PhD questions spark legal row

September 7, 2007

A lecturer has been threatened with court action after he repeatedly e-mailed a former colleague asking him to confirm which university awarded his PhD.

Andy Asquith, a lecturer in the department of management at Massey University in New Zealand, received a solicitor's letter last month after repeatedly questioning Robin Keates, a lecturer at Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education, about his PhD.

After an exchange in which Dr Keates failed to say which institution awarded the PhD, Dr Asquith was warned by Dr Keates' lawyers that his behaviour was considered to be "harassing".

The lawyers said Mr Keates would "make an application to the court for an order under the Protection of Harassment Act 1997" if Dr Asquith continues to make contact.

Dr Asquith first e-mailed Dr Keates, who is a programme leader for a foundation degree in manufacturing management at Grimsby, in June, congratulating him on hearing the news that he had achieved his PhD. "Where did you end up doing it in the end? Any chance of a copy of your thesis?" he asked.

Dr Keates told him: "I obtained my doctorate in America" but it was "all done privately and funded privately". He did not say who had awarded it. Pressed further, Dr Keates said: "My work has been done under a classified document due to confidentiality reasons and is not for public consumption for a minimum period."

Dr Asquith replied that even with work embargoed for commercial or security reasons, the title and awarding institution would not normally be kept secret. He later added: "Now, having cut out the crap, are you going to come clean and tell me which august academic body has awarded you your doctorate... in the interests of academic integrity."

After another e-mail repeating his questions, Dr Asquith received the lawyer's warning.

Grimsby Institute said it collated staff qualifications at the start of the academic year so a doctorate obtained in the past year would not be on its list. Dr Keates said he had been advised not to comment as legal proceedings were under way.

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