Surprise twist in 'fruitbatgate' row

Prize for lecturer despite his application for judicial review in harassment case. Hannah Fearn reports

November 18, 2010

The academic at the centre of the "fruitbatgate" row has been awarded a prize for teaching by the president of University College Cork, despite his ongoing fight for a judicial review into his treatment by the university.

Dylan Evans, lecturer in behavioural science at Cork, was accused of sexual harassment earlier this year after showing a female colleague a research paper on oral sex among fruit bats. It was titled "Fellatio by fruit bats prolongs copulation time" and appeared in the journal PLoS ONE.

An external review found Dr Evans had caused unintentional offence and he was placed on a two-year "monitoring and counselling" programme by Cork. The university also accused him of leaking confidential material about the case to the press.

In June, Cork was forced to halt disciplinary proceedings after the Irish High Court agreed to consider Dr Evans' application for a judicial review into his treatment. Yet although the court hearing is still pending, the lecturer was last week presented with a prestigious award by Cork president Michael Murphy.

Together with his colleague Catherine O'Mahony, Dr Evans picked up the President's Award for Research on Innovative Forms of Teaching for his Cork Science Cafe project, which aims to improve public engagement with science.

Dr Evans admitted that he was surprised to have received the award.

"I think it's a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing," he added.

The High Court will consider the application for a judicial review on 30 November, after submission of evidence from both sides.

Times Higher Education understands that Cork's case rests heavily on the argument that Dr Evans had legal representation throughout the "fruitbatgate" saga in the form of his trade union representative.

Mike Jennings, general secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers, said a union representative was not a legal expert and that the case could have serious implications for trade unions.

"We are very concerned and we are watching it very closely. We intend to convey to Cork that in the unlikely event that the High Court would uphold such grounds, it would do damage to industrial relations throughout Ireland," he said.

"If this bizarre challenge is upheld, a trade union representative could become the barrier for a member having a legal route to the law courts."

A spokesman for the university said Dr Evans was one of a number of award winners and that "the matter before the courts is sub judice", which prevents Cork from commenting further.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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