Head denies rigging assessment thresholds in redundancy dispute

Dismissed Queen Mary lecturer Fanis Missirlis claims appraisal metrics set at level to deliberately exclude him

January 16, 2014

The figure at the centre of controversial restructuring at Queen Mary University of London has denied claims made at an employment tribunal that he rigged the redundancy selection procedure to ensure one of its most outspoken critics fell below the threshold.

Fanis Missirlis was formerly a lecturer in cell biology in Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. He was dismissed on the grounds of redundancy in June 2012.

As reported in Times Higher Education, Dr Missirlis had been a vocal critic of the process intended to assess the research record of academics in the school on the basis of metrics such as paper output, the quality of journals in which they had published and their grant income. He claimed the process was flawed, unfair, damaging to teaching and had not been applied equitably.

Dr Missirlis, who now works at the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute, in Mexico, appealed against his dismissal at an employment tribunal. At the centre of his case is the claim that his position was not genuinely redundant since the school advertised a role substantially indistinguishable from his just two weeks after his redundancy was confirmed.

However, Matthew Evans, head of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, told a tribunal hearing in Central London on 8 January that Dr Missirlis had been deemed incapable of meeting any of the roles in the “refocused” school and was therefore redundant.

Professor Evans said it had been clear to him upon his arrival in 2011 that the school was failing to pull its weight in Queen Mary’s “mission” to “be competitive with the most research-intensive universities in the UK and the world”.

He admitted that the decision to recruit another lecturer in cell and molecular biology had been taken before Dr Missirlis’ redundancy had been confirmed, but said this was in line with plans to change the number of academics in different fields at the school. Dr Missirlis’ research had been deemed to fall into “organismal biology”, which was largely funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. Professor Evans wanted to reduce that area and expand cell biology, funded by the wealthier Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

He denied that an email he had sent noting that Dr Missirlis would be reprieved if the journal quality threshold were lowered, indicated that he was “gerrymandering” the outcome of the redundancy process. As head of school, Professor Evans said it was imperative that he understood “what the impactions of changing the criteria were going to be” and he had routinely examined which individuals would be affected if various parameters were altered.

Professor Evans said his metrics-based approach had been the most objective available; the alternative of assembling an assessment panel would have been impractical, expensive and open to allegations of bias.

He said Dr Missirlis had been given a zero score for scholarly activity, despite having developed course material for two teaching modules, because he had refused to supply the relevant information for assessment.

The tribunal was due to conclude this week.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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