A complete medical check-up

March 19, 1999

I note, with regret ("Body facts fail medical", THES, March 12) that a spokesman for the managers of Liverpool John Moores University commented to The THES unilaterally about alleged erroneous teaching.

I proposed, several times, after a THES reporter contacted me last November (and also contacted a professor at the university) that a joint press statement should be drawn up by Natfhe and university managers. In the absence of a jointly agreed statement, readers are entitled to a balancing view.

The spokesman is quoted as saying: "The problem had already come to light as part of a grievance case from a member of staff." That is somewhat misleading. Can the "spokesman" deny that the difficulty was in fact identified over several years at boards of study meetings by students, and to senior managers by lecturing staff? Those complaints would have their own existence and would not depend on any subsequent "grievance" that they would long pre-date.

I proposed in November 1998 that seemingly insoluble differences of professional academic perception and, of equal (or greater) importance, their significance to students should be put to an external inquiry involving the assistance of academic and scientific authorities eminent in their discrete fields. It had become glaringly obvious that the issue could not be settled "in house". That proposal had the twin advantages that it would produce an unchallengeable academic verdict and would dissolve unwelcome publicity. A bland press statement could have been issued indicating that a complex matter of scientific judgement was being resolved through professional mediation. The proposal has not been taken up.

Belatedly, and only through the personal intervention of the vice-chancellor (who should never have needed to become involved), there is now to be an "in-house" academic review but with "external" help. I cautiously welcome that - although it falls far short of my proposal - provided that the external specialists will be senior academics with unassailable eminence in the fields of neurophysiology and respiratory physiology. It would be utterly farcical for a matter of this scientific complexity to be left to less distinguished academics with only peripheral specialisms. The debate must be settled definitively.

Equally important is the question of how this could have languished for so many years. Nothing like it should happen again. I have proposed to the vice-chancellor that consideration of the procedural part of the difficulty should be facilitated by ACAS to produce findings that will be transparently independent - yet still remain confidential. If that is agreed it will ensure that the university can be seen publicly and at home to have addressed the whole, and not a part, of the issue.

Your article, the concomitant embarrassment and this counter-comment could not have seen the light of day had our proposal to university managers been accepted last November. Can Nero ever be a role model?

Adrian Jones Universities officialNorth of England, Natfhe, Liverpool

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