Blogconfidential: Blowing the whistle on corruption

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Blowing the whistle on corruption

October 21, 2010

I am a middle manager in academia and undertake quality assurance work. This involves scrutinising validation documents and providing feedback to those who submit them.

I am aware that there are plans afoot to undertake "an exercise in appropriate economic-related relevance" of qualifications offered by my institution.

This has placed me in a dilemma because I am concerned that the process is highly biased. Shortlists of the qualifications under scrutiny have been made, but in a way that challenges my ethical framework.

It is not so much a question of whether the qualifications under consideration are "uneconomic" or not, but rather whether the individuals involved with these courses are "in favour" or at the bottom of the popularity list.

For example, a highly popular diploma in social exclusion that has been fully subscribed for five successive years but run by somebody not deemed popular has been selected for scrutiny, while a criminology diploma that has had a poor uptake and produced bad student feedback is to be spared the process. My suspicion is that this is down to the "special relationship" between our dean and the principal lecturer of the criminology course.

I have no doubt that the exercise is rigged. I know this because I saw the raw data and the figures have been changed to produce the desired outcome. I do not know what to do.

This is an area that causes me real concern and I have discussed issues of a similar nature in previous columns. But I must warn you that this is a particularly sensitive topic.

If you are saying that your dean and his associates are actively engaged in corrupt practices to freeze out other colleagues, then you have a duty to blow the whistle.

If you have raw data to prove this - and I do mean prove beyond doubt - you should seriously think about taking action. If you don't, and courses are axed simply because "faces don't fit", you are allowing a corrupt practice to go unchallenged.

The big question is how sound are the figures? If you put your head above the parapet, you will need all the backing you can get.

It is dispiriting to hear of senior managers acting like adolescents and making non-optimal judgements about issues that require above all else honesty and integrity.

One solution could be to launch a website that allows people to blow the whistle on unprofessional behaviour - a bit like WikiLeaks. Evidence such as your raw data could be uploaded and the people perpetrating such injustices identified.

With pressure on jobs increasing as government cuts bite, it will become increasingly important to eradicate such inappropriate uses of power. So what about a site to out the "unmanageable" managers? It could well be an idea whose time has come.

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