Emeritus professor demands full investigation as apology falls flat

Sheffield Hallam blames internal errors for false 'demotion' documents. Zoë Corbyn reports

July 16, 2009

A professor who unearthed documents that he claims wrongly indicated he had been demoted has won an apology from his employer.

Gerry Larkin, emeritus professor of sociology at Sheffield Hallam University, has demanded a full investigation into the provenance of the erroneous records, which he came across during a two-year battle with his employer that began as his application for emeritus status was delayed.

Last month, Liz Winders, the university's secretary and registrar, wrote to apologise for the fact that he had been identified as senior lecturer on two payroll documents, blaming the mistake on an administrative error.

"I apologise to you on behalf of the university for this oversight. The university has amended or removed from its records documents that refer to your grade as senior lecturer," she said.

Despite this concession, Professor Larkin has demanded that Sheffield Hallam launch a full-blown investigation into who "altered" the records and why it had taken so long to get them expunged. He has also claimed that the university continues to hold false medical records about him.

Professor Larkin, who retired after 20 years of service in 2005, first approached the university in 2006 to ask why his application for emeritus status had not progressed.

He made a request under the Data Protection Act to ascertain what personal information was held about him, and found what he claims were "false demotion documents" that would rule out his application. He also claims there were other "false records" ascribing medical conditions to him that he did not have.

Professor Larkin's emeritus application was progressed but, the professor said, Sheffield Hallam failed to assure him that the records he identified had been corrected or destroyed.

He lodged a second information request in 2008, which led to interventions from both the Information Commissioner's Office and the University and College Union.

The professor finally received an apology last month, but said this was "not good enough" and accused the university of seeking to "obscure the history of mishandling".

"There has been no 'oversight' whatsoever but rather the exact opposite, an unacceptable and sustained attempt to avoid corrections over a period of years," he said.

The university responded that it did not agree with "any of Professor Larkin's assertions" and added that it had engaged in "lengthy discussions" with him to address his concerns.

"There was a clerical oversight that led to an error in recording Professor Larkin's grade on two payroll documents. We have apologised for this oversight.

"The ICO is satisfied with our response ... There has been no strategy of holding false documents," a spokeswoman said.

She added that in April, Professor Larkin had been asked to identify the documents he was concerned about and specify any amendments he wanted or request their deletion.

"To date, Professor Larkin has not responded to this invitation," she said.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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