Suspension for professor who saw red - and then hit 'Send'

January 13, 2006

It is the stuff of every frustrated academic's fantasies - but computing professor Richard Bornat is counting the cost of firing off a no-holds-barred e-mail to all his colleagues in which he castigated the absurdities of university red tape, writes Phil Baty.

His outburst, prompted by the failure of Middlesex University's computing school to provide a computer for one of his colleagues for more than ten weeks, strayed into personal abuse - attacking a senior female colleague.

It has earned the professor, a renowned computer scientist, a suspension and disciplinary action.

In the e-mail, sent to all of his computing colleagues last month, Professor Bornat explained that his colleague, the research fellow Richard Butterworth, had returned from a period of unpaid leave at the start of the 2005-06 academic year in September only to find that "he had no key, no phone, no staff card and no computer".

He copied about 100 colleagues on an e-mail he addressed to Paula Vickers, head of the computing and communication systems service and a pro vice-chancellor at the university.

Professor Bornat's e-mail says: "Now we have reached the end of week ten, and Richard Butterworth is still without a computer! Well done! You have saved, well, I don't know how may units of electricity at I don't know what price, and about £2.50 in accrued interest on the money you would have had to pay for the machine."

He added: "So here we are at week ten, and Richard still has no computer.

Thank you Paula, for all your efforts. And a fulsome apology from me, to go with this fulsome praise, for doubting your abilities and your motivation."

The group e-mail also ridicules computing dean Martin Loomes for his misuse of an apostrophe.

The university has disabled Professor Bornat's office email, and his personal web page on the university's site is virtually blank, saying "at present Middlesex are playing silly buggers with my mail address".

A spokeswoman for Middlesex said: "This e-mail constitutes part of a complaint that one university staff member has made against another.

"Because this is a confidential staff process we are not able to make any comment."

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