'Idiosyncratic' Durham Law School head steps aside following review

November 9, 2007

On paper it looked like an ideal match - a world-leading researcher and a top-rated university department.

But two years after David Campbell took over as the head of Durham University's law department, it has been confirmed that he will stand down next month - eight months early - following a review. Professor Campbell, a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators with an impressive list of publications to his name, will stay on as a professor.

While Durham hailed his "world-class" research credentials this week and praised him for taking the department through "a major transition and significant expansion", others took the step of speaking out with complaints about his stewardship.

Professor Campbell's period in charge of the department, which was given the top 5* rating for the quality of its research in the last research assessment exercise, has seen the departure of a dozen academics and a number of bitter disputes. The departures have included four renowned professors: Colin Warbrick, who left in 2006 to become Barber professor of jurisprudence at Birmingham University; Bob Sullivan, who left for University College London; Rosa Greaves, who is now at Glasgow University; and Panos Koutrakos, who is now at Bristol.

All left the department in acrimonious circumstances, and this week all four spoke out.

"When Professor Campbell took over the department he quickly acted on the proposition that it was in crisis and that drastic action was needed to repair matters," Professor Warbrick said.

"It was a position many of us resisted. We did, after all, have a 5* rating in the RAE, we were on a sound financial footing and morale was high.

"We could not understand why any radical measures were needed, especially his idiosyncratic proposals.

"We were not complacent but we felt that the collegial way the department reached its decisions had contributed to its success."

Professor Warbrick added: "The manner and the substance of the changes introduced by Professor Campbell and the lack of concern in the university administration about their impact on certain individuals were very disturbing and, ultimately, so unacceptable that a substantial proportion of the staff left the department."

Professor Greaves, formerly the Allen & Overy professor of European law and the director of the Durham European Law Institute, told The Times Higher that within a few weeks of Professor Campbell's appointment courses were reduced on a degree that she taught, two other degrees were suspended and one was cancelled. She confirmed that she left as a result of Professor Campbell's "academic and management decisions".

The explanation given for Professor Campbell's actions was that the department was in "a financial, administrative and teaching crisis".

Professor Greaves did not agree with the prognosis: "Durham law department's high quality of teaching was recognised by its being named the third-ranking law school in the UK in The Times league table."

Panos Koutrakos, now Jean Monnet chair in European Union law at Bristol University, said: "I left Durham Law School because Professor Campbell's academic decisions and highly idiosyncratic management style made life there intolerable.

"The approach of the university and its senior officers did not help either: to ask questions about policy and management at the Law School was seen as conspiring to ruin the university.

After a dispute with Professor Campbell, Bob Sullivan took Durham to industrial tribunal, the outcome of which was a settlement between the two parties. Professor Sullivan said: "I left Durham because of the style and the content of David Campbell's management and the lack of adequate response from senior management."

A Durham University spokesman said: "Following a review, it has been agreed that the changeover of the head of department role in the department of law will be brought forward. The current head of department will be succeeded by deputy head of law, Tom Allen, in December.

"Professor Campbell led the law department through a major transition and significant expansion, which included staff numbers increasing by half. He is a world-class researcher and he will continue in his role as professor of law with the university."

The spokesman insisted that the university had followed robust and fair grievance procedures, overseen by a senior academic independent of the department concerned.

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