AUT probes branch boss

January 23, 1998

Cambridge lecturer Gill Evans has accused her Association of University Teachers branch president of conducting a "campaign of personal vilification" against her. The AUT is investigating the claim.

Dr Evans, who has vigorously challenged Cambridge's procedures for promoting academics, has made a complaint to AUT general secretary, David Triesman, claiming that Joan Whitehead has "defamed" her.

The complaint centres on a letter Dr Whitehead wrote, as a member of Cambridge's governing council, to the chancellor, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. He had invited council members to give evidence as part of his investigation into Dr Evans's complaints that she has been harassed by the university's vice-chancellor, Alec Broers.

In the letter, Dr Whitehead rejected the accusation that Dr Evans has been harassed. She wrote that Dr Evans was "obsessed" with her campaign and that she "can be offensive and at times extremely rude" and "appears to regard disagreement as an expression of hostility".

"Members of the council do, on occasions, allow some of the exasperation they feel towards Dr Evans to become apparent. This, I would contend, results solely from Dr Evans's behaviour at council meetings, and the way she behaves towards other members of the council," Dr Whitehead wrote.

She claimed that Dr Evans is "patronising" and her behaviour "wearing" and that she often "hijacks" debates to turn them into discussions about promotion.

Sir Alec Broers has "shown considerably more restraint (in dealing with Dr Evans) than she deserved", wrote Dr Whitehead. She concluded: "The behaviours outlined above are not only extremely annoying but greatly hold up the business of the council... getting Dr Evans to recognise that her behaviour is unacceptable to the council is an uphill struggle."

Dr Evans has told the AUT that the letter illustrates the personal hostility she faces. She told the AUT that the letter "contains a number of false and misleading statements".

Dr Whitehead said: "All council members were asked to write to the chancellor. How (Dr Evans) can suggest that this is personal, I do not know."

The row came to a head last week when Dr Whitehead was quoted in The Independent saying that Dr Evans's promotions campaign has "clearly taken over her life". In the same article, Dr Whitehead said that some people at Cambridge "have an unrealistically high opinion of themselves". Dr Evans believes this is defamatory.

Dr Whitehead said that she told The Independent journalist that she said Dr Evans "appeared" to have let the campaign take over her life, which she stands by. "And I was talking about general promotions issues when I said that some people have an unrealistic opinion of themselves. If Dr Evans wants to assume that the cap fits her, then it's her problem."

Dr Evans told the AUT: "I have never had any wish but to work cooperatively with Dr Whitehead, but she has made that impossible."

An AUT spokeswoman said that the complaint would be "looked at in due course", but would not comment further.

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