A professor who was suspended for seven months on what colleagues described as “unjustified” and “farcical” charges relating to his trade union casework has been reinstated.
Jeff Frank, who founded the economics department at Royal Holloway, University of London, returned to work at the Surrey institution last month after a disciplinary panel in November lifted a suspension imposed in April.
The US-born financial expert had originally been charged with gross misconduct over claims that he leaked confidential information in his capacity as the campus equality and diversity officer for the University and College Union.
But the charge was dropped after it emerged that Professor Frank had been given permission by the individual concerned to share their personal information with an internal panel.
His ban from Royal Holloway continued when the university charged him with other offences, including bullying and breach of grievance procedures.
However, the local UCU branch said that the alleged bullying incident had simply involved “emails addressing breaches in the college’s anti-discrimination policies being sent, for a period, once a week to a senior manager”. These messages were described by an independent investigator as “businesslike”, it added.
A UCU branch spokesman added that its members were also concerned at three “non-specific” and “unclear” offences, which led the disciplinary panel to impose a written warning lasting 18 months.
“It remains completely unclear who has lodged these charges, which makes it very difficult to understand them as they are very non-specific,” he told Times Higher Education.
One charge relates to Professor Frank showing a “pattern of behaviour” in which, it is alleged, he would “continually dispute decisions made by managers and use ‘divisive’ language”, the spokesman explained.
“Jeff is recognised for being tenacious, direct and standing up when there is an issue that needs to be pursued. But he is always professional and businesslike,” he said, adding that it was “ludicrous” to construe his advocacy for equality issues as threatening or bullying towards anyone.
A Royal Holloway spokeswoman said the university was “unable to comment on matters involving individual members of staff”.
Professor Frank told THE that he had been advised not to comment publicly until after an appeal against his punishment had concluded. He has indicated, however, that he is keen for managers to make the details of the charges open to public scrutiny.
However, the UCU spokesman said the disciplinary action imposed on Professor Frank had in effect barred him from participating in any union activity in the near future, which continued a pattern of anti-union victimisation by Royal Holloway’s management.
Professor Frank’s “wholly unnecessary and drawn out suspension” had “demonstrated [Royal Holloway’s] truly impressive levels of energy in victimising and punishing Jeff, who should be given a full apology for this shameful episode”, the spokesman said.
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