How I fell out with Fat Puff and Bonbon

July 17, 1998

Alan Tormaid Campbell was a brilliant lecturer, a respected academic and a fine writer. So why, an industrial tribunal will hear, was he still a junior lecturer at Edinburgh University after 20 years? Sian Griffiths reports

What is it about Edinburgh University? In the past few years it has been in and out of the headlines. Last August self-styled scientific racist Chris Brand was sacked from his lecturing job in the psychology department after a university tribunal branded his defence of non-violent paedophilia "disgraceful".

Then there was the sociologist Martin Plant, who made news when, during the period he was head of Edinburgh University's alcohol and health research group, his team accepted grants from the drinks industry and paid prostitutes to collect data.

Now, in September, the university will find itself in the spotlight again when Alan Tormaid Campbell gives evidence at an industrial tribunal where he will claim constructive dismissal from his post as an anthropology lecturer.

Campbell boasts a reputation as an inspiring teacher and a fine writer, displayed to particular effect in his account of the small South American tribe the Wayapi. That book, Getting to Know WaiWai was shortlisted for the 1996 McVities Scottish writers prize. Yet in 20 years at Edinburgh he was never promoted beyond his starting position of junior lecturer.

His story, he says, is not only one of how not to run a university, but also, unfortunately, one about how too many are managed. If his claims are true it is a story of cronyism and secrecy; of being passed over for promotion if you are not one of the boys; and of being penalised if you speak out about what you do not like.

It is a story that has left him, at the age of 53, facing the possibility that he will never work in academe again, living on a pension of Pounds 12,000 a year and nursing the scars of the mental breakdown he was recovering from earlier this year when he finally walked out. "It was getting ridiculous," he says. "In February I went to the doctor. He said I am signing you off. So that month I walked and never went back."

Although still disturbed by the events that he says led him to relinquish a job he loved Campbell is almost relishing the prospect of his moment in the limelight. After years of struggling within the system for promotion and getting knocked back, he wants everything aired at the forthcoming hearing. "I do think that getting these things out in the open is what should be done here. I have nothing to hide - have they?" A colleague of his at the university confirms: "I would say Alan has justice on his side. He has been treated badly, he has not been given proper treatment."

Alan Campbell joined Edinburgh aged 33, fresh from postgraduate research at Oxford, as a lecturer in social anthropology. The first five years, he says, were fine. He loved the job (73 students have signed a petition testifying that he was "one of Edinburgh University's finest lecturers"), he got on with his research. He was doing well.

Then the head of the department of social anthropology retired. The chair was frozen and Eric Hanley (Fat Puff, as Campbell calls him), a non-professorial head of department was appointed. His number two was Anthony Good (nickname: Bonbon).

In 1983 Campbell went to Brazil for two years to carry out research but on his return to Edinburgh he says he walked into a horror story where in most departmental meetings there were disagreements between himself and Good. Eventually Campbell turned to the then dean of the faculty, Michael Anderson, and asked him to intervene. A ruling from Anderson that all communications between Campbell and Good should be in writing and copied to him stopped most of the "nonsense" as Campbell describes it.

In 1989 Anthony Cohen was hired as professor and head of department. In 1990-91 Campbell's application for promotion to senior lecturer was turned down on the grounds that although his teaching and research were satisfactory, he had not done enough administrative work. By now he was feeling angry. Most of the staff who had joined at the same time as him had been promoted. He felt he was being excluded from posts of administrative responsibility and that without such experience he would never get promoted.

He says that a request for a meeting with the new dean, Morecambe Anderson, to discuss the situation was turned down. Feeling blocked at every turn, Campbell went to a senior colleague in another department and asked him to help. A meeting was set up with the new dean of the faculty, the lawyer Neil MacCormick. Campbell was encouraged to apply again for promotion. Once more he was turned down. In the letter informing him of the decision, MacCormick wrote that Campbell's "unreasonable over-sensitivity, even prickliness, towards past slights or apprehended slights" had had a negative effect on the running of the department "as a team enterprise".

From Brazil, where he was undertaking more research, he planned an appeal, only to be told on his return in 1996 that appeals could be heard only if promotion procedures could be shown to be flawed.

Things went from bad to worse. In 1997 Campbell attended a disciplinary hearing at which he was charged with refusing to carry out teaching duties as required. He explains that he was asked to teach 70-plus students as part of a seminar series - numbers more appropriate to a lecture course. He was also charged with failing to carry out administrative duties and with offensive and abusive behaviour towards Good, who by then was head of department.

The first charge was dismissed and it was judged that the other two merited a verbal warning each. But in the end the stress became too much for Campbell and he took early retirement on health grounds. A spokeswoman for Edinburgh University said: "Matters relating to individual members of staff are confidential. Dr Campbell chose to take the option open to him of early retirement. He was not dismissed."

What the case shows, say supporters, is how badly the promotion system works and how few real mechanisms there are for challenging it. "It shows," says one sympathetic colleague, "how much power is vested at Edinburgh, and probably at other universities, in a head of department and, if you fall foul of that person, how few mechanisms there are for challenging his decisions."

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