at the City of Bath College."

That, as I say, emanates and signed by Robert Rowe, Director of Human Resources, Swindon College.

The evidence that the claimant has produced in respect of his time at Swindon College and to which I have already adverted, would suggest that the contents of that email were largely fallacious and untrue. In spite of that in these proceedings, heard over the last two or three days, the defendants seek to justify its context...

...In summary, the evidence of Mr Hunt in no ways justifies the contents of the email that was sent.

I did not find Dr Lombard to be a particularly helpful witness. He is a chartered psychologist. He tells that he made a report specifically referable to the claimant at the time the claimant was working at Swindon, the inference being that there were sufficient concerns about the claimant, either his teaching methods or his manner of dealing with students that would justify a chartered psychologist looking at the matter and reporting on it. According to him, as I say, he made a report. Sadly, it would seem, that report is now lost. He does not have a copy of it. The defendants do not have a copy of it in the claimant's personnel file. No-one else at Swindon seems to have been aware of it and, I have to say, I find the idea that there was any sort of formal report, critical of the claimant circulating or submitted at a time prior to his leaving Swindon College to be completely and utterly unproven...

Finally, it may be said that is all true, or may be true, but what about causation? The bottom line, say the defendants is this. Bath University sacked the claimant because they, Swindon, would not permit him to enter and that has a superficial attraction. But it totally ignores, in my view, the fact that you cannot simply isolate one sentence in the email from those sentences which surround it. It would be ridiculous, in my view, to say that Bath simply acted on the basis of that line that says he cannot work at Swindon and totally ignore the fact that safeguarding issues were thrown up and, in the climate in which we live now, that is a word of considerable power and the disciplinary action might have been taken against him.

There is simply no way of ignoring the fact that Swindon gave reasons purporting to justify their decision and, as I have indicated, those reasons do not stand up to any sort of scrutiny at all. In other words it is the totality of the email, not just the single line about banning him from the premises, which was the cause of the University of Bath sacking him.

In my view, therefore, applying the Caparo test, mindful that there is no direct authority specifically in point, accepting that this is a slightly different factual situation from Spring, an obviously different factual situation from White , nevertheless I am satisfied damage was foreseeable, the relationship was sufficiently proximate, it is fair, just and reasonable and there is a causal connection between the negligence in and about the sending of the email and the damage whereof the claimant complains.

I therefore find for the claimant on the question of liability.


Dr Butt became an OBE in the New Year's Honour's List. Robert Eales is Director of HR Operations at University of Cardiff, Robert Rowe continues as Director of HR at Swindon College, Bill Hunt is now Head of Higher Education at Oxford and Cherwell College and Dr Lombard's company, TIPS continues to provide psychology services to colleges in Wiltshire. The claimant is curently unemployed.

Congratulations Swindon College!

May 05, 2011

Row after university suspends lecturer who criticised way student was treated

A university has been plunged into a row over academic freedom after suspending a lecturer who criticised its treatment of a student who researched al-Qaida.

Rod Thornton, an expert in counter-insurgency at Nottingham University, was suspended on Wednesday after he accused the university of passing "erroneous evidence" to police and attempting to discredit a student who downloaded an al-Qaida training manual from a US government website.

A member of staff at the university also lobbied successfully for Thornton's article to be taken down from an academic website, arguing that it contained defamatory allegations. The masters student, Rizwaan Sabir, was arrested and detained for six days for downloading the al-Qaida material.

A university administrator was also arrested after Sabir asked him to print the document because the student could not afford the printing fees. Both were later released without charge.

In the paper, Thornton wrote: "Untruth piled on untruth until a point was reached where the Home Office itself farcically came to advertise the case as 'a major Islamist plot' ... Many lessons can be learned from what happened at the University of Nottingham.

"This incident is an indication of the way in which, in the United Kingdom of today, young Muslim men can become so easily tarred with the brush of being 'terrorists'."

Thornton's article was prepared for the British International Studies Association (Bisa), which promotes the study of international relations and held its annual conference in Manchester last week. A leaked email exchange shows that one of Thornton's fellow academics at Nottingham claimed the paper made "clearly defamatory" allegations against individuals.

In an email to colleagues, Professor Theo Farrell, Bisa's vice-chair, writes that the request gets the organisation into the "difficult territory" of ensuring academic freedoms while protecting itself from being sued for libel.

Thornton, a former soldier, told the Guardian he had received a letter from the vice-chancellor telling him he had been suspended because of a "breakdown in working relationships with your colleagues caused by your recent article".

He said: "I'm just saddened by it. I'm criticising my own university but there's a bigger issue in terms of the university's treatment of Rizwaan Sabir. They failed miserably in their duty of care to him."

Sabir, now a PhD student at Strathclyde University, said: "A public inquiry is needed more than ever before into the university's actions."

Referring to the arrests in May 2008, Thornton wrote in his paper that both Sabir and the administrator, Hicham Yezza, were "completely innocent" of any link to terrorism. "They were simply caught up in an extraordinary set of circumstances that might be described as laughable if the consequences had not been quite so severe.

"And, at the heart of their tribulations, there does seem to be something really rather dark; something I would never have believed existed in a modern British university and indeed, within modern British society."

Thornton writes that the al-Qaida manual which led to the arrests is now stocked in the university's library. He says the university's administration notified police but had never given any indication they had carried out "even the simplest of internet checks or ... [sought] either advice or guidance from elsewhere".

A university spokesman said Thornton's article was "highly defamatory" of a number of his colleagues.

"The university rejects utterly the baseless accusations he makes about members of staff. We understand that Bisa has decided to remove the article from its website.

"Academic freedom is a cornerstone of this university and is guaranteed in employment terms under the university's statutes.

"That freedom is the freedom to question, to criticise, to put forward unpopular ideas and views – it is not the freedom to defame your co-workers and attempt to destroy their reputations as honest, fair and reasonable individuals.

"It is important to remember that the original incident, almost three years ago, was triggered by the discovery of an al-Qaida training manual on the computer of an individual who was neither an academic member of staff, nor a student, and in a school where one would not expect to find such material being used for research purposes.

"The university became concerned and decided, after a risk assessment, that those concerns should be conveyed to the police as the appropriate body to investigate."


Also: "Terrorism" & Academia Special: Britain's University of Nottingham Claims Another Victim

May 04, 2011

Negligent (non-)References

The QBD has handed down its decision in McKie v Swindon College, which is authority for the proposition that an employer may be liable to a former employee in tort for damages for negligent misstatement when communicating with a future employer about him.

It is well established, since Spring v Guardian Assurance [1995] 2 AC 296, that an employee may make such a claim following a reference negligently prepared by an employer. HH Judge Denyer QC extended this principle to a statement made by a former employer which was not a reference.

McKie was an exemplary employee of the College. He received a fine reference when he left. He later joined Bath University. His new job involved contact with his old employer, Swindon College. The new HR Director of Swindon, on behalf of the College, caused an email about Mr McKie to be sent to Bath in damaging terms. On the facts this was "fallacious and untrue" and its preparation "sloppy and slapdash". It cost Mr McKie his job at Bath.

Although this was not a reference case the Court held that a duty of care applied. The claim should succeed because the damage sustained was foreseeable, the relationship was sufficiently proximate, the claim fair, just and reasonable and there was a causal connection between the negligence in and about the sending of the email and the damage claimed.