Professor 'duped' into giving in notice

August 23, 2002

A former Birmingham University sociology professor claims he was hoodwinked by senior officials into handing in his notice.

Frank Webster was chair of sociology when Birmingham announced plans to break up its department of cultural studies and sociology in June. He says that he took voluntary severance because he was told that the shake-up would leave one sociology post in place.

But after joining 11 other academics in volunteering to leave, he discovered there would be four sociology posts offered in a new institute of applied social studies.

The university says that there were always going to be four core posts. But Professor Webster says that after discussions with his head of school and vice-chancellor Michael Sterling, he understood that only one of the four posts would be in sociology.

This month he learnt from Dave Marsh, who is to head the new institute, that there would be four sociology posts from 2003-04.

Professor Webster said: "The whole thing smacked of duplicity, and it seemed to me the way the university had gone about it was deeply unethical."

Students have threatened to sue the university if standards fall as it continues to run undergraduate and postgraduate courses with fewer staff over the next year.

The school received a perfect score in its last teaching assessment but was targeted for reorganisation because it achieved only a 3a in last year's research assessment exercise.

"I was quite prepared to make changes to improve the research rating, but there was no discussion about whether it could be rescued," Professor Webster said.

A Birmingham spokeswoman said: "Staff were offered the opportunity to stay and work in specific fields or to leave with a generous severance package to pursue their research careers elsewhere. Most chose to leave collectively; we wish them well."

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