Psychologist gets chair

April 14, 2000

Whistleblowing academic Andrew Colman has finally been awarded a professorship by Leicester University following THES reports on his long-running and acrimonious dispute with the university over its procedures for promoting academic staff.

The new Leicester vice-chancellor has also reformed the promotions system.

The THES revealed in February 1999 that Dr Colman had petitioned the Queen, the university's visitor, with a complaint about the promotions' system. Dr Colman, then a reader in psychology, had been at the top of the reader/senior lecturer scale since 1989. He had been applying for promotion since 1992, when he was told he had a strong case, but had been passed over when staff with lower university rankings succeeded.

Dr Colman had asked the visitor to consider "whether our procedures are fair, and whether, even as they are, they are being adhered to". He was concerned about a vetting procedure that ran contrary to the Nolan principles of tandards in public life, under which the vice-chancellor personally, but informally, interviewed candidates before their applications could go forward.

Complaints about the vice-chancellor's decisions would also have to go to the vice-chancellor. Dr Colman was denied an appeal against one decision against him.

The THES later revealed that the Queen, who has not made a ruling on the case, had rebuked the university for failing to take "due regard" of her legal role as the arbiter of the university's disputes. Leicester had taken more than eight months to respond to Dr Colman's petition. The Queen, represented by the Privy Council, also criticised Leicester for "discourtesy".

In June last year, The THES reported that Leicester had breached data protection laws by unreasonably withholding information from Dr Colman. An investigation by the data protection registrar found that the university had failed to comply with the terms of the 1984 Data Protection Act by failing to respond properly to Dr Colman's data access request.

Some data was not provided until ten months after the first formal request. The data protection registrar said it was "certainly a matter of concern" that Leicester staff had been asked to pass private personal data on Dr Colman to his head of department, Anne Colley, who was a key protagonist in his dispute with the university.

Dr Colman's row with Professor Colley culminated in October 1999, when it emerged that she had issued him with a formal disciplinary warning on a charge Dr Colman's colleagues claimed was "trumped up". There were allegations he was being victimised.

Professor Colley disciplined Dr Colman for failure to deliver a set of exam questions "in a timely and appropriate manner". In fact, he had been given just a few days to complete the questions during the busy admissions process. The examinations office had requested the questions late and had apologised for "the short notice", and he had actually delivered them in time for the exam.

Earlier this year, following an appeal against the disciplinary decision, the disciplinary warning was withdrawn.

Bob Burgess, who took over as Leicester's vice-chancellor in October last year, quickly implemented new promotions procedures designed to improve fairness and accountability. He has now written to Dr Colman: "I am delighted to inform you that the staffing committee will be recommending to senate that you be promoted to a personal chair with effect from October 1 2000."

The senate recently endorsed the decision.

Dr Colman said: "I am as astonished about my promotion as I am thrilled.

Universities tend to close ranks against staff members who fall out with departmental heads.

He has withdrawn his grievance case against the university as a goodwill gesture.

Want to blow the whistle?

Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298 or email 'Leicester had breached data protection laws by unreasonably withholding information from Dr Colman'

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