Whistleblowers

July 20, 2001

Legal action halts inquiry
The inquiry into the forced ejection of an international scholar at Oxford University has been in effect blocked by action in the High Court.

After investigations by The THES, Oxford vice-chancellor Colin Lucas set up an inquiry, led by retired QC Sir Oliver Popplewell, to look at law professor Denis Galligan's decision to enforce an exclusion order against a junior colleague, an international scholar of Asian origin.

But last week, a court application by Professor Galligan's lawyers prevented the inquiry going ahead as planned this month. The lawyers argued that the inquiry had been set up for an "improper purpose, namely to satisfy media criticism" in The THES, and that it would be unfair.

In reports since December, The THES has revealed that not only had Professor Galligan faced previous criticism for a "forceful and abrasive" management style, he had been subject to disciplinary action for aggressive behaviour when his exclusion order was approved by the university's proctors.

The Oxfordshire Racial Equality Council had also attacked an initial internal report into the affair as "fundamentally flawed". Although the report by pro vice-chancellor Sir Anthony Kenny found that the incident had "distressed and humiliated" the ejected scholar, it vindicated Professor Galligan's decision. Sir Anthony declined to investigate whether Professor Galligan's actions in ordering the exclusion had been justified because the university's statutes leave such decisions to the discretion of departmental heads.

Professor Galligan's lawyer, Les Christie of Pinsent Curtis Biddle, confirmed that Professor Galligan had been granted leave for a judicial review of the university's decision to hold the inquiry. Until the review hearing, Oxford must put the investigation on hold. Mr Christie said Professor Galligan had been vindicated by Sir Anthony's inquiry and should not be subjected to "double jeopardy".

Mr Christie has also said that the vice-chancellor had set up the inquiry "to deflect adverse media attention from the university" after THES reports on the affair.

The ejected scholar has declined to cooperate with the inquiry because he seeks a full external and public investigation. He has submitted a complaint against the university to the Commission for Racial Equality. The commission, under the Race Relations Act, is seeking the vice-chancellor's response to allegations of race discrimination before deciding whether to take up the case.

Sems examiners take solo approach to meetings
The aggrieved students who are so unhappy about the quality of their tuition at the Surrey European Management School that they set up a website called "Sems Sucks" may be keen to find out how exam boards at the postgraduate school are conducted.

Minutes of the Surrey University postgraduate school's board of examiners meetings show several interesting practices. Minutes for an exam board meeting in August 1999, in which the results of dozens of students on 30 separate courses were determined, show that there was no external examiner present and no academic from outside Sems. The only people present were the exam board chair, the school's then deputy director, Peter Kangis, and two administrators. The meeting was conducted under "chairman's action".

Minutes for a February 1999 exam board do not include a list of attendees, noting only that an external examiner was absent.

A spokesman for Sems, which The THES reported last week successfully fought higher education's first known tribunal case under the law to protect whistleblowers, declined to discuss the school's quality-control practices. He said: "The university has well-established quality-assurance processes and procedures relating to its academic arrangements. It is satisfied that these were followed by the Sems examination board."

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