Whistleblowers

December 1, 2000

A senior Oxford University lawyer is calling for a full external inquiry into the forced ejection of an international scholar from university premises.

A research associate who has asked not to be named for professional reasons was ejected from his office at the centre for socio-legal studies by security guards in September. An internal report shows that the university approved the exceptional measure at the behest of the director of the centre, D. J. Galligan. Professor Galligan was involved in a dispute with the researcher and has previously been criticised for an over-aggressive management style.

The internal report, seen by The THES, shows that the move was approved with no analysis of the case for an exclusion or the merits of a forced ejection. Dan Prentice, professor of law, has asked the vice-chancellor to set up and pay for an independent tribunal chaired by a QC. He told the vice-chancellor that the case has "worrying implications". As well as personal humiliation, exclusions could have serious career implications and must be handled with extreme care, he said.

"The issue is whether the proctors and security services (agreed the forced exclusion) on grounds that were adequate and defensible," Professor Prentice said. He said that the university had a responsibility to ensure that exclusions are invoked "on a well-founded basis". He said that in this case, the university "did not satisfy this standard of good governance".

The excluded researcher had handed in his resignation in August after a series of disputes with Professor Galligan. But after returning from an overseas conference to a virtually deserted centre to retrieve his belongings, he was escorted off the premises by two security guards. He had not picked up written notification of his exclusion sent to him by Professor Galligan while he was abroad.

An internal inquiry by pro vice-chancellor Sir Anthony Kenny concluded in its report last month that while the forced ejection 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. Sir Anthony's report makes no judgement about whether the exclusion was justified and it confirms that the proctors who recommended exclusion and who ratified the decision to issue an exclusion order failed to consider the merits of the case. "Like the proctors before me, I did not feel it necessary to form an opinion on the merits of the exclusion," he said.

Sir Anthony's report confirms that at no stage was Professor Galligan's record formally considered by the university authorities. Three years ago, an internal review of the centre reported: "Our review has uncovered profoundly difficult relationships between some members of staff and the director. The existence of these difficulties has affected morale at the centre and has to an extent undermined its reputation within the UK."

The report said Professor Galligan had a stressful job, which could explain difficulties, but it said that he had to accept some responsibility. His "abrasive" management style "has inevitably alienated some colleagues". It added: "A less adversarial... style would enable colleagues to work more closely with him."

A university spokesman said this week: "Following concerns raised by several members of staff at the centre, a decision was taken to exclude (the researcher) from the premises, in accordance with provisions laid out in the university's statutes. The university's security services state that no force was used to implement the exclusion order.

"An investigation into the circumstances surrounding (the) exclusion was subsequently carried out by senior officials at the university... This investigation found that no further action was justified in relation to the particular complaints (the researcher) had made."

Professor Galligan declined to comment.

Want to blow the whistle?

Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298 or email him on

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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