Oh sugar: 'you're fired' remark at Imperial results in resignation

August 13, 2009

It is every manager's nightmare: a carefully worded letter on redundancies wrecked by an unexpected reference to Alan Sugar's famous catchphrase: "You're fired."

The cock-up at Imperial College London has forced a senior academic to issue an apology and prompted the person responsible to resign.

The faux pas was made in an emailed memo from the deputy principal of Imperial's faculty of medicine, where up to 80 academic and 50 administrative and technical posts are threatened.

Staff at risk received the memo from Sir Anthony Newman Taylor, informing them that they "may not be achieving more than one of the minimum criteria" for academic performance.

But when a staff member copied and pasted a spreadsheet embedded in the memo into another document, the phrase "Alan Sugar says ..." became apparent, along with an "incorrect and insensitive" comment about members of staff.

Lord Sugar, the Government's enterprise czar, famously eliminates contestants in the BBC television show The Apprentice with an emphatic "You're fired."

Sir Anthony wrote to staff to apologise "unreservedly" for the incident. He explains that the comments were inserted by an individual working in the faculty who had been suspended, and that an internal investigation has been launched. The culprit has resigned.

Sir Anthony says he fears staff may have read the phrase as an assessment of their status in the consultation process, but he stresses that the comments "do not in any way represent the views of the faculty, and have no bearing on the consultation process". He adds that the individual concerned was not involved in the consultation.

"I appreciate the great anxiety and distress this will cause at a very difficult time. These comments are incorrect, insensitive and unacceptable, and I have taken immediate steps to address the situation," he says.

A spokeswoman for Imperial said the college "greatly regrets the totally unacceptable actions of one of its employees".

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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