Have a merry Christmas, or else

January 15, 1999

"Failure to follow university procedures, without proper authority, may in future lead to disciplinary action being taken against you. If a breach is serious enough, this could be considered as gross misconduct."

This was a Christmas message to staff by Michael Driscoll, vice-chancellor at Middlesex University, where staff are smarting from a free-speech dispute. In a letter attached to staff pay slips, Professor Driscoll warned that the university had suffered from "a number of recent cases where colleagues have failed to follow university policies and procedures".

"Policies and procedures have been developed to prevent legal challenge, external scrutiny or other damage being done to the university.

Accordingly, there is an obligation on all colleagues to abide by these procedures," Professor Driscoll said.

The free-speech row led to the resignation of the staff representative on the governing body and to the suspension and "redeployment" of the editor of the in-house newsletter, North Circular. Management suppressed an article attacking a "climate of fear", prompting lecturers' union Natfhe to issue an emergency newsletter lamenting the "rule of silence".

The Driscoll letter has sparked another Natfhe emergency issue, expressing the staff's "puzzlement, panic and outrage" at a letter that is "universal in its scope and threatening". It said: "The vice-chancellor's letter to staff seems calculated to intensify the climate of fear."

The university this week said that the letter was sent out in accordance with the ACAS code of practice. "The senior management team is extremely disappointed with the union response, which implies that it is acceptable for members to disregard the university's policies and procedures," a spokesman said.

Natfhe's advice to colleagues: "Don't get scared, get angry."

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