HEA draws worldwide criticism over suspension

April 24, 2008

Academics from around the world have joined in criticism of the Higher Education Academy following the suspension of its director of research and evaluation.

Lee Harvey was suspended from the post, pending investigation, after he criticised the National Student Survey in a letter written in a personal capacity and published in Times Higher Education.

It is understood that the HEA is investigating whether he broke a clause of his contract banning him from writing letters for publication without the academy's clearance.

Dozens of academics, some from as far away as South America, South Africa and Australia, have rallied to Professor Harvey's defence after Times Higher Education reported his suspension. Via posts to the Times Higher Education website and letters to the HEA, many accuse the academy of trampling academic freedom.

The suspension was "totally unacceptable", said Chris Rust, a fellow of the HEA. "I would suggest that the academy ... needs all the friends it can get," he added.

John Rouse, dean of law, humanities, development and society at Birmingham City University, said he was "shocked, astonished, appalled" by the suspension. In a letter to Bob Burgess, HEA chairman, he said: "This reflects badly on the HEA's attitude to academic freedom."

Carmen Fenoll, former pro vice-chancellor of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Toledo, Spain, urged the HEA to rethink its position. "This is not in the benefit of this prestigious institution," she said.

Orlando Albornoz, a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, said: "It is devastating news for scholars living in countries like Venezuela ... I feel sorry about what has happened in this case in Great Britain, which we still look upon as a place of academic freedom."

Catherine Rytmeister, a higher education researcher writing from Sydney, Australia, said Professor Harvey "must be reinstated without delay".

The HEA said it had "full and fair" disciplinary procedures and supported academic freedom.

john.gill@tsleducation.com

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