Ethical squeeze leaves US postgrad set to sue

November 12, 1999

Swansea University attracted a postgraduate student from the United States to a Pounds 20,000 doctorate programme with misleading claims that it had plenty of academics who would make "perfect" supervisors, it was alleged this week.

But Edwin Del Wollert left Swansea's philosophy department today after the university failed to find him a supervisor he deemed qualified, despite assurances that "several (academics) would be perfect for the job".

Mr Del Wollert, who intends to take legal action to recover several thousands of pounds in costs, said: "The university was willing to say anything to get me over here." He is being supported by the Council for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards, which includes a number of current Swansea philosophers among its founders.

Mr Del Wollert's application to pursue the Pounds 6,470-a-year, full-time PhD at Swansea was accepted for a September 1999 start. Mr Del Wollert made clear in his research proposal that the thesis would be based on the influence of Arthurian legend, literature, history and archaeology on modern ethics.

A member of the philosophy department wrote to Mr Del Wollert saying the research committee accepted his proposal but he would have to wait to be allocated a supervisor: "The problem is not so much that we have too few staff who would be qualified as that several of us would be perfect for the job."

Mr Del Wollert repeatedly stressed his reluctance to leave the US without full reassurance about supervision. Just weeks before he was due to start, there was still no supervisor, but the member of Swansea's philosophy department said: "I perfectly understand your concerns regarding supervision you are, after all, paying a lot of money for your education here." The reassurance was repeated that "several of us would be competent to supervise your thesis". But Swansea's philosophy department has just eight eligible academic staff listed on its website, and just three have any recognised special interest in ethics. Of those, none has any expertise on anything to do with King Arthur.

A spokeswoman for Swansea University said there was "no immediate indication that Mr Del Wollert had been misled or mistreated in any way".

"He stated his research interest as the influence of the Arthurian legends on modern ethics. Swansea does have considerable expertise in the field of ethics, so I don't think any difficulties were envisaged there," she said. The spokeswoman said he decided to leave when his suggested supervisor suggested "some amendments" to his proposal, and that there was not a record of any formal complaint.

Want to blow the whistle? Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298 or email


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