Whistleblowers: Controversial Cardiff keeps it in the family

June 27, 2003

It seems that Cardiff University is earning something of a reputation for "family-friendly" recruitment policies.

Late last year, The THES reported on the controversy surrounding a decision to award a £11,500 special research bursary, which had not been advertised, to the sister of one of the university's senior staff after she failed to win funding for her PhD through the school's nationally advertised doctoral studentships competition. The university said it was awarded purely on the basis of merit, after "competitive assessment".

In 1998, The THES reported on academics' concerns that Pierre Berthon, then a senior research fellow at the university's business school, had employed his brother, Jean-Paul, as his research assistant.

The appointment was made despite his 2:2 degree in history, the lack of a higher degree and the fact that one of his few published journal articles in the field at the time was lead-authored by his brother and appeared in an issue of the Journal of Strategic Marketing, guest edited at the time by his brother. The university said at the time that it was confident that Jean-Paul could "demonstrate an appropriate level of research contribution".

This month, it was confirmed that Helen Sampson has been appointed as director of Cardiff's Seafarers International Research Centre (Sirc), part of the School of Social Sciences, which is run by her husband, Huw Beynon.

The director's position was advertised in December, pending the retirement this August of current director Tony Lane. Three candidates were interviewed and rejected by an eight-strong appointment panel, which included Professor Beynon. The candidates did not include his wife, Dr Sampson, who had been deputy director of the Sirc since July 2002 but who did not apply for the job at this stage.

After the panel failed to make an appointment, judging the three interviewees unsuitable, the panel made it known that the post was still available. Two internal candidates, including Dr Sampson, applied and Professor Beynon withdrew from the selection process. But one candidate pulled out at the 11th hour, so only Dr Sampson went forward and was interviewed by a reconstituted panel that excluded both Professor Beynon and social sciences colleague Gareth Williams. Professor Beynon was replaced by former Sirc chair John King.

Professor Beynon emailed staff earlier this month to say that Dr Sampson had accepted the position as director.

Brian Richardson, director of external relations at Cardiff, said: "Any concerns expressed over the process resulting in the appointment of the new head of the Sirc are completely unfounded and malicious.

"The process by which the new head was appointed was entirely consistent with university recruitment policy... The appointing panel included three independent external assessors at all times. It did not make an appointment after conducting three interviews following the normal advertising, application and shortlisting process. Consequently, two internal applicants were invited for interview. However, one applicant withdrew before the interview."

Mr Richardson said Professor Beynon had been a member of the first interview panel but that there was no conflict of interest because he played no part in either the subsequent selection or the interview process itself. No member of the School of Social Sciences played a role in the interview, he said.

Dr Sampson was highly recommended to the panel by retiring Sirc director Tony Lane and had been offered a 12-monthcontract, Mr Richardson added. He said the panel agreed the post should be readvertised in September.

David Cockroft, general secretary of the International Transport Workers'

Federation, who sat as an independent member of the panel, said it would have been helpful to add the word "acting" to Dr Sampson's director title.

He said: "Better candidates pulled out at the last minute and, since the summer is approaching and we need to keep the centre going, we appointed the only person whose name was still in the field."

Mr Cockroft said the post would be readvertised and a selection process would take place in the autumn. He said Dr Sampson would, like anyone else, be welcome to apply.

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