'Trial' and errors

October 8, 1999

In continuing to defend the indefensible (Letters, THES, October 1), Graham Zellick once again reveals his contempt for independence and natural justice.

Anyone who considers the Archbishop of Canterbury truly independent from the University of Kent, the Bishop of Durham from the University of Durham or the Queen from those universities granted royal charters has clearly been spending too much time with their head in a book.

Zellick could easily have been reading from Kafka's The Trial, which offers the following nugget of advice to students: "The waiting is not pointless, the only thing that's pointless is independent intervention." Such archaic views of the visitor belong at the beginning of the 20th century, not at the end. As we enter the new millennium, it is fine time to call an end to the visitor.

Zellick's assertion that the visitor complies with principles of natural justice ignores the fact that in visitorial cases students are not allowed to appear in person, there are no time limits, no written rules or regulations and there is no explanation given when the case is finally resolved.

More often than not, this is in favour of the institution and takes years; but even when the visitor rules in favour of the student, the case never reaches the Law reports. So much for transparency and independent review.

In staunchly supporting a system that makes decisions behind closed doors, what do universities have to hide? As Kafka wrote: "The proceedings were in general kept secret not only from the public but from the defendant too. I'm not saying the proceedings are slapdash but this is the expression I'd like to offer for your private consideration."

Don Staniford Project officer National Postgraduate Office

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