On academic issues, law bows to managers

April 3, 2014

Having sat through most of the hearing and considered the judges’ remarks as the case proceeded (“Queen Mary critic loses unfair dismissal claim”, March), I formed the view that what most colleagues regarded as the unfairness visited on Fanis Missirlis by managers at Queen Mary University of London had to be regarded by the employment tribunal as an academic issue where the law could not intervene. Thus, university leaders were entitled to change the direction of teaching and research in any department and to dismiss staff by a retrospective capability assessment against arbitrary criteria because it was a legitimate exercise of their notional responsibilities.

In this case, managers argued that research metrics (chiefly grant income and the impact factor or reputation of journals in which academics published) were legitimate components of a job description and could be used to assess the suitability of any existing employee during a restructuring, even if such criteria had not been a part of the appointment process for that individual. The tribunal agreed, although it was noted that the application of employment law in the academy was difficult, as, in one sense, everyone was doing the same job and, in another, every scholar had a different pursuit.

Despite the outcome, the case brought to light several facets of the redundancy exercise that might be seen as questionable practice, notably the revisions made to assessment criteria as selection proceeded and the unclear definition of how an academic member of staff might qualify for a teaching and scholarship contract. Witnesses called by Missirlis testified that a number of the more effective teachers and administrators in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences had now left after reaching compromise agreements. It remains unclear how the competences and skills of these colleagues will be replaced.

David Bignell
Via timeshighereducation.co.uk

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