The endless demands on modern academics’ time are such that many feel they are doing the work of two people at once. Yet one Canadian academic apparently felt able to perform the roles of two professors 4,000 miles apart.
Jonathan Hart was appointed professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Alberta in 2004. In 2011, he was also appointed professor of English studies at Durham University. Neither was a part-time position, and it appears that neither institution knew about Professor Hart’s dual roles until the facts came to light at the end of last year.
A spokeswoman for Durham confirmed that it no longer employed Professor Hart but declined to comment further on an “individual staffing matter”.
A spokeswoman for Alberta said the institution had “become aware” of the fact that Professor Hart had also taken a position at Durham and was “looking into” the matter.
Professor Hart - who, according to the Durham senate report confirming his appointment, has held visiting roles at Harvard, Princeton and Cambridge universities - failed to respond to several requests for comment.
But his apparent ability to hold positions on opposite sides of the Atlantic drew comment about the wider issue of tracking academics.
Rachel Wenstone, vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, said it was “disheartening” to hear that a scholar had been able to “get away for more than a minute with holding two full-time academic posts simultaneously”.
“If there is a lesson to be learned here, perhaps it is that the role of academics in the learning community should revolve around the educational relationships they build with students,” she added.
Monica Belcourt, director of the School of Human Resource Management at Canada’s York University, said she had never known an employer to check that an appointee had actually left their previous job. She added that holding two full-time jobs would be particularly difficult in the “small world of academic specialisations”.
“Also, when we recruit we contact the current and previous employers for references, so they would know that the person is on a job search,” she added.
Mark Roehling, a professor at Michigan State University’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations, said attempts by universities to check whether staff were also working elsewhere would be an example of “managing by exception” - “spending a lot of time and/or developing policies to address rare occurrences, typically to the detriment of overall organisational effectiveness”.