13 May: My solicitor, Debbie Smith, has explained that the university is enthusiastic to reach an agreement that involves me leaving with a gagging order. She suggests I write my reference for the severance agreement. I keep it modest but positive. I underplay my achievements and keep it all reasonable. Debbie makes no comment other than to mention that previous clients have “waxed lyrical” about themselves. So how could I do that? It’s been almost six months since Marcus was appointed and made my life hell. What a laugh – a Christian making my life hell. More than a touch of irony in that. I cannot summon up lyrical statements because I don’t have the energy and I feel a fraud. I feel I have sold out. I was so confident my case was clear-cut, that I could take them on and show what terrible things they have done to me. I wanted to prove I could buck the system, win a grievance and get justice. I had no idea what I was taking on – their power and ability to wound, undermine and subvert. When I read their comments from my grievance report, I still cannot believe what they said, or that senior university staff are able to chair a grievance and be so corrupt.
POWER. It’s what you do with it, how you use it – maintaining your position come what may or the ability to reflect on the authenticity of the abused or marginalised. How much better am I? Openly making a deal with the enemy, signing my way to silence and “business as usual”. Am I much better? I could have gone public, named names and shouted the name of the university from the rooftops. It feels wrong. I’m on my way to recovery now, but I did not realise how terrible things could get. In Sweden, research shows us that up to 20 per cent of all suicides are about work-related bullying. Perhaps this could be rationalised in the “free market”, the cut and thrust of capitalism – but in a school of social sciences? It’s unbelievable.
A few days after I have written the reference it comes back altered, only one word in the last paragraph. It has been changed from “made a positive contribution” to “made a reasonable contribution”. Even at the end they can stick the knife in with such skill to offend me. Debbie suggests I change it back. She doubts they will argue and she explains that this sort of spiteful change is not untypical. I have never seen Dominic so angry: he retreats to the garden and returns 30 minutes later. He’s been crying. He says that Marcus and Helen don’t deserve to get away with this – they should be reprimanded and it should be a blight on their career. However, we are both realistic: nothing will happen to them. It will all be managed with such skill that no one in the department will discover what has really happened.
14 May: The reference is sent back to the university with the wording changed back to “positive”, and it is accepted. A small payment from the university is agreed and I now have to sign the legal document. I cannot talk about them and they cannot talk about me. It’s all so neat and guarantees a good future for bullying. This is not right. I know it’s wrong. Dominic reminds me of what life was like only a few months ago. My anguish and low mood. I have to go to the solicitors to sign things off tomorrow.
I still have no communication from the team: no card, no goodbye, no nothing. If I had more support, perhaps I could have taken them on, but I feel part of my identity ebbing away.
I notice an advert for a senior in a university 80 miles away. It’s just right for me. I also know the head of department – she’s a good ethical person. Dominic is willing to think about a move, as it’s an area we have often considered moving to. He suggests I apply. We agree that I have the summer to gather my strength. I submit an application. I can only hope that Marcus and Helen abide by the severance agreement, which states that they cannot detract from the condition of the contract and reference. We’ll see.
I get an email from Debbie. They will clear my desk and box all my things up. They state what buildings I can collect my things from. They will go through all my belongings; it feels just about what I would expect. They say all items will be boxed up and available after I have signed the severance agreement. I feel like a criminal – destitute, outcast from my wonderful job. I think about my students; I check my diary and note the various teaching commitments I have missed. I miss my students and the work. I loved my job. I loved my job.
15 May: I go to my solicitor’s office. Debbie goes through the agreement bit by bit. I hardly listen. I feel they have won and I have lost. I feel pathetic when I consider the terrible state the university induced in me. Another lecturer ousted from her post in silence. How very systematic it all is, how convenient, how utterly corrupt. They do it all with such ease, like a magician on stage imperceptibly moving through his act.
I have tried to fight them, but in reality I’m no Spartacus.
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