Whistleblowing

May 28, 1999

As a pro-vice-chancellor of Middlesex University, I am uncertain about whether to be complimented or exasperated by the attention we have attracted in your columns recently.

I cannot let Phil Baty's piece on "Grudging guidelines" (THES, May 7) pass without correction. He is well aware of the need for universities to respond to the Public Disclosure Bill. The university governing body considered the development of a policy over eight months and approved a policy that reflected legal and internal consultation (including the member of staff to whom your column referred) and the opinion of a working party of the Association of Heads of University Administrators across the country.

The policy was approved on the understanding that it would be reviewed by the board on a regular basis. While the policy itself was couched in formal language, a "user-friendly" version was published in the university's internal newspaper. In the six months since this publication, the policy has not been invoked. The local branch of Natfhe has not provided any detailed comments on the policy, but we have made clear that any comments would be welcomed.

As for our "threatening message against individuals who bring allegations that are malicious or vexatious", this clause is in no way unusual. The Nolan Committee talks about penalising those who make "false and malicious allegations". Neither is it unusual to expect that internal procedures should be exhausted before any external avenues should be invoked. Any external approaches, however, should involve public bodies such as the Higher Education Funding Council for England or the Quality Assurance Agency rather than the press.

The reference to the independence of the clerk to the board of governors seems to betray an ignorance of the structures of modern universities in that the clerk is appointed by the board and is therefore not part of a line management structure to the vice-chancellor (the other mandatory board appointment). I trust the reference to me by name has no particular implication in terms of impartiality.

I find it sad that it is becoming commonplace for The THES, especially through Mr Baty's column, to target an individual university and infer wrongdoing - particularly as there is a debate worth having about the ability of staff and students to appeal or take grievances to bodies outside their university.

Gareth Jones

Pro-vice-chancellor and clerk to the board, Middlesex University

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