Whistleblower kicked off board

April 23, 2009

An academic at loggerheads with Manchester Metropolitan University after he blew the whistle on alleged grade inflation at the institution has claimed that he was scapegoated by being kicked off its academic board.

Walter Cairns was ejected from the board following a vote of no-confidence instigated by John Brooks, vice-chancellor of Manchester Met.

The move was made in the aftermath of Mr Cairns' submission to the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee inquiry into higher education standards. It concerned a course he taught in which marks were bumped up across the board following an 85 per cent failure rate.

Mr Cairns told the panel of MPs that the changes had been made without his consent and despite an initial indication from the external examiner that his marking was appropriate.

The university responded by suggesting that poor teaching was partly to blame for the low marks - a point Mr Cairns denied.

Speaking after being expelled from the board, which has 25 academic members and is charged with maintaining standards at Manchester Met, Mr Cairns said he had been denied the opportunity to defend himself.

He said: "I raised my hand, to be met with an icy stare from the vice-chancellor, coupled with the question: 'Can I ask you to speak last?'

"I complied, taking this to mean that I would be given an opportunity to respond to all the flak - including that thrown by the vice-chancellor himself - that would be cast in my direction from other board members.

"The latter duly complied ... The vice-chancellor then said: 'These contributions fully confirm my own views on the subject. I therefore propose a vote of no-confidence in Mr Cairns which, if it succeeds, will cause him to leave this board.'

"The motion was duly seconded, they stuck up their hands and I was asked to leave ... I therefore find myself expelled, having had no opportunity to defend myself."

The select committee is believed to have contacted Manchester Met to ask it to explain its actions.

In a statement, the university said that Mr Cairns' allegations of grade inflation were "inaccurate and the source of a great deal of anxiety and concern for members of staff and students".

It also insisted that its actions were not punitive, and said it had assured the MPs of this.

It said: "Mr Cairns has failed to use the normal academic board process to raise issues of quality and standards, and has ignored its decisions regarding the issues he now raises.

"In that circumstance, the members of the board considered it inappropriate for Mr Cairns to continue as a member.

"The university would like to stress that Mr Cairns' censure is in no way a disciplinary measure, and it has emphasised that point to the select committee."

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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