Anger at 'breach of trust'

August 17, 2007

An academic who publicly ridiculed the poor literacy skills of his undergraduate class has been accused of a breach of trust by the university's student union, writes Tariq Tahir.

Bernard Lamb collected the spelling and grammar blunders of 75 second and third-year biology undergraduates at Imperial College and contacted the national media.

Mistakes such as the use of "seamen" instead of "semen" and "rouge" for "rogue" were highlighted on the front page of one national Sunday newspaper and followed by other national newspapers.

While Dr Lamb, a reader in genetics, does not name any students in his press release, he highlights the poor English of "an African student educated in England for the last 14 years" and also refers to "UK-born, UK-educated students who were awarded first- class honours degrees".

Kirsty Patterson, deputy president of the student union, said that while the union agreed there was a problem with language standards, it felt the disclosure was "an inappropriate use of privileged information" and it was concerned about damage to Dr Lamb's relationship with students following a "perceived breach of trust".

Dr Lamb said students were not "individually identifiable" and that the third year students had left Imperial.

"When I have shown students such results in the past, their main reaction has been one of amusement, plus some horror at the extent of the errors and a hope that they did not make the worst ones," he said.

"My aim is to improve standards of English among all school-leavers, to make them more competitive in the modern world."

Imperial declined to comment.

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