Students' legal bid to save lecturer

April 22, 2005

Students are seeking a court injunction against Swansea University to force it to reinstate a suspended lecturer whose absence, they say, has affected their learning.

The move is the latest in a series of legal actions against the university.

Academic union leaders claim Swansea has spent nearly £70,000 contesting petitions to the university's visitor.

Colwyn Williamson, a philosophy lecturer who assembled petitions against department closures at Swansea on behalf of the Association of University Teachers, was suspended last month after receiving a police caution for an offence under the Computer Misuse Act, 1990.

Students on his course complained that they had been left without proper teaching support and argued that Mr Williamson's suspension was politically motivated.

Mr Williamson, founder of the Council for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards, has since resorted to offering the students unofficial seminars in a local pub while he awaits the outcome of a university investigation into his conduct. It is not the first time Mr Williamson has resorted to teaching in the pub. He did so after being suspended in 1991 following a whistleblowing incident.

The students, many of whom face final-year examinations, have been given leave by Swansea County Court to present their case. A date for the hearing is yet to be fixed.

They argue that the university replaced Mr Williamson with postdoctoral students, some of whom have referred students to books that either do not exist or are out of print.

Louise Stoddard, nominated as a spokeswoman for the students, told The Times Higher that anyone who protested against the situation was subjected to threats of disciplinary action. "There is a feeling of victimisation on campus. The university has been very cynical in its response to student protests. That is why we have resorted to going to the courts," she said.

But this week Richard Davies, Swansea's vice-chancellor, dismissed the claims as "absurd", adding that the university was following standard procedure.

Professor Davies said: "You have to ask whether this action by the students is genuine or just a publicity stunt. All I can say is that covering for absent staff is routine in any university."

Noel Thompson, head of philosophy at the university, said he had received only one student complaint.

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