Liverpool John Moores faced 27 tribunal cases in past three years

Questions raised about 'distant' management and 'litigious culture'. Melanie Newman reports

April 23, 2009

Twenty-seven employment tribunal cases have been lodged against Liverpool John Moores University in the past three years, Times Higher Education can reveal.

The disputes have raised questions about a "litigious culture" within the university and generated concerns about its management structure.

Many of the claims were made by academics from the faculty of health and applied social sciences, the Liverpool Business School and the School of Engineering.

Liverpool John Moores explained the unrest by citing the extensive restructuring it had undergone in recent years, which it admitted had caused upheaval.

A spokeswoman for the institution said: "The university is not afraid to tackle areas that need attention, and over the past three years it has reorganised the structures in four of its six faculties, as well as a number of service teams.

"As a result, staff have been redeployed or have chosen to leave, and a small number have been made redundant. A number of individuals affected ... have sought redress through the tribunal system."

Of the cases, nine are still in process, ten were settled through mediation, three were privately withdrawn, which could mean they were settled out of court, two ended with judgments in favour of the claimant and three in favour of Liverpool John Moores.

Worries about conflict of interest

As Times Higher Education reported earlier this month, Helena Lunt, senior lecturer at the university's Centre for Public Health, successfully made a claim against Liverpool John Moores for unfair dismissal.

The employment tribunal judgment was highly critical of the university and of the actions of several senior managers, including Godfrey Mazhindu, dean of the faculty of health and applied social sciences.

It said Professor Mazhindu had "unilaterally" taken the decision to remove Ms Lunt as leader of a practice nurse programme, which led to her being "marginalised out of employment".

Professor Mazhindu is married to Deborah Mazhindu, who was appointed head of research development and pedagogy at Liverpool John Moores' School of Nursing and Primary Care Practice in 2007. Professor Mazhindu was not involved in her appointment.

Academics at the university have questioned Dr Mazhindu's suitability for the role because her work was not submitted to the 2008 research assessment exercise.

In the year of her appointment, one researcher used a resignation letter to voice concerns about the potential conflict of interest raised by a married couple in senior positions working closely together.

"This close working proximity of two married senior staff does pose some serious challenges to effective and equitable personnel management," the letter says.

In response, the university said Dr Mazhindu was a "widely respected academic nursing professional with national and international standing in her field".

It added that her current title was not head of research - despite this title remaining on its website - but senior research fellow in advanced practice.

It added: "In common with many universities, not all researchers were submitted to the RAE."

Quartet of grievances

The author of the resignation letter, who left after being redeployed from the Centre for Public Health to the School of Nursing, said that six research staff had left the centre alone since 2006: three professors, one reader and two senior research fellows.

One of them, Annette Jinks, now professor of nursing at Edge Hill University, lodged a complaint against Professor Mazhindu for bullying and harassment, but did not pursue it and resigned.

Another academic to take action was Angela Brennan, former director of Liverpool John Moores' School of Applied Social and Community Studies.

She accused the university of unfair dismissal after being made redundant in August 2008, but later withdrew the claim.

She told Times Higher Education that she had instituted a grievance procedure against Professor Mazhindu. She lost and was subsequently made redundant.

Phil Lee, who was appointed director of applied social sciences at Liverpool John Moores in 2003-04, took out a grievance procedure against Professor Mazhindu after being told that he had not satisfactorily completed his probation period. Mr Lee, who now works at the University of Lincoln as a senior lecturer in social work, left Liverpool John Moores after signing a compromise agreement.

The university spokeswoman said that four individuals had raised grievances against the dean and that "each case was resolved through the university system".

Adrian Jones, who was the Liverpool region's University and College Union representative for 18 years before his retirement in 2008, said that when Liverpool John Moores was still a polytechnic, industrial relations were good, but that subsequently an "increasingly distant" approach had emerged.

"For example, the lecturers' consultative committee was not convened for years at a time, and the management comment on that was that 'minimalism' was preferred," he said. "A litigious culture is increasingly likely to develop when managers regard structured consultation as an optional extra."

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