Generosity earns a severe scolding

Academic faces censure for giving his time to run extracurricular revision class. John Gill reports

July 3, 2008

When an advanced economics course at Birkbeck, University of London, was shortened by two weeks, the academic who led it thought his usual end-of-module revision session would be more important than ever.

Every year for the past 18 years, Bernard H. Casey has run the extra session at the end of the course in quantitative economic methods.

He has never been paid for his time, and all he has asked of the university is the use of a room for an hour or two, which it has happily supplied.

This year things were different, and Dr Casey now faces disciplinary action for the potential "detrimental impact" caused by his holding the revision session.

As the end of the module approached, he put in his normal request at the faculty of lifelong learning to book a room.

In an e-mail exchange, Matthijs van den Bos, award co-ordinator, initially thanked Dr Casey for his "generosity" in offering to hold the seminar, but said he must stick to the 22 sessions allocated for the module.

Dr Casey told Times Higher Education: "I told them this is ridiculous: I've been teaching this course since 1989 and have always held this session. But the reply was 'no'.

"I talked to the students and said, look, this is a bit silly, but let's hold a session anyway. A colleague arranged a room, and we went along and did it."

Dr Casey informed Dr van den Bos in an e-mail that he had held the seminar despite his instructions, adding light-heartedly: "I submit myself for punishment."

The award co-ordinator responded by demanding to know how many students took part and what costs were involved. Dr Casey replied that he had incurred travel costs "and purchased a cup of tea" but would not make an expenses claim.

He refused to name the students attending an "extracurricular" session and added: "I realise that I have sinned grievously and, thus, request appropriate punishment."

Last week, a month after the session was held, Dr Casey received a letter from Martin Hodkinson, the faculty manager, ordering him to attend a disciplinary interview to "investigate your decision to conduct a revision class".

It says: "The purpose of this meeting is to establish if your decision to hold a revision class was in violation of instruction from line management. In addition the investigation will consider the potential detrimental impact on the students taking the course."

Dr Casey told Times Higher Education that he was astonished by the development, particularly the suggestion that the revision session may have had a "detrimental impact" on the students.

He pointed out that although the course had been cut from 24 to 22 weeks this year, the content remained the same, which made an extra session all the more useful.

"This is the kind of thing that even the new University of Poppleton would find bizarre.

"The problem with Birkbeck is that it's stacking itself up with extraordinary amounts of admin staff and reducing teaching staff, but that's a standard story these days," he said.

Birkbeck declined to comment while disciplinary procedures continued.

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