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

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham