Leeds Met activists: 'condemn bullying'

May 26, 2006

Phil Baty provides an exclusive preview of this weekend's Natfhe conference.

Vice-chancellor's e-mail on 'professionalism' has 'intimidated' staff, says union

Natfhe activists are set to condemn "bullying and managerial diktats" in higher education at their annual conference this week.

A motion that calls for more democracy in universities singles out Simon Lee, vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, who this week found himself embroiled in a fresh controversy over accusations that he sent an "intimidatory" e-mail to staff. He denies any suggestion of intimidation or bullying.

In the mass memorandum sent earlier this month, Professor Lee says he has disciplined staff over the "abuse" of e-mail facilities, financial irregularities and poor attendance. He warns staff that he has received allegations of further "unacceptable behaviour" in these areas and is ready to investigate.

Phil Webster, a member of Natfhe's co-ordinating committee at the university, said the letter was "intimidatory". He said the Natfhe committee had discussed it but had decided that the contents of the letter were "insulting, energy-sapping and not worthy of reply". The committee has suggested that "as a silent protest" all staff return the letter.

Tom Spamer, of support staff union Unison, said: "Making reference to dismissal and sackings most certainly is bullying."

Natfhe's motion, from the union's Yorkshire and Humberside region, says:

"Conference condemns bullying and managerial diktats. It particularly condemns the severe bullying of staff at Leeds Metropolitan University and the failure of the vice-chancellor to consult and negotiate."

The motion urges Natfhe, soon to be merged with the Association of University Teachers, to "press for reform of university governance to achieve greater collegiality and democracy".

Leeds Met managers and unions clashed last year when Professor Lee told staff that they were expected to attend the annual staff development festival at the university and should not take leave except in exceptional circumstances.

In his latest memo to staff, headed "Professionalism", Professor Lee draws attention to an "A-Z of shared expectations", detailing issues such as attendance and e-mail use. In it, he says: "I have suspended people where necessary and the university has subsequently dismissed people for gross misconduct."

He says that staff have sought to defend themselves by saying that such misconduct, including absenteeism and wrongful expense claims, was widespread.

Professor Lee says: "Given claims of wider abuse, I will review any material relating to any of these three areas of unacceptable behaviour."

The university said that the vice-chancellor's message had drawn praise from staff and emphasised that the vast majority of staff were acting in a professional manner.JIt said that hisJdaily bulletins to staff were "consistently positive, praising and encouraging".

The university said that it condemned bullying and harassment, and had taken action to tackle this and other unprofessional behaviour.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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