Dismissal threat for metrics letter

Biologist risks ‘gross misconduct’ over comments on Queen Mary restructuring. John Morgan writes

May 17, 2012

Queen Mary, University of London has warned one of its academics that he faces an investigation that potentially could lead to dismissal, after he wrote a letter criticising its metrics-based redundancy programme and two senior managers.

Fanis Missirlis, a lecturer in cell biology, and a colleague put their names to a letter to The Lancet that was published online on 4 May.

On 14 May, Dr Missirlis received a letter from a human resources officer at Queen Mary telling him that the college had “decided to commence a fact-finding investigation” into an allegation that in publishing the letter he “sought to bring the Head of School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (Matthew Evans) and the Dean for Research in the School of Medicine and Dentistry (Thomas MacDonald) into disrepute”.

If the allegations proceed to a full disciplinary hearing and are substantiated, they may constitute misconduct, the letter says, or even gross misconduct, “which could lead to dismissal”.

Queen Mary’s disciplinary code says managers will “investigate thoroughly any allegations of misconduct that come to their attention and decide if formal action is needed”.

The restructuring programmes in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences and the School of Medicine and Dentistry - which are using metrics intended to measure research performance to select candidates for redundancy - have provoked concern among academics at Queen Mary.

In the letter to The Lancet, Dr Missirlis - who has also written a letter to Times Higher Education on the subject - says the “retrospective crimes” of those selected for redundancy, “committed between 2008 and 2011, include too few publications as a ‘significant’ author in high-impact journals, below-average external funding, and failure to meet metrics for allocation of PhD studentships”.

He refers to the dean of research in the School of Medicine and Dentistry as the “grand inquisitor” in that school and says the dean’s own research credentials “are, naturally, unavailable for scrutiny”.

In the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Dr Missirlis says, “one of the ‘metrics’ for research output at professorial level is to have published at least two papers in journals with impact factors of 7 or more”. He asks how the head of the school would fare on that basis.

Chris Pearson, director of human resources at Queen Mary, said: “Colleagues are free to publicly discuss their concerns over restructuring, and we have encouraged discussion and feedback … We never discuss or comment on individual cases of staff who may or may not be involved in disciplinary matters.”

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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