Sent from Coventry

July 9, 1999

Why has senior lecturer David Hookes been selected for redundancy by Coventry University when the vice-chancellor has already met his announced targets for staff cuts? Many of his colleagues believe his eight-year role as a trade union branch secretary, and a series of recent public run-ins with senior managers, have not helped his case.

As a lecturer for 17 years in the troubled engineering department, and branch secretary of lecturers' union Natfhe from 1988 to 1996, Dr Hookes has certainly been a high-profile whistleblower.

n In 1994, Dr Hookes led the joint trade unions' investigation that led to disciplinary action being brought against the then dean of engineering, Derek Sheldon, who resigned after the affair. Professor Sheldon breached financial regulations after failing to follow correct procedures. Dr Hookes led a campaign asking why Professor Sheldon had been appointed dean of the engineering school in 1993 even though he had already received a written reprimand from the university over an earlier problem with his relationship with an outside company. The problems led to a Funding Council investigation, which called for "improvements in a number of areas".

* Dr Hookes was chief casework officer for the union, and has so far helped bring six complaints of sex and race discrimination against the university.

* He has helped bring a race discrimination case to an employment tribunal, which is due to be heard next month.

* Dr Hookes was the vociferous staff chair of the university's academic Common Interest Group, the body which spent 18 months negotiating local improvements to the 1991 nationally agreed new contracts.

* Last year, he was elected head of an ad-hoc staff "action group" to protest against university plans to relocate laboratory accommodation. In July 1998, he wrote to the dean, Ted Smith, as head of the "Q-Block Accommodation Action Committee" (QAAC), expressing the groups' fears of "a possible waste of public funds on an ill-thought out scheme". The campaign was a success, but Dr Hookes personally attracted the wrath of Professor Smith, who attacked his "discourteous and insulting tone". In late July, 46 of the 49 members of staff in the problematic Q-Block wrote to Professor Smith: "We the undersigned members of Q-block wish to express our profound disquiet over your treatment of the elected members of QAAC. We wish to condemn your action in verbally chastising them as individuals for the contents of a letter they sent as a group."

In the wake of the row earlier this year, Professor Smith announced that there were to be redundancies in Dr Hookes's department, the systems and electronics group. Staff numbers would be halved, from 30 to 15. But it is understood that the university received 17 applications for voluntary retirement and redundancy, leaving 13 remaining staff to apply for the 15 remaining jobs. Dr Hookes, and two other members of staff, all of whom were part of the QAAC group, were deemed unsuitable for any of the remaining jobs.

A spokeswoman for the university said that the university "categorically denies that its failure to redeploy Dr Hookes is because of his union activities in the past". She said that the university had to change the balance of academic staffing to allow growth in other areas. This week Dr Hookes declined to comment, but colleagues have spoken out. In a statement to senior managers, the Q-block action group said: "We, the undersigned members of Q-block would like to protest most strongly, at the threatened compulsory redundancy of three members of the academic staff (including Dr Hookes). We are strongly of the opinion that the three members of staff are being victimised, inter alia, for their action on behalf of all members of Q-block."

Last week Dr Hookes was informed of his dismissal through redundancy.

Phil Baty

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