Whistleblowers: Ejecting don under fire

June 1, 2001

Denis Galligan, the Oxford don at the centre of a row over his decision to have an international scholar ejected from university premises, was already facing complaints about aggressive behaviour when the university rubber stamped the exclusion order, The THES has learnt.

Last September, Professor Galligan, director of the Centre of Socio-legal Studies at Oxford University, imposed an exclusion order on a junior colleague, a research associate of Asian origin who has asked not to be named. The scholar, who was engaged in a dispute with Professor Galligan and had threatened to make a complaint about his management, was ejected from Professor Galligan's office by security guards. This left the scholar feeling "distressed and humiliated", the university acknowledged.

The THES reported earlier this year that the exclusion was conceived and initiated solely by Professor Galligan. At no time was the justification for the exclusion considered formally by any higher university authority, either when the exclusion was ratified by Oxford's proctors or when the incident was examined by pro vice-chancellor Sir Anthony Kelly.

The THES has discovered that when the proctors approved the exclusion order imposed by Professor Galligan, he was facing disciplinary proceedings about allegations of aggressive conduct towards colleagues.

John Eekalaar, reader in law at Pembroke College, Oxford, told The THES this week: "I gave evidence to a disciplinary hearing both with respect to Professor Galligan's behaviour towards me and also as a witness to his behaviour towards a number of other people."

It is understood that evidence was taken from at least five members of staff in March 2000 at a tribunal convened under the university's disciplinary procedures. In June last year, three months before the ejection, the university confirmed privately that it had upheld a number of complaints of aggressive behaviour against Professor Galligan.

Professor Galligan lodged a formal appeal against the rulings, which remains unresolved.

The disciplinary hearing followed a review of Professor Galligan's research centre. It noted: "Our review has uncovered profoundly difficult relationships between some members of staff and the director." It said he could be forceful, abrasive and adversarial. It said that while some problems could be attributed to the onerous nature of Professor Galligan's job, "some responsibility must be accepted by the director personally".

Today's revelations are likely to increase calls for a full external inquiry into the ejection affair and for a review of Oxford's statutes that allow departmental heads to order exclusions - justified if they perceive a risk of "inconvenience" to others - without independent scrutiny.

In a letter to the university, law professor Dan Prentice said that rather than acting as an "automaton" and "unreflectively" enforcing an exclusion, "the university authorities should be sensitive to any criticism that may have been made against a particular director as to his management style".

Professor Galligan's solicitors, Pinsent Curtis Biddle, said that he would not comment on the disciplinary proceedings. "Professor Galligan has taken issue with certain findings made against him, but otherwise has no comment on the matter."

Professor Galligan maintained that he was justified in excluding the scholar, because he was acting on the basis of "serious concerns from a number of staff". "The gravity and nature of the concerns... were such that Professor Galligan considered immediate and decisive action was required."

The university has since confirmed that the exclusion was justified by Professor Galligan's "fear of physical violence to members of his staff". But at no stage has this fear been investigated or justified by a university authority. The university declined to comment.


Want to blow the whistle?
Write to phil.baty@thes.co.uk

 

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