Departing professor hits out at ‘heavy-handed’ email termination

Historian says he has been unable access notes and part-written books, but Swansea says it has been providing files

March 11, 2020

A history professor who was cut off from his institutional computer account on the day that he resigned has criticised his former employer’s “heavy-handed” approach to departing staff.

Last month Huw Bowen quit as professor of modern history at Swansea University, where he had worked for 14 years, leaving with immediate effect.

On the day that he resigned the key to his office was removed and his staff computer account frozen, making it impossible to access emails, research materials or journal papers, Professor Bowen told Times Higher Education.

“I could not put up an auto-reply message with my new email address on it,” said Professor Bowen.

“I cannot access saved emails, and although many of them are to do with tedious university business, some of them are important.”

While he had been granted supervised access to his office on one occasion since his resignation, Professor Bowen said that he had since been unable to obtain hand-written notes and books that remain there. “I’ve written four or five times over the past few weeks asking for access but I’ve had no response,” he said.

However, the sudden loss of access to his university account was most damaging because he could not read past books, articles, research or lecture notes, he said.

“I have three half-written books, 35 years’ worth of teaching files and about 10 years of articles that I can’t access – it does feel rather heavy-handed,” he said.

Professor Bowen believes that his situation is not unique. “I have spoken to academics at other universities who have also had this almost immediate closing down on access – it would be good to have a bit of leeway on this,” he said.

Professor Bowen, an expert on British and imperial economic history, said that he was now keen to find a job in India – one of his main research interests.

A Swansea spokeswoman said that Professor Bowen’s departure “has been dealt with in a sensitive manner and handled in accordance with our human resources policies and procedures”.

“It is usual university practice to deny such access when an individual resigns from the university,” she added.

The spokeswoman said that “a small team of university staff has been liaising closely with Professor Bowen during this time and any documents that have been requested have either been provided to Professor Bowen or are in the process of being provided to him.

“There has been no point where the university has refused a request for information from Professor Bowen.”

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Departing professor hits out over frozen access

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Reader's comments (4)

But equally, "resigning with immediate effect" is also "heavy-handed". Something else going on here.
The warning is obvious: if you want to walk out on your post (which 'resign with immediate effect' is); make sure that you have off-site backups of everything you want to retain BEFORE handing in your notice.
Exactly, need to remember that the email, laptop, phone and other items are usually your employers property in most jurisdictions. Either keep stuff on your own cloud accounts and devices or be prepared to lose everything. Also, often a bit a smauzle when you have personal items, books, textbooks etc. in your employers office. I remember doing a liquidation where the employee did not have proof that the popcorn machine was theirs and not the companies. Liquidator point, to bad so sad.
Also worth saying that suspending someone’s access to IT facilities on the day they cease working for an organisation is considered to be good practice in terms of cyber security.

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