Two sides of the argument

May 8, 1998

THES reporters round up some of the latest industrial tribunal cases in universities and colleges

A lecturer sacked for gross misconduct after allegations of sexual misconduct has appealed to secretary of state David Blunkett for an investigation after the Further Education Funding Council identified "flaws" in the college's procedures, writes Phil Baty.

Bob Potter was fired in 1995 after ten years at Lewes Tertiary College following student complaints of "an omnipresent atmosphere of sexual overtones.

He won an undisclosed out-of-court settlement last year when he took the college to an industrial tribunal for unfair dismissal. Under the deal he signed a gagging clause but insisted on his right to seek further redress with the FEFC and Department for Education and Employment. In an initial examination, the FEFC found that Dr Potter was restricted at his internal appeal hearing by a lack of information from the college. A memorandum on the college noticeboard reporting the tribunal's outcome was considered to have breached the settlement.

The college's decision to set up a general review of Dr Potter's complaints was welcomed by the FEFC, but it noted that "in line with the spirit of the Nolan reports into standards in public life, the college would be advised to consider whether greater staff confidence in its arrangements might be generated by arranging for a small independent group of governors to briefly review the specific allegations made by (Dr Potter) to establish whether there are any further lessons that might be learned." But despite identifying problems the FEFC concluded that most of Dr Potter's complaints "fell outside its remit".

In a letter to Mr Blunkett, Dr Potter says: "There is clearly a need for a statutory body to oversee the activities of college principals and executives and to have the purpose and authority to address abuses of power when they occur." Blunkett is yet to reply.

Henry Ball, principal of Lewes Tertiary College, said: "Following the industrial tribunal the corporation agreed to see what lessons were to be learned from the action the college had taken under its disciplinary and appeals procedures. A report was made, conducted by a member of the corporation who was not involved in any of the previous processes and who was appropriately qualified. She reported to the last board meeting and as a result the management has asked to consult the staff union on a number of improvements which could be made."

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