Whistleblowers: Ex-employee rails at 'smear'

October 3, 2003

Liverpool John Moores University was accused this week of "smearing" a former employee who had raised concerns about quality in its journalism department.

Adrian Quinn claimed that the university issued false statements about him in an attempt to rebut his claims earlier this year that sub-standard students had been granted degrees. In a letter to Mr Quinn this month, LJMU vice-chancellor Michael Brown said he apologised if a false impression had "inadvertently" been created.

Mr Quinn, now at the University of Liverpool, said: "It was very definitely a smear. They put out demonstrably untrue spin in the most grotesque way."

In June, The THES reported that three lecturers out of five in the department of journalism had raised concerns about standards on BA and masters courses in 2000-01. The concerns came to light in documents submitted in support of a successful tribunal claim for unfair dismissal against LJMU by former senior journalism lecturer Des Smith, although the tribunal did not make any specific judgement on the quality issues.

As a former colleague of Dr Smith, Mr Quinn submitted a supportive witness statement in which he said he had resigned from LJMU in February 2001 partly because he believed department head Richard Rooney, who was a reviewer for the Quality Assurance Agency, had a "general eagerness to avoid failing any student in the department". Minutes from departmental meetings in 2000 recorded Mr Quinn's "growing concern" that some students might have been given a pass grade as "the default position".

In a formal statement on May 19 2003, head of corporate communications Janet Martin suggested that all three staff who had raised concerns were pursuing "petty vendettas" motivated by the hope of "financial gain".

Dr Smith won his unfair dismissal case, but he was granted only limited compensation because he was deemed to have contributed to a breakdown in relations that led to his dismissal.

LJMU's May 19 statement named only Mr Quinn and said: "This is merely a playground fight amongst former LJMU academics who feel aggrieved by the outcome of a hearing where, quite frankly, they expected to gain financially - and threatened to make trouble if they didn't."

In a letter to Professor Brown, Mr Quinn said: "I am bewildered by the suggestion that I could somehow expect to gain financially from the industrial tribunal hearingI I stood to gain absolutely nothing apart from helping to establish the truth. I never threatened anyone and I cannot imagine why you would countenance the issuing of a statement that says such outrageous things about me."

The university's statement also said that Mr Quinn's allegations had been proven wrong by the outcome of a QAA inspection. But Mr Quinn noted in his letter to Professor Brown: "This is a very odd and misleading thing to say since I arrived at LJMU in September 1999 and the QAA inspection that lead to the 22 rating took place well before then." In fact, the QAA inspection was in October 1997 - almost two years before Dr Quinn arrived at the university - and three years before the period that the allegations relate to.

Professor Brown replied to Mr Quinn that the university "recognises that at no time did you seek to gain financially, or threaten to make trouble if you didn't". When pushed for an apology, Professor Brown said in a letter two weeks ago: "We make no suggestion whatsoever of any other interestI of yours and I can do no more than repeat an apology on behalf of the university if the impression has been inadvertently created that this was the case. It was not, and is not, our intention."

Ms Martin said: "In private correspondence Professor Brown made it quite clear thatI there was no attempt to smear (Dr Quinn)."

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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