Blogconfidential: Manning up

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

January 20, 2011

Before Christmas, a professor at our university sent a joke by email, thinking it was only for the eyes of a "select few". Sadly for him, he actually sent it to the whole university. Within minutes it was recalled, but not before some of the unintended recipients read the email (with some saving it or sending it on to others).

I will not repeat the "joke", other than to say it was utterly racist and a terrible reflection on him personally. Indeed, before the day was out, he sent an apologetic email attempting to minimise the damage. He explained that it "had been a big mistake" and that the "joke" was not meant for public consumption. My reaction was: "So what?"

To make matters worse, the academic in question is chair of the university's equal opportunities working party. Who said irony was dead?

I suggested in our team meeting that we formalise a complaint about the email in terms of a statement, but was greeted with a resounding silence. Informally, I was told by my academic lead to "button it" and that today's academic climate was "hardly conducive to heroics". I feel sick about this and the whole episode.

Of course, another reason - the main reason - why this latter-day Bernard Manning is going to escape censure is his research profile and income. Money talks a great deal more loudly than ethics and values, so I guess it was always very doubtful that my colleagues would back me up.

If I kick up a fuss I will be earmarked as a troublemaker and placed on top of the redundancy list. I would welcome any advice about what I should do next.

Every week I have to consider very carefully the authenticity of the information I am sent for this column as I'm sometimes amazed by the stories I hear.

From the outset, I should assure readers that this event did happen. I agree that the academic's behaviour is unacceptable and should be dealt with by those who are charged with implementing disciplinary procedures.

I admire your courage in raising the issue and seeking some sort of transparency and justice, rather than simply accepting the old boys' network's cover-up.

I guess that management hope that the stink will pass, but the guilty party should not be allowed to walk away scot-free: at the very least, he should explain his actions and the university should challenge his racist "humour". My personal opinion is that he should be suspended and an investigation should commence.

In this instance, I think it is very sad that your colleagues greeted your principled stand with a wall of silence. Your academic lead's suggestion that you "button it" is itself a form of bullying.

Without backing, I'm not sure how you should proceed. Please take care that you do not become some sort of fall guy because it sounds like your colleagues won't catch you.

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