Question mark over Middlesex gagging clause

October 27, 2000

Did Middlesex University breach funding council regulations when it gagged former business school dean David Kirby?

Professor Kirby left Middlesex in January this year, after a year's "sabbatical" on full pay, which he was persuaded to take after he had suggested external help for his investigation into a whistleblower's allegations of mismanagement in the business school. It has now emerged that a gagging clause in the severance agreement has been looked at as part of investigations by the funding council.

Higher Education Funding Council for England rules for severance agreements for senior staff make it clear that "institutions must not agree to confidentiality clauses within severance agreements except where it is necessary to protect commercially sensitive information". Commercially sensitive information, Hefce says, does not include "generalised clauses whereby individuals undertake not to make statements that might damage the reputation of an institution".

The rules concede there may be rare exceptional circumstances in which it is in the public interest to include a confidentiality clause. But "in these circumstances, the institution must consult with the council's chief executive... before agreeing to such a clause". The THES has learnt that Middlesex did not consult Hefce's chief executive.

Middlesex University said: "The university's lawyers have confirmed that, in their view, the university acted within the Hefce guidelines in agreeing severance arrangements for Professor Kirby." Professor Kirby could not comment.

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