The co-writer of an open letter condemning Queen Mary University of London’s use of metrics to choose staff for redundancy has been sacked for refusing to teach a course.
John Allen, formerly professor of biochemistry, was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct in May after a disciplinary panel concluded that he deliberately disobeyed a “reasonable management instruction” to teach the course. Professor Allen had argued that he had too many prior commitments to teach the course.
In 2012, Professor Allen co-authored a letter to The Lancet that condemned the use of metrics to identify staff for redundancy in two Queen Mary schools. The letter suggested that the architects of the scheme – including Matthew Evans, head of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences – did not themselves pass the metrics threshold. Professor Allen and his co-author on the letter, Fanis Missirlis, formerly lecturer in cell biology, were charged with misconduct. Professor Allen was cleared, but the case against Dr Missirlis was not heard before he was made redundant later in 2012 for allegedly failing to pass the metrics threshold.
Professor Allen intends to lodge an employment tribunal claim alleging that the underlying motive for his sacking was his authorship of The Lancet letter and claiming unfair dismissal on the grounds that he suffered detriment for whistleblowing.
Professor Allen told Times Higher Education that, after he returned from a sabbatical last September, he was not permitted to resume his previous teaching and was told to teach a course formerly delivered by Dr Missirlis. After he demurred, Professor Evans instigated disciplinary proceedings against him for failing to obey a “reasonable management instruction”. That charge was confirmed in March. At around the same time, Professor Allen submitted a formal grievance against Professor Evans for alleged harassment, intimidation and bullying. This was dismissed at a hearing last month.
Last December, Professor Allen was asked to teach another module, starting in February, that he had never taught before but which, owing to a management mistake, no one else was available to teach.
Professor Allen argued that direct orders regarding teaching contravened both his employment contract and standard understandings of academic freedom. However, a disciplinary panel said that it was “not clear that all of the activities you detailed as taking up your time were in line with your contract or could not have been reprioritised”.
In his appeal against his dismissal, which was turned down last month, Professor Allen said it was unreasonable for “management to attempt to rectify its mistakes simply by issuing a direct instruction to a busy senior academic”.
A spokeswoman for Queen Mary said: “The decision to dismiss a member of staff…is not taken lightly, and is based purely on the facts of the case…we would stress that the process leading up to these decisions takes place over a number of months, during which time the member of staff is always advised of the case against them in full and given every reasonable opportunity to present their case.”