Colleagues have claimed that an economics professor suspended for five months on “vague” and “dubious” charges believed to be related to his trade union casework has been targeted by management because of his union activities.
Jeff Frank, who founded the economics department at Royal Holloway, University of London, was suspended in April over alleged misconduct charges said to be related to his work as the campus equality and diversity officer for the University and College Union.
Professor Frank has been banned from accessing his work emails or entering the institution’s campus in Surrey while the investigation takes place.
However, the length of Professor Frank’s suspension has been criticised by UCU officials, who claim that the protracted resolution of alleged misconduct charges amounts to an unfair method of curtailing his union activities.
A UCU spokesman told Times Higher Education that initial charges of gross misconduct made in April “rapidly fell apart”, but further “fishing” led to more minor “vague and catch-all” charges that had been left unresolved for months.
While neither Royal Holloway nor the UCU would outline the exact charges against the US-born financial expert, the union said that they related solely to his UCU casework on behalf of union members. THE understands that one of the charges is linked to Professor Frank’s decision to challenge the make-up of a grievance panel handling a staff complaint, while another involves an alleged breach of human resources procedures.
The UCU spokesman said that the charges faced by Professor Frank “jar uncomfortably with the academic traditions of Royal Holloway and are a personal insult to a professor with over 20 years of faithful service”.
He added that members were more concerned by the handling of Professor Frank’s case than they were by the “flimsy” and “dubious” charges against him.
“Investigations should be conducted promptly, and nothing surely justifies suspending a member of staff for over 20 weeks,” the union spokesman said, adding that “if there was a purpose behind the suspension, it has never adequately been explained”.
The UCU branch has, it said, “regrettably, to conclude that suspension has become an automatic means of disciplining staff” and “Jeff’s suspension is a means of curtailing the activities of UCU at Royal Holloway”.
A Royal Holloway spokesman told THE that the dispute was a “confidential matter, which we would not comment on”.
The incident is not the first run-in between Professor Frank and Royal Holloway. In 2010, the openly gay professor sued the university for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and for being a trade union member. This case was settled out of court.
Professor Frank declined to comment on his suspension, but his union said that he was keen for managers to make the details of the charges open to public scrutiny.