Whistleblowers: Lecturers 'bullied' after raising exam concerns

November 22, 2002

Two former lecturers at Middlesex University claim that they were victimised for raising concerns about grade tampering and other breaches of assessment procedures.

Senior lecturers Rebecca Cruickshank and Willy Pieter quit their posts in July. They claim in separate resignation letters seen by The THES that they repeatedly raised concerns about what they saw as regular breaches of student assessment procedures on the sports rehabilitation degree they helped run.

In a letter of resignation to Margaret House, dean of the school of health and social sciences, Ms Cruickshank claims that she has been "victimised and bullied" for "expressing concerns when university procedures are breached, particularly assessment procedures".

In his letter, Dr Pieter says: "Despite the concerns I have raised... the issues have not been properly addressed." Instead, he claims, he was subjected to "unnecessary stress".

Both former lecturers declined to comment. But The THES has learnt that Ms Cruickshank complained to the director of quality at Middlesex, Jan Williams, about apparently unauthorised grade changes in June 2002.

Following an exam board meeting, she says in a memo that two students had been given pass grades for two separate modules, despite having failed them both. She writes that the students failed a coursework element for one module and should have resubmitted essays. "Is this an error, or were their fail grades changed for some reason?"

In a separate module, the same students were given pass grades after failing coursework and failing to complete "a compulsory component of this module".

As a module leader partly responsible for the assessment of the two students, she says: "I was not privy to any discussions or decisions regarding these two students and wonder whether there was some information that I should have received regarding the reasons why they were treated differently to the other students."

This week Middlesex denied grade tampering and said the concerns had been dealt with.

"The university totally rejects the allegation of 'grade tampering'," a spokeswoman said. "The students referred to were Socrates exchange students (not Middlesex University students) whose original assessment pattern was modified following consultation with their home institution. Concerns raised at the time were thoroughly investigated.

"The investigation confirmed that procedures had been correctly followed and appropriate decisions had been made."

The course has been blighted for a number of years by teaching and assessment problems.

In June 2000, another member of staff, Paul Dent, raised concerns. He complained that one student had submitted work for assessment "19 or 20 days late" to a member of staff without direct responsibility for the programme, and despite the fact that staff more closely linked to the programme had "questions regarding the authenticity of the work".

"I would like a thorough examination of a process that allows a student to hand in work late, determine who marks it... and end up with a degree," he said.

Middlesex's spokeswoman said: "This was investigated at the time and it was established that the university had followed the appropriate procedures."

In January 2001, the then dean of school Ron Hamilton acknowledged in a letter to Ms Cruickshank that some aspects of the systems used to "support the education of students and the working conditions of staff... fell below the standards we believe acceptable". But he said: "We have responded in a responsible manner through changes in structures and personnel and the provision of additional resources."

Almost ten months later, in October 2001, Middlesex's head of quality assurance, Michael Wing, found after an investigation into the sports rehabilitation and sports therapy courses that "although there were some difficulties associated with assessment, appropriate measures were put in place to secure the integrity of the assessment process".

Ms Cruickshank and Dr Pieter disagreed. An employment tribunal will hear Ms Cruickshank's claim of constructive dismissal early next year.

The spokeswoman said: "The university denies Ms Cruickshank's allegations and is defending the employment tribunal proceedings accordingly."

Want to Blow the whistle?
Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298
or e-mail him at phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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