Courting disaster

July 2, 2015

It is a failure of common sense for a Russell Group university to dismiss one of its most successful and highly cited academics without exhaustively exploring the grounds for compromise (“Dismissal was unfair, but academic sparked it himself”, News, 25 June). “Shooting oneself” and “foot” come to mind, so what went wrong?

Ostensibly, the issue was a dispute over teaching, but few observers will believe that the sacking (as with that of Fanis Missirlis in 2012) is unrelated to the public criticism of Queen Mary University of London’s managers offered by John Allen and Missirlis. That principal Simon Gaskell and his lieutenants are reluctant to answer the many calls for moderation of their policy of trying to propel the institution into the top decile of UK universities by force has merely enhanced the bitterness on both sides and entrenched their positions.

Having attended much of the tribunal and read the judgment (which may still be appealed), it seems to me that Allen’s partial success results primarily from the unprecedented sanction of having all his specialist teaching removed in one fell swoop, to be replaced by contributions to service courses. This is the academic equivalent of being reduced to the ranks. However, the main planks of his case, that under the broadly accepted principles of academic freedom he was entitled to be consulted over his teaching, and that the notorious “Lancet letter” was a protected disclosure, were both rejected. The court appears to be suggesting that academic freedom is whatever human resources says it should be and can be interpreted more narrowly as contracts are modified (and weakened).

The tribunal struggled to understand the nuances of academic life, for example why the difference between an original paper in a journal and an editorial introduction is considered important. However, the highlight of the hearing was the brief but brilliant appearance of Thomas Docherty, who testified for the claimant. Docherty explained his thesis that modern university executives no longer attempt to provide sound leadership; they simply hand out blame by formula: the crudest form of adjudication and in the long run an abrogation of duty. That seems to sum up the whole mess.

David Bignell
Via timeshighereducation.co.uk

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
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

opinion illustration

Eliminating cheating services, even if it were possible, would do nothing to address students’ and universities’ lack of interest in learning, says Stuart Macdonald

Female professor

New data show proportion of professors who are women has declined at some institutions

celebrate, cheer, tef results

Emilie Murphy calls on those who challenged the teaching excellence framework methodology in the past to stop sharing their university ratings with pride