Whistleblowers: Evans's appeal upheld

November 24, 2000

Cambridge University breached its own rules and broke principles of natural justice when it decided not to promote history lecturer Gill Evans for the eighth year running this month, a university appeals body has found.

Ruling on a complaint by Dr Evans that the history department faculty promotions committee denied her a fair hearing when it decided to reject her application for a professorship this year, the university's appeal body said that the committee breached the university's promotions procedures and a crucial principle of natural justice.

Dr Evans has been claiming for years that the university's decision-makers are biased against her because of her high-profile campaigns for reform of the promotions system and other improvements to the university's accountability. "They'd raise The Titanic before promoting me," she said. "It would cost them so much in humble pie." She has published 154 refereed journal articles and more than 40 books, including 16 with either the Oxford or Cambridge University presses.

The appeal body upheld Dr Evans's complaint that there had been a number of significant procedural breaches when the faculty committee considered her case for promotion earlier this year.

It found that the committee had failed to take all the documentation into account when it considered her case. Dr Evans's references for 1998, which are supposed to be taken into consideration, were missing from the documentation the faculty committee considered.

"The (appeals body) regarded this omission as a prima facie evidence of a fault in procedure. The committee agreed that it could not be confident that the outcome of the faculty committee's deliberations would not have been different, if the references had been available."

The appeals body also noted that although Dr Evans was an interdisciplinary candidate, the history faculty committee chose not to consult experts in the other academic field where Dr Evans is active. The committee "could have consulted the faculty of divinity but chose not to do so", the appeals body said.

It also confirmed that the constitution of the promotions committee had breached natural justice. The THES reported in May this year that the committee had accepted that it could not fairly consider Dr Evans's case as she had been involved in so many disputes with colleagues and too many members of the committee had potential conflicts of interest. But the committee considered her case regardless. It had to recruit five extra members to make it quorate because so many declared an interest.

"The faculty committee was placed in a position in which there was danger of the appearance of bias... The appeals committee could find no evidence of bias but, in applying the strictest rule of natural justice, that there should be no danger of the appearance of bias and the possibility that 'a third party would have real doubts on the question of whether a member could act in a way that was wholly free from bias', the committee agreed that the reconstitution of the committee did not meet the requirements." The complaint was upheld.

Problems with the body's constitution meant that there was no chairman for the consideration of the case. The appeals body "agreed that the need for a chairman in the enlarged committee should have been anticipated and dealt with before the meeting of the committee took place. The (appeals body) agreed to uphold the ground of the appeal that related to the absence of a chairman in the consideration of Dr Evans's application."

Three other complaints from Dr Evans were rejected. Despite the appeals body ruling, the university's central promotions committee confirmed early this month that Dr Evans's application for promotion failed.

The university said it did not comment on individual cases, but said that Dr Evans had a right to a further appeal.

   

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