Bullied, but no pay-out

September 15, 2000

Disabled academic Robert Giddings was "inexcusably" bullied and harassed throughout his career at Bournemouth University. But he is not entitled to compensation, and there was no discrimination because such treatment "is an unfortunate part of working life", says a confidential inquiry report.

Dame Elizabeth Filkin, parliamentary commissioner for standards, reported to the university last month the results of her investigation into Professor Giddings's allegations that bullying, victimisation and discrimination had hampered his 18-year career at Bournemouth.

Commenting on complaints "concerning harassment and bullying" during a period in the 1980s, Dame Elizabeth said: "It is an unfortunate part of working life for many people at some stage, or stages, in their careers. It is always hurtful and never excusable." She said managers should curb bullying but "unfortunately, that goal is not always achieved... I do appreciate how upsetting this must have been and how Professor Giddings's health may have suffered in consequence", she said. Professor Giddings, whose childhood polio means he uses a wheelchair, and who has also suffered with cancer, was signed off with stress several times during his time at the university's media studies department.

But Dame Elizabeth said that there was "no evidence" that Professor Giddings "suffered more acutely than his colleagues by any failure of the management during that time".

She also accepts that during a period in the 1990s, Professor Giddings "may well" have suffered from a "heavy-handed or defective" approach by management to his outspoken views on the academic direction of Bournemouth.

Professor Giddings openly expressed concern that the university's vocational focus was leading it to "lose sight of the need to develop well-rounded individuals". Led by the vice-chancellor Bernard McManus, managers said that his commitment to the "liberal ideal" of higher education was unhelpful, and urged him to consider redundancy. In another instance, Dr McManus asked him to consider early retirement after he complained about the closure of a course, the report said.

Dame Elizabeth said: "Clearly there was a clash of both philosophy and personality between Professor Giddings and Dr McManus." And "Dr McManus's style of management appears to have been hard to contend with for staff who disagreed".

But she concluded that "these situations are rarely clear-cut" and could not decide if Professor Giddings had been victimised for his views. She said that turbulence in the sector has "made life problematic for many staff, particularly those like Professor Giddings who are dedicated to teaching and research".

Professor Giddings's promotion to reader came very shortly after Dr McManus resigned as vice-chancellor in 1994 and the new vice-chancellor told him "those days are over", followed by his promotion to a personal chair, in 1996.

But Dame Elizabeth said that the bullying, and Professor Giddings's clash with management, had not unfairly retarded his career.

She heard that in 1986 Professor Giddings was passed over for a readership in favour of an external candidate who had been in correspondence with managers about the post five months before it had been advertised, and who had not even completed his PhD. The preferred candidate was allowed to take a lower position, with the readership put on hold until he had completed his PhD. She listed other unsuccessful promotion applications.

"Many well-qualified and hard-working people with considerable experience feel that their careers have not gone as well as they deserved," she said. And as Professor Giddings did eventually get a personal chair, albeit well after he believed he deserved it, the university had acted properly in recognising his work, she said.

A summary of the report will go to governors later this month.

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