Blog confidential: Putting the 'vice' in vice-chancellor

July 15, 2010

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online.

This week: Putting the 'vice' in vice-chancellor

I have followed this column for the past few months and have been intrigued by some of the scenarios discussed. To be frank, many of them are not far removed from the dilemmas I have experienced and the situations I have observed in the workplace.

My concern relates to a group of senior academics who are involved in activities I would describe as corrupt. Before I continue, I should say that I have gone to great lengths to make sure I cannot be identified. Call me paranoid, but I have sent this query by email from an internet cafe for fear of being discovered.

I realise you may question the seriousness of what I am about to tell you - and perhaps you won't be shocked by my disclosure - but here goes.

Our vice-chancellor recently hosted a very prestigious visit from a Chinese delegation, an event that had a great deal to do with "selling" certain professional qualifications and developing the university's overseas placements. Several leading managers, scholars and representatives from industry came over from China for a week and were wined and dined by senior staff.

I have it on good authority that the vice-chancellor took the group to a lap-dancing club as part of the "festivities". Need I say more?

I have also discovered that the "expenses" claimed by the vice-chancellor et al are excessive and that there has been creative accounting in relation to the costs associated with the escapade. But I am torn between blowing the whistle on what I consider to be corrupt behaviour and keeping my mouth shut, because I know the endgame will be financially beneficial for our university, which is heavily in debt.

I need some guidance but cannot talk to any of my colleagues. I like to think I still have ethics and values, but if I handed over the evidence I have to, say, the newspapers, it would probably sound the professional death knell for some university staff. The stress is affecting my health: I can't sleep and had an anxiety attack last week. Any suggestions?

My advice to you is to keep quiet about the whole affair. The road to hell is paved with good intentions - and littered with whistleblowers who have come off worse (read Geoffrey Hunt's Whistleblowing in the Social Services: Public Accountability and Professional Practice for the evidence). The anxiety you are feeling is nothing compared with what you will experience should you take matters further.

So the gentlemen from China were taken to a lap-dancing club? It is sad behaviour from a bunch of pathetic men, true, but is it worth blowing the whistle about? No.

The creative accounting is a concern, but you need to take care, keep your head down and do nothing. I think you are a little unrealistic about the real world. I am not saying the behaviour is acceptable, but in this instance, is the game worth the candle?

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