Email embarrasses Birkbeck

July 25, 2003

As ill-judged remarks go, it is not on the scale of Jo Moore, the public relations consultant who dubbed September 11 "a good day to bury bad news".

But Birkbeck College's media and publicity officer, Catherine Doherty, is ruing a slip-up that resulted in her emailing a complainant with the message: "Yikes! What a silly little man!"

Author Bob Crew had contacted the college following its launch of a masters degree in creative writing because he had proposed such a course in May 1999 and it had been turned down as "idiosyncratic".

Moreover, the rejection letter - which Mr Crew passed to the vice-chancellor of the University of London, Graham Zellick - was described by Professor Zellick as "to say the least, ungracious, if not downright offensive".

Things went from bad to worse. Earlier this month, Mr Crew contacted the head of English, Sally Ledger, on the launch of the creative writing course, with the message: "If you are going to pinch and very likely plagiarise other people's ideas and proposals, it would be courteous to let them know, if not to acknowledge their contribution."

The email was forwarded to Ms Doherty with the message "Here's a hot news story for you!" Ms Doherty then inadvertently sent her thoughts to Mr Crew and Mr Crew shared them with Professor Zellick, who suggested an apology would be in order.

Mr Crew was sent an apology and the promise of a response from the English department.

Immediately afterwards, the college issued the following statement:

"Birkbeck has been running short courses in creative writing through its faculty of continuing education for more than 15 years. In 2000, we introduced a certificate and diploma in creative writing and the idea for an MA has been under consideration for a number of years. If anyone is suggesting that they have the right of ownership of the idea, it is difficult to see how they can substantiate such a claim since courses of this type have been on offer in the UK and US for many years."

While Mr Crew accepts the apology, he remains defiant that it was his idea.

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