Middlesex University is attempting to influence a PhD student's research on whistleblowing because it may make the vice-chancellor "nervous", according to documents obtained by The THES.
Kate Schroder, a whistleblowing expert who was sacked by training provider Sight and Sound after she revealed a massive qualifications fraud in 1996, has been a consultant to the charity, Public Concern at Work, and helped draft the recent Public Interest Disclosure Act. She recently turned her experiences into an academic project, with a PhD on whistleblowing at Middlesex's centre for research in industrial and commercial law.
But her work quickly turned sour when she turned her attention to the university itself and started looking into a possible case study at Middlesex of the experiences of former media relations head Suzi Clark, who was sacked in March amid a row over free speech.
Among charges made against Ms Clark by vice-chancellor Michael Driscoll was that she has "sought to assert her independence", and maintain a tradition of free speech, as editor of the university's in-house newspaper, North Circular.
But Ms Schroder's academic supervisor, reader in employment law David Lewis, intervened. In a letter to Ms Clark earlier this year, Dr Lewis warned her of "concerns" about her contact with Ms Schroder. "I would be grateful if you could channel all approaches through me," he said. "Thanks for all your assistance in this matter."
The reasons behind his concern are revealed in a further memo from Dr Lewis to Ms Schroder after Ms Schroder had been approached by the media about her work. "In the light of the problems with Suzi (Clark)," said Dr Lewis, "I feel I should insist that all references to the work being done on whistleblowing at Middlesex should be checked with me ... I apologise for this caution but the vice-chancellor is clearly very nervous about our work in this area."
Ms Schroder, who declined to comment to The THES, forwarded the memo to Ms Clark, with the following explanation: "I am sorry that I cannot give any further details to the press regarding your case, my knowledge of it, my research, or any other matters. I have a strict instruction from David Lewis, as you can see. I do hope you understand."
Ms Schroder is also pursuing a claim for breach of duty and care against the South London Training and Enterprise Council (Solotec), which named her as the whistleblower when she reported a qualifications fraud by her employers, Sight and Sound, in 1996.
Last month Ms Schroder was vindicated with an out-of-court settlement to a libel claim against Sight and Sound over the terms of its press release when it sacked her.