SOUTHAMPTON Institute bosses have hired an ex-police chief to uncover the publishers of a "scurrilous" internal spoof newsletter. Ray Piper, a former detective superintendent with the Hampshire police and a part-time law lecturer at the institute, will conduct inquiries into who is responsible for Dunghill, a satirical version of official newsletter Molehill.
David Leyland, the institute's director, said the investigation had been launched because Dunghill's reporting is making people scared to express their views in meetings in case they are reported in it. He added: "This is a scurrilous and very damaging publication."
David Smith, the chair of governors, said the investigation was being funded with institute money.
It has been condemned by Mike Shattock, secretary of the Committee of University Chairmen, which is drafting a statement on whistleblowing in response to recommendations from the Nolan committee.
"What Nolan has said and what we have strongly supported is the concept of transparency and openness in higher education. Clearly you must guard against an institution being destabilised by malicious criticism, but all the principles of openness say you should listen to your critics and either rebuff them or address the criticisms," he said.
Critics should also be prepared to be identified but they should be given a guarantee that this would not automatically lead to disciplinary measures, he added.
Many staff, some of whom have been interviewed by Mr Piper, feel this may prove impractical under the current regime. An independent report commissioned and recently published by the institute noted that "a large number of staff from most senior to the most junior" did not voice criticisms due to "fear of the consequences".
Some senior staff are worried the investigation will not be viewed favourably by auditors from the Higher Education Funding Council for England who are focussing on "matters of governance" in visits to the institute.
The National Audit Office has decided to compile a report based on HEFCE's findings, which is expected to be considered later this year by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.
Meanwhile, Nottingham Trent University, which validates most of the institute's courses, has produced a highly critical appraisal of arrangements for running courses in Spain through the International Maritime Institute Alicante-Southampton, a company jointly owned by Southampton Institute and the University of Alicante.
The report says a visit by Nottingham Trent validators in November last year appeared to be the first time any member of the institute's directorate with responsibility for IMIAS had visited Alicante since the company's establishment in 1995.
"The university is at a loss to understand the reasons for this omission and the failure of the institute to assure itself that appropriate arrangements were in place for the effective delivery of its academic programmes," it says.
Nottingham Trent has said it will not provide awards for courses delivered through IMIAS until its criticisms have been satisfactorily addressed. The institute declined to comment on Nottingham Trent's criticisms.