Whistleblowers: Unwelcome criticism

November 10, 2000

Woe betide any academics who question the received wisdom at Surrey University's European Management School.

It would seem from a memo obtained by The THES that the school's director, Paul Gamble, does not take kindly to staff who have the temerity to request copies of written guidelines on procedural matters, or who raise criticisms of management style and procedures.

"It is barely three weeks since you had occasion to share with me your unhappiness with the management style and procedures used in the school," Professor Gamble wrote to lecturer Geoffrey Darnton last year.

"At the time... I asked you to confine your criticisms and complaints to me. I was therefore particularly disappointed to read in your email to the school administrator that you considered the school policies to vary day by day, suggesting an erratic and inconsistent management style. It is also apparent... that you have a very strong need for all instructions and procedures to be set out in writing.

"While I can fully understand that, as a new member of staff, you are uncertain about aspects of school and university procedures, I am sure that you can equally well understand that the smooth working of a relatively small unit, such as Sems, requires the positive co-operation and goodwill of all staff members."

So Professor Gamble laid down a new rule: "Since you have been with us for barely three months, I must, therefore, formally ask for your forbearance in advancing open criticisms to me and to my colleagues about procedures you may not fully understand... Sems is an extremely successful commercial unit within the university and I would ask you to bear this in mind before challenging so many aspects of what we do and how we do it."

Professor Gamble outlined what he "expected and required" of Mr Darnton as a new member of staff "for the avoidance of doubt and for clarification" and called him to a meeting "to discuss all of these issues".

He concluded: "I think we should take the opportunity to review your appointment in the school more generally. As you will be only too aware professionally, cultural fit is extremely important for a small organisation. The probationary nature of academic appointments to the school allows both parties an opportunity to review whether such cultural fit is likely to be achieved. It is clearly sensible for the two of us to consider the issue most carefully at this point."

Shortly after the memo, Mr Darnton was moved, against his wishes, to a part-time post with a promise of work, which dried up rapidly after Professor Gamble discovered that he had outlined his complaints about the management of the school to the vice-chancellor.

As The THES has reported, the university recently paid Mr Darnton several thousand pounds to settle his county court claim that the university owed him for the work it had promised him.

He is soon to use whistleblowing legislation to claim at an employment tribunal that he has been victimised.

Want to blow the whistle? Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298 or email him .

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