Whistleblowers: Oxford reviews statutes after exclusion inquiry

April 26, 2002

Oxford University is to review its disciplinary procedures after an inquiry into the "distressing and humiliating" ejection of an international scholar from university premises, set up after investigations by The THES .

Oxford last year launched an inquiry, led by retired High Court judge Sir Oliver Popplewell, after The THES reported that Denis Galligan, a law professor with a disciplinary record for aggressive management, had ordered the ejection from university premises of a junior ethnic-minority colleague. The scholar, a former senior Kazakhstan diplomat, who has asked not to be named, was ejected from his own office by two security guards after he declared his intention to resign and to make a formal complaint against Professor Galligan following a dispute.

The exclusion, which the university accepted had caused "distress and humiliation", was ordered at Professor Galligan's personal discretion. The ejection was rubber-stamped by the university's proctors and endorsed in an internal inquiry, although the merits or grounds for using such an extreme sanction were not considered at any point.

Oxford has refused to publish Sir Oliver's report into the affair and has provided only its own version of his findings. But a university spokeswoman said that the case "had highlighted a number of issues related to procedures and their dissemination to staff within the university".

She said: "These issues are being addressed within the current revision of the university's statutes, which was under way before this case began, and through staff training."

According to the university, Sir Oliver found nothing wrong with Professor Galligan's exclusion order. Under the statutes, any head of department is given personal discretion to order an exclusion where a person's actions may cause or threaten to cause "damage to property or inconvenience to other users". Professor Galligan, who was described in a 1998 report as having an "abrasive and adversarial" management style and had been disciplined for aggressive management before ordering the exclusion, relied on the scholar's alleged potential "to cause inconvenience to others".

Although an internal university investigation concluded that it was not necessary, according to the statues, to "form an opinion on the merits of the exclusion", Sir Oliver found that Professor Galligan did have grounds for concluding the scholar could cause inconvenience. But he also found that the university was remiss in failing to "set out shortly and at an early stage greater details of the evidence relied on to warrant the exclusion".

Before the case, Oxford was in the process of reviewing its disciplinary statutes, which are now awaiting approval by the Privy Council. Oxford's spokeswoman said: "The new statutes will prevent such problems arising in the future by guaranteeing a review of any decision that might be made to expel." She said that "should any further amendments be proposed" after the inquiry, "they will be consistent with new legislation".

Despite the review of procedures, Oxford dons have questioned the validity of the inquiry. The ejected scholar rejected the inquiry from the outset, refusing to participate and claimed that it lacked sufficient independence. The inquiry was also branded a "lame duck" by Professor Galligan, who attempted to block it in the High Court, saying he should not be tried twice.

Two Oxford law professors, John Eekelaar and Dan Prentice, raised concerns about the affair and had called for the inquiry. But they were not invited to give evidence and have expressed concern that the scholar's position was not properly represented and that the report remains secret.

According to the university's account of Sir Oliver's findings, which it said Sir Oliver approved, the inquiry found that there could be no criticism of the "manner in which the exclusion was carried out" and that there was no evidence of malice or discrimination. He reportedly said that the university was correct to initiate an internal inquiry by pro vice-chancellor Sir Anthony Kenny, and that Sir Anthony was correct to restrict the scope of his inquiry entirely to the mode of exclusion.

The university said it had taken steps to ensure the inquiry was independent and said: "The university's actions have now been subject to extensive and thorough review and it is hoped that a line may now be drawn under these matters."

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