Research row 'led to lecturer's job loss'

April 8, 2005

A senior lecturer who declared himself unwilling to carry out research because his university had withheld research funds he had raised in his own time will take his appeal against redundancy to an employment tribunal next week.

Mike Hobart, a senior lecturer in biology at De Montfort, was declared redundant in July 2004 after a protracted row over the withholding of up to £7,000 of research funding he had accumulated by working in his holidays as a veterinary surgeon for the Government during the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis.

He was made redundant after admitting, as a matter of principle, that he failed to meet an essential criterion for new posts on offer during a redeployment process - the "motivation and enthusiasm" for research.

The 63-year-old, who had a successful research career with the Medical Research Council before taking early retirement to teach at De Montfort, says in his witness statement: "The actions of the university in seizing my research funds had removed my enthusiasm and motivation... I could not lie."

According to the court documents, Dr Hobart says that he saw it as his duty as a veterinary surgeon to offer his services when foot-and-mouth disease broke out. He worked for six weeks in total.

He says that he arranged with his line managers at De Montfort to take paid leave during vacation periods to work as a vet for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, under standard university arrangements for outside work.

"The arrangement was that I would allow (the university's commercial arm) De Montfort Expertise to collect my fees, as if I were a consultant, and that after the standard overhead of 40 per cent had been collected, the balance would be made available for (my) research," he says in his witness statement. "In the event, some of the earnings were passed to the university central funds, some were probably never collected and certainly none were ever made available for research."

In December 2002, the university confirmed plans to close the biology and chemistry departments. After a protracted redundancy process, staff were asked to apply for new posts in June 2003.

Dr Hobart says: "I found that I had the relevant skills to apply in at least two groups, but to my huge dismay, I found that there was an essential requirement for all posts that the candidates had 'motivation and enthusiasm for effective research'." His notice of redundancy followed.

An appeal against redundancy was heard, and rejected, by the vice-chancellor in September 2003. Dr Hobart claims that the vice-chancellor's involvement represents a serious conflict of interest as a result of the often heated row about the handling of his research funds.

The university said this week that it did not comment on tribunal cases.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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