Headhunter says sorry

October 6, 2000

Saxton Bampfylde Hever, a recruitment consultancy, has apologised for being untruthful and dismissive in its dealings with whistleblower John Pickering.

Professor Pickering lost his job as deputy vice-chancellor at Portsmouth University in l994 after he helped draw attention to the expenses irregularities of then vice-chancellor Neil Merritt. Despite an illustrious career, Professor Pickering has had trouble getting work in higher education since the case.

His bad luck started with his application in 1995 to replace disgraced Dr Merritt, an appointment handled by Saxton Bampfylde. After years of subsequent failures, Professor Pickering believed he had been "blacklisted" for his whistleblowing. He accused Saxton Bampfylde, which has been involved in the appointment of more than 30 British vice-chancellors, of being prejudiced and of deliberately hiding the truth about the reasons for his failed applications.

Earlier this year, an inquiry by broadcaster and ethicist Elaine Storkey found that Professor Pickering was "justified" in his concern that letters from Saxton Bampfylde "did not contain the truth". "The reasons he had been variously given as to why his applications were not put before the selection committees were not accurate," she said.

She said that Professor Pickering "would have made a very significant contribution" to higher education, and that his failures to find suitable employment were "sad". It had become easy to stereotype him as being difficult to work with, she said.

Dr Storkey accepted that openness was difficult because the headhunters were bound by a duty of confidentiality to their client, but that this client-centred approach in itself created serious ethical problems because "the client escapes the demands of accountability and openness". She also said that the correspondence with Professor Pickering was "late, brief and somewhat dismissive".

However, Saxton Bampfylde was cleared of the allegation of prejudice. Dr Storkey was satisfied that "Saxton Bampfylde had indeed promoted his candidacy as fairly as that of any other." Saxton Bampfylde has told Professor Pickering's lawyers that it apologises for not being as open as it could have been and for being "dilatory, dismissive and inaccurate" in its dealings with him. It admits no liability and declined to comment to The THES.

WATCHDOG CAUGHT IN DISABLED RIGHTS ROW

Parliament's standards watchdog, Elizabeth Filkin, has become embroiled in a storm over disability rights after her controversial investigation into allegations of discrimination at Bournemouth University.

Bert Massie, chair of the Disability Rights Commission, criticised Ms Filkin for adopting a backward approach to disability rights issues and for "patronising" disabled academic Robert Giddings. A lobby group of disabled academics said her report into the Bournemouth affair was "unacceptable".

In a confidential report into Professor Giddings's allegations that he suffered discrimination, revealed in The THES last month, Ms Filkin found that although he was at times subjected to "inexcusable" bullying and harassment, and was passed over for promotion for more junior staff, he was not discriminated against and was not entitled to compensation.

Mr Massie said he was "surprised" by the tone and conclusions of Ms Filkin's report. He said: "You do get the impression that this guy was bullied because of his disability... I don't think you can say 'oh well, there's a culture of bullying here, so therefore it's not discriminatory'." Mr Massie said Ms Filkin patronised Professor Giddings by saying he should be "warmly congratulated" for "soldiering on" in the face of "extremely difficult working situations". A lobby group of disabled academics said the report should be scrapped. The university and Ms Filkin declined to comment.

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