Salford keeps sacked fellow on the paper trail

October 21, 2005

Trade union leaders have long claimed that the process of hiring and firing academics can be haphazard, but even they were astounded when Salford University apparently forgot it had sacked a star researcher, writes Phil Baty.

Rhetta Moran, a senior research fellow renowned for work with asylum-seekers, left Salford in January after the university did not renew her fixed-term contract.

But six months after her departure and a number of public rallies in her support, she was contacted by a departmental administrator.

On August 30, Sandra Heyworth, a postgraduate research secretary, sent Dr Moran a memo containing a progress report for an MSc student. She asked Dr Moran to follow instructions "which should be in your pigeon-hole" and return the form "as soon as possible".

Miles Barter, regional organiser for the National Union of Journalists, which is representing Dr Moran, said the case would be "hilarious if it was not so serious".

"Dr Moran's students were clearly not told she had left the university, and it seems the university itself didn't know who was there and who was not," he said.

Dr Moran lost her job as a result of the university's decision to close the Revans Centre for Action Learning Research.

The Times Higher reported in July that dozens of the centre's postgraduate students had complained of chaos since it was subsumed into the university in 2004.

One of their complaints was that they had been given only a few months to write dissertations, without assigned supervisors. Although the dissertation deadline was July, a university e-mail appealing for supervisors for former Revans students was circulating among staff last week.

Dr Moran told The Times Higher this week that she was "shocked" by the memo.

"I had been told that students were not being looked after properly, but when I received this it reminded me how much I want to get back to the business of supervising postgraduate students."

The university confirmed that it did not renew Dr Moran's contract of employment and that she had begun employment tribunal proceedings against it. A statement added: "The university can confirm that an item of routine correspondence was sent to Dr Moran on August 30, 2005. This was an administrative error.

"Each Revans Centre student has been invited to attend an individual interview, as a result of which appropriate supervisory support is being put in place."

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