Whistleblowers: Dismissal branded as grotesque and contrived

May 9, 2003

Lecturers are demanding the reinstatement of a professor sacked for alleged gross misconduct after 25 years at Liverpool John Moores University.

Natfhe, the lecturers' union, claimed the university ignored proper disciplinary procedures and conducted a "trawl" going back more than ten years to find incriminating material when it dismissed Professor Lewis Lesley.

The union said the sacking was "disgracefully contrived" and represented a "grotesque flexing of managerial muscles". "This brutal sacking effectively tears up the university's disciplinary procedureI we call on managers to put their house in order by reversing this disgraceful misapplication of disciplinary procedure now," says Natfhe in a newsletter that does not name the academic.

Professor Lesley, the high-profile professor of transport science in the school of the built environment, was dismissed instantly after a disciplinary hearing in March. It is understood that he was charged with, among other things, being "impossible to work with", but his colleagues have signed a petition insisting that he is not. Another charge is believed to refer to an incident ten years ago, which was not raised as a disciplinary matter at the time.

The Natfhe newsletter says: "We cannot say anything about the allegations levelled against him, beyond reporting that managers conducted a painstaking trawl, going back ten years, to fill a basket of minor offences - alleged offences that they had never before seen fit to raise as disciplinary matters at all."

The union said it would take the case to appeal and warned that it set dangerous precedents. "Many a lecturer could be trapped that way if old complaints, which were never exposed by employment relations to the scrutiny of the agreed procedure when they were fresh, can be stored in their personnel files and produced as coffin nails to destroy careers years later."

The union also warned of serious procedural breaches, claiming that the university moved straight to dismissal without going through the formal disciplinary procedures. This meant that old issues that should have been resolved through the correct procedures years ago, and "spent", could be stored on file for future use.

"Anybody with even the merest professional understanding of good employment practice knows that a disciplinary procedure's first purpose must always be to try to bring an alleged offender back on to the straight and narrow path," the union said. "At each stage the purpose will be to warn the offender to improve - and to put in place measures to facilitate, support and monitor her or his improvement. This did not happen."

Professor Lesley declined to comment to The THES , and no one at Natfhe, nationally or locally, was prepared to discuss the case.

A spokeswoman for LJMU said it could not comment, as the case was subject to an ongoing appeal that would not end for at least a week. "We will be more than happy to comment when the case is concluded," she said.

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