Department 'in a mess'

April 2, 1999

Students are suffering from a climate of "chaos" at the University of East London's communications studies department, according to an "unofficial" newsletter.

The anonymous author last month set up a Post Office box number for student complaints as part of an on-going campaign to highlight years of alleged mismanagement that appear to have led to the erosion of quality standards. The university has taken steps to sort the matter out, but has so far failed to lay it to rest.

The story goes back a year when staff factional fighting had become so bad at the department that senior managers recommended professional "conflict resolution" counsellors be parachuted in to restore peace. In a report for the vice-chancellor communicated to staff in April 1998, a review panel warned that "serious conflicts between staff" had hindered "reasoned professional discussion" in such crucial quality areas as "marking standards".

The report warned that in the department as a whole, education and community studies, "the current modular MA seems to be in need of some clear management" and it recommended that "clear procedures and quality standards" should be agreed with all staff. More recently a batch of student essays were lost.

This week a spokeswoman for the University of East London said: "These events happened a considerable time ago - the disciplinary hearing was last summer. In each case where the university had the situation drawn to its attention it acted decisively to remedy it." But not all staff are satisfied.

The vice-chancellor's report severely criticised communications subject area coordinator David Hinton. Dr Hinton was found to have largely failed to "operate within the line management structure" and had allowed problems to "deteriorate into personal conflicts".

After a two-day disciplinary hearing in July 1998, the university found that Dr Hinton "had actively attempted to undermine his head of department" and had also harassed a junior lecturer in the department, Lina Anagnostou.

This constituted "a serious offence". But Dr Hinton was allowed to return to the university. He was given a final written warning, to remain on his personal file for two years, and was removed as subject area coordinator. Dr Hinton was unavailable for comment as The THES went to press.

Not all of the recommendations to the vice-chancellor were taken up. The report suggested that "an alternative location" be found for the department. This was adopted, and the department has been brought within the cultural studies division.

But the report's assertion that there must be a "sensitive approach to this process" appears to have been ignored. In the ensuing office reshuffle, Dr Hinton was moved. He is now based almost next door to Ms Anagnostou - the woman he was found to have harassed - when they had previously been on different floors.

The university said this week that the office allocations are only temporary.

The recommendation in the report by the review panel, for professional conflict resolution, was never taken up, it is understood.

The unofficial newsletter claims: "It is not surprising that communications studies is in an even bigger academic and administrative mess than before."

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