Whistleblowers: Staff halt £1,000-a-day job for Oxford scholar

July 26, 2002

Lecturers have condemned an attempt by Goldsmiths College to find a £1,000-a-day job for the Oxford politics don Vernon Bogdanor.

Professor Bogdanor's proposed appointment as visiting professor at Goldsmiths' politics department on a pro-rata salary of more than £240,000, about £125 an hour, was blocked after strong resistance from staff in the department, which was facing restructuring.

The proposal was that Professor Bogdanor would work 24 days a year. For this, he would have earned about £4,500 more than a new lecturer would earn in a year on a starting salary of £19,500.

Staff are furious that the proposal was ever made. David Margolies, a member of the national executive of the Association of University Teachers and a reader in English at Goldsmiths, said: "The sums involved are obviously ridiculous - Jthe new rate for hourly paid lecturers is £30 an hour. It is also directly contradictory to equal opportunities."

One senior academic in the politics department, who asked not to be named, said the plan had been "outrageous".

Goldsmiths' warden Ben Pimlott made the proposal in a memo to Nirmala Rao, head of the department of politics. Departmental staff were consulted and they rejected the plan.

It is unclear whether it was Professor Pimlott or Professor Bogdanor who initially suggested the possibility of a visiting professorship at Goldsmiths.

Professor Bogdanor told The THES that he had been approached by Professor Pimlott. "He asked if I would be interested in becoming a visiting professor and I said, in principle, yes, because I admire what he's doing there. But he wrote to me shortly afterwards saying that he was sorry, but sadly it had not come off. We never got to the stage of talking about money."

But a Goldsmiths' spokeswoman said: "Professor Bogdanor wrote to Goldsmiths in January, offering his services in terms of teaching and supervision."

She said Professor Bogdanor had offered to work "at a proposed charge of £1,000 a day".

Asked to clarify who had first made the approach, the spokeswoman later said: "Professor Pimlott recalls a general discussion a year or more ago about such a possibility, though without any detailed discussion of terms."

Goldsmiths said there was merit to the proposal as Professor Bogdanor's "high research profile" brought the potential to attract research funding. The spokeswoman said: "However, Professor Pimlott consulted with the department, and, after debate, it was decided that he was not an appropriate fit, as well as being too expensive."

She said that because an appointment was never made, there was no question of any procedures being circumvented.

Professor Bogdanor and Professor Pimlott work in a similar academic field. Professor Bogdanor sent Professor Pimlott a proof of his recent book, The Monarchy and the Constitution , when Professor Pimlott was writing his biography of the Queen. Both men sat on the Economic and Social Research Council's Whitehall Programme steering committee, and both have been consultants to the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Goldsmiths said: "Those who move within [respected academic] circles are more often than not known to one another. The fact that these two were acquainted is therefore hardly surprising or even worthy of comment."

Professor Bogdanor said: "This was not a question of Professor Pimlott finding a job for his pal. I have a job."

The controversy is unlikely to calm discontent in the social policy and politics department. A recent restructure, with the perceived downgrading of social policy teaching, has led to the resignation of Tim Newburn, professor of social policy, who is taking his eight-strong research team to the London School of Economics.

His research unit is reported to earn 25 to 30 per cent of the college's research income.

Nor is the row likely to increase staff confidence in Professor Pimlott after a vote of no confidence in him by the AUT, which was carried last month by 82 votes to 73. The AUT's motion said that Professor Pimlott "has refused to follow equal-opportunities procedures".

Despite this, Professor Pimlott was last week reappointed for a second five-year term.

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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