University of Warwick professor Thomas Docherty could be left with a legal bill approaching £50,000 despite being cleared of all charges after facing the threat of dismissal since his suspension in January.
The professor of English and comparative literature, a critic of the marketisation of higher education, had been charged by Warwick with undermining the authority of Catherine Bates, the former head of the English department.
As Times Higher Education revealed earlier this year, the case against him cited three incidents in which he was alleged to have undermined Professor Bates, including sighing, projecting negative body language and making “ironic” comments when interviewing candidates for a job at Warwick. But it emerged last week that a university tribunal had cleared him of all charges.
Professor Docherty was suspended in January, returning to work in September ahead of the release of the tribunal’s findings.
Some question why Warwick allowed the case to escalate to the point where barristers were hired and Professor Docherty faced the threat of dismissal.
It is understood that shortly before the tribunal was held in September, the university informed Professor Docherty that it would be represented by barristers at the hearing. This prompted the scholar to hire his own barristers. His legal bill is said to be likely to approach £50,000. At an earlier stage in the process, the university informed Professor Docherty that it would not pay his legal bills, it is understood. However, negotiations on whether the university will cover his costs are thought to be ongoing.
Warwick refused to answer queries from THE on the size of its own legal bill. The tribunal also hired its own barrister, further adding to costs.
The university’s statutes outline a procedure of oral warnings and written warnings for disciplinary matters that are serious but fall short of “constituting possible good cause for dismissal”. A tribunal may be established “if there has been no satisfactory improvement following a written warning…or in any other case where it is alleged that conduct or performance may constitute good cause for dismissal or removal from office”, the statutes say.
Professor Docherty did not receive an oral or written warning.
Warwick declined to offer any comment beyond a statement released last week: “The university has received the decision of the tribunal established to consider complaints made against Professor Thomas Docherty by another senior employee. The university has accepted the tribunal’s findings.
“The university has committed not to make any further public comment on the proceedings at this time so as to assist any follow-on discussions to take place. Professor Docherty welcomes and reciprocates that commitment.”