Melville muzzled deputy

June 7, 1996

David Melville, chief executive-designate of the Further Education Funding Council and a declared opponent of "gagging clauses", himself imposed confidentiality clauses on his departing deputy at Middlesex University last year.

Robert Kirby-Harris, deputy vice chancellor (resources), left Middlesex on June 30 1995. The severance agreement, obtained by The THES, paid him Pounds 38,916 before tax. It contained six clauses relating to disclosure and reference.

Professor Melville cited the case as an example of proper procedure before the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life. "Gagging clauses are inherently the wrong approach," he said. Mr Kirby-Harris's departure was he said "largely on the basis of someone not having a future in higher education".

But friends of Mr Kirby-Harris, who is now deputy vice chancellor of the University of Namibia, say the parting was not amicable.

He had been at Middlesex for four years, playing a prominent part in the financial rescue of the institution, which had a Pounds 3 million accumulated deficit in 1991.

Professor Melville told The THES that there were no gagging clauses and that the terms of Mr Kirby-Harris's departure had been cleared with his governing body and with the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Professor Melville said it had been an amicable, mutually-agreed parting.

Under the terms of the severance agreement the university and Mr Kirby-Harris undertook not to "make publish or otherwise communicate or cause to be communicated any disparaging or derogatory statements I concerning the other". The university undertook to provide him with an agreed reference.

A subsequent clause, however, said that these sections were without prejudice to the right of Professor Melville to "give, in good faith, a full and accurate response to questions legitimately asked in respect of Mr Kirby-Harris's employment with the university, its termination, and his suitability for alternative employment".

Mr Kirby-Harris was given the right to reply similarly to questions about his employment and its termination. But this is "solely and exclusively in the context of any applications which he may make for alternative employment."

Leader, page 13

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