Whistleblowers: Oxford report 'flawed'

April 12, 2001

The Oxfordshire Racial Equality Council has joined Oxford dons in calling for a full inquiry into the university's decision to eject an international scholar from its premises.

The council said that the university's internal report into the affair, which endorsed the ejection decision, was fundamentally flawed. It also said Oxford's rules on exclusion must be reformed.

The THES reported last year that an Oxford research associate, who has asked not to be named, was ejected from his office, at the Centre for Socio-legal Studies, by security guards. The university approved the exceptional measure at the behest of the centre's director, Denis Galligan, but at no time did the university formally consider whether the exclusion was justified.

Professor Galligan was criticised in a 1998 report for a "forceful and abrasive" management style and he was engaged in a dispute with the scholar he decided to eject, who had complained about his management.

The decision has prompted protest from Oxford law academics, but it was endorsed in an internal report by pro vice-chancellor Sir Anthony Kenny.

Sir Anthony's report confirmed that neither he nor the proctors - internal watchdogs for the university - who initially approved the exclusion order, examined the merits of the exclusion. He also said that he "did not have to decide... whether Professor Galligan's action in excluding him was or was not fully justified".

Sir Anthony said that while the forced exclusion was "bound to cause a certain degree of distress and humiliation", it had not been sufficiently inhuman and degrading to represent a violation of human rights.

The Oxfordshire Racial Equality Council, acting on behalf of the excluded academic, said that Sir Anthony's report was flawed on several counts:

  • There were no proper terms of reference
  • The scope of the inquiry was too narrowly focused on the mode of exclusion and its compliance with article three of the Human Rights Act, which protects against inhuman and degrading treatment
  • Sir Anthony applied article three in the wrong manner, with a higher threshold for the complainant to satisfy than is warranted by precedent
  • The report used prejudicial language: the complainant was described as "attempting to enter" the centre, when in fact he was entering his place of work, with keys and a swipe card, oblivious to the exclusion order at the time
  • Sir Anthony said incorrectly that there was no threat of violence when the scholar was asked to leave and was escorted from the building by security guards.
  • The equality council concluded that the report was "flawed in many critical respects" and recommended that a new inquiry be "established in compliance with article six (of human rights laws, which allows a fair hearing) to avoid severe criticism of the university".

The council also said that the university's rules on exclusion were open to abuse. The "article" in the university's constitution covering exclusions says that they can be made if there is a risk of "inconvenience", but there is no definition of "inconvenience" in the articles.

The article is silent about considering the merits and reasonableness of exclusion or on questions of proportionality. It "confers upon the decision-maker an almost unfettered power of discretion to exclude", risking abuse, the council said.

A spokeswoman for the university said: "The university is aware that (the scholar) is not satisfied with the outcome of an earlier internal report. He has been reminded that he is entitled under the university statutes to bring his complaints to the attention of the university proctors."

The equality council is concerned that the proctors will be insufficiently independent, as their office had endorsed the exclusion last September.

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