Lecturer suspended over allegations of defamation

Material claimed head of school used influence in university appointment. Melanie Newman reports

May 28, 2009

An academic has been suspended by the University of Salford on suspicion of distributing satirical newsletters and posters around the university.

Sociology lecturer Gary Duke was suspended on 19 May. A university spokesman said in a statement that a member of staff was suspected of producing and disseminating posters that "viciously attack a female student of an ethnic minority and a head of school".

"The content of these posters is sexist, deeply offensive and defamatory," he added.

"In essence, the posters allege that a named head of school appointed a named student to a position in the school owing to her being his reported 'girlfriend'.

"The position in question was advertised and appointed to in accordance with the university's code of practice."

The spokesman later revised this statement to say the posters alleged that the head of school had "used his influence" to secure the position for the woman, rather than alleging that he had actually appointed her.

The student concerned was appointed to the contentious post earlier this year, initially on a short-term contract.

Minutes of a school executive meeting say this was done following an email to PhD students "for expressions of interest and interviews". The appointment was subsequently announced by a manager, who described it as a "prestigious" post.

Staff queried the role and its advertisement with the human resources department.

An email from an HR manager sent in response said: "This appointment is a 'casual appointment' and is an interim solution before we can identify the exact needs going fwd (sic) for the role and go through the proper processes."

The post was fully advertised in April as a fixed-term position for one year and the job went to the same student.

Times Higher Education has learnt that the university has established, during a separate investigation, that emails sent by the head of school relating to the student in question were indicative of a "close friendship" between the two, but that they merely contained some information about the post and as such were deemed not a cause for concern.

Mr Duke said earlier this month that he feared he would be suspended as leader of a campaign to stop job cuts at the university, where 150 jobs are under threat, and as branch secretary of the University and College Union.

Four members of staff have been suspended since amendments last year to the university's charter and statute.

One academic was suspended in March after allegedly harassing the same PhD student who is at the centre of Mr Duke's suspension.

The UCU has tabled an emergency motion on the suspension for debate at its annual congress this week.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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