Whistleblowers: Cambridge fills post it failed to advertise

April 12, 2002

Cambridge University dons have complained that the university filled a new senior executive post with no proper job description and without opening the post to competition.

A year after an audit found that the university's "tough macho culture" favoured a dominant group of white male academics who were "blind" to equal opportunities, and after promises that the university would get more women and minorities into senior positions, the post of academic secretary has been filled by Graham Allen, a white senior administrator at Cambridge.

In a gesture of protest, a woman from an ethnic minority wrote to Tim Mead, the registrary, to express an interest in the job. Dr Mead wrote back to confirm that the university council "agreed that since the post arose out of a reconstruction it should be filled internally".

No one has suggested that Dr Allen is unsuitable or ill-equipped for the job, but dons worry that the decision not to advertise the post breaches guidelines and appears contrary to the university rules for filling posts.

The rules say that every new or vacant post should be advertised unless there are "exceptional reasons for not advertising". Exceptions might be a post funded on condition that it is filled by a particular person or cases with unspecified "sound managerial reasons for not advertising".

One reason for not advertising would be if the new job were almost identical to the job Dr Allen was already doing as Cambridge's acting secretary-general, and if his appointment were a simple transfer. But although the secretary-general's job description has been modified since the creation of an academic secretary, the secretary-general's post still exists and is occupied by David Livesy.

Dr Mead has stated: "The role of academic secretary is not at all the same as that of the secretary-general."

The university has declined to comment on the appointment to The THES . But speaking in a recent Senate House debate in which Dr Allen's appointment was raised, pro vice-chancellor Malcolm Grant said: "I would wish to express my personal endorsement of the professionalism of Graham Allen as academic secretary."

Race discrimination claimed over exams
Oxford University postgraduate Nadeem Ahmed was a victim of race discrimination when he was excluded from the university after being made to sit exams that the university admits were flawed, a court has heard.

In a final submission to the Reading County Court late last week, Mr Ahmed's barrister, Karen Monaghan, claimed that Mr Ahmed, an experienced Arabic language student, was excluded from his MPhil course in medieval Arabic thought after he failed two language exams, even though a female white student without experience passed, the court heard. But Ms Monaghan said the exams themselves breached Oxford's regulations because there was no proper marking, no set pass mark and no invigilation.

The THES first reported in October 2000 that Oxford's senior proctor had agreed that the two tests Mr Ahmed failed were "flawed as qualifying examinations".

The first test was set by Mr Ahmed's supervisor and was "therefore not independent". It was not double marked and was not conducted in accordance with the exam regulations. A second test also breached regulations, as Mr Ahmed had been led to believe it was an "informal" test and was not made properly aware of its status.

The court also heard that Mr Ahmed did not receive appropriate supervision.

Mr Ahmed was backed by his moral tutor, the poet Tom Paulin, who told the court that he had "lost faith" in the university's oriental institute, as staff had closed ranks and had been evasive and unhelpful in dealing with complaints about the affair.

In its final submission, the university denied Mr Ahmed's claims, and said that although the exams that he sat were "flawed in a technical sense", he was not a victim of race discrimination. The university's barrister, John Bowers QC, said that the tests were not academically flawed and that Mr Ahmed was given three chances to pass, but refused to sit a third test.

Want to blow the whistle?

Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298 or email him at phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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