October 12, 2001

Plea to save research
The chair of Parliament's all-party cancer group, Ian Gibson, has called for urgent talks with University College London, following The THES 's report last month that world-class research into a new treatment for skin cancer may collapse in a row over a staff post.

The THES reported two weeks ago that the Cancer Research Campaign-funded research, which the World Health Organisation considers a promising melanoma therapy, face collapse because the university had failed to find a permanent post for the lead researcher, Eva Link. Dr Link has spent almost 20 years at the college, on 11 short-term contracts, often dependent on her colleagues' goodwill.

She has been told to leave and her laboratory mice face destruction, setting her work back years. UCL said it had no obligation to Dr Link but had been very generous in helping her continue her work.

Dr Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North, said he had offered to chair an emergency meeting at the House between Dr Link and her supporters and UCL, but there was no answer as The THES went to press. "For God's sake, they should hold on until we can get all parties round the table," he said.

Oxford to face racism claim again
Oxford University is to face allegations of race discrimination from black researcher Chinasa Anya for a second time after the Court of Appeal threw out an employment tribunal's decision to reject his claims.

Dr Anya, who joined Oxford as a postdoctoral research assistant in the department of materials in 1994, claims he was discriminated against when he was rejected in favour of a white candidate for a new research post in 1996. The Reading tribunal ruling in March 1998 found that the university had breached its equal opportunities policies when it rejected Dr Anya, failing to take up references and failing to establish a panel to shortlist candidates. It also said that there were "inconsistencies" in the statements of the university's key witnesses.

But the tribunal decided to accept the university's explanations and said there was not enough evidence to prove a racial motive.

Dr Anya alleges that his research supervisor, Steven Roberts, who led the three-strong interview panel that rejected him for the post, had often shown prejudice towards him. He said that he was denied opportunities to propose research projects and was not allowed to publish papers in his own name.

Dr Roberts and the university denied any discrimination.

The tribunal said that it "regarded Dr Roberts and (department head) Professor (Brian) Cantor as being essentially witnesses of truth despite the inconsistencies that were exposed under cross-examination".

On this basis, the tribunal said it was "disposed to accept the respondents' explanation" that the decision was made on Dr Anya's scientific strengths and weaknesses, not on his race. The decision was upheld by an employment appeal tribunal before both verdicts were thrown out by the Court of Appeal this year. Appeal court judges Lord Justice Schieman, Lord Justice Sedley and Mr Justice Blackburne said the tribunal's judgment was "lacking".

"They make no findings about the substance, much less of the significance, of the inconsistencies which they have noted in (the university's) evidence... no indication of the significance, if any, of the interview panel's departures from university policy... The only just outcome is to allow this appeal."

A university spokesperson said: "The university has consistently said that it acted fairly and reasonably. This was supported by the initial employment tribunal and the employment appeals tribunal. The Court of Appeal judgment does not dispute that, nor is it critical of the university. It merely remits the matter for rehearing to a further tribunal on technical grounds."

The case will be reheard in December.

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