Middlesex sacks Clark

April 9, 1999

Middlesex University has now formally dismissed Suzi Clark, its former head of media relations, a year after she was suspended over a row about academic free speech. She is to claim unfair dismissal.

Last June, Ms Clark was found guilty by an internal disciplinary panel of the university of a "breach of trust and confidence". The panel said there was no "wilful misconduct", but found a number of "minor" incidents led to a loss of confidence by management in her ability to perform her duties.

She lost her appeal in September, but the internal appeal body said she had "excellent qualities" and had committed "no glaring misdemeanour". It recommended she be redeployed at the university, rather than removed. In the sixth months since, Ms Clark has applied for four posts, but has not had a single interview.

As head of media relations, Ms Clark was editor of the university's newspaper, North Circular, which had a strong independent tradition, with a remit as "the free voice of the university". As editor, Ms Clark frequently clashed with vice-chancellor Michael Driscoll.

In an email to staff this week, Ms Clark said she was sacked because she "could not deliver a particular brand of corporate loyalty, which arguably runs at times contrary to the public interest".

In evidence at the disciplinary hearing, Professor Driscoll said that over a number of years he had "lost his confidence and trust" in Ms Clark. One reason for his "dismay" with her, he said, was her "idiosyncratic view of her role as editor" of North Circular. In this role, he complained, "she has sought to assert her independence". This included publishing critical articles and letters from university staff, "even if this involved gratuitous attacks against management". Ms Clark also published letters staff were too afraid to sign.

Ms Clark also met the wrath of Professor Driscoll over a disagreement about how to report the death on campus of an American student whose body had lain undiscovered for four days. Ms Clark's contrary opinion, said the vice-chancellor, amounted to "insubordination".

Professor Driscoll's "confidence finally collapsed completely", he wrote in his submission, over her involvement in an article published in The THES, about the censorship of a piece Ms Clark had wanted to publish in North Circular.

Ms Clark "was quoted as not willing to comment", said Professor Driscoll, and this showed that she was prepared to "collude with the attack on the university".

The appeal panel found that Ms Clark could substantiate claims of "discrepancies between her and the university's version of events" and that she could have "strengthened her caseI had she been better informed of the procedures which applied". It "noted Ms Clark's undoubtedly excellent qualities" and was offered more than 50 signed testimonials.

It was agreed that she should be considered for redeployment and that "it would be regrettable if a positive and mutually satisfactory outcome could not be reached". This week the university defended its redeployment procedures, claiming it had successfully redeployed 23 people since December last year.

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