Thomas Docherty’s ban left University of Warwick students in limbo

Silence greeted requests for references or PhD guidance from professor

August 21, 2014

Source: Getty

Oblivious: some students were not aware that meetings with Professor Docherty had been cancelled

A lecturer banned from campus for more than eight months by the University of Warwick has been prevented from writing references for his students without permission, returning their work or giving them guidance on their PhDs, Times Higher Education has been told.

It is understood that Thomas Docherty, a prominent critic of changes to the higher education system, was also not allowed to contact students to cancel meetings after his suspension, meaning that some turned up to an appointment to find that he was not there.

Professor Docherty, a professor of English and comparative literature, has been suspended since January by Warwick and is thought to be banned from making contact with students or colleagues.

Warwick has not publicly commented on his suspension except to deny that it is connected with his political views, although THE revealed in July that Professor Docherty has been charged with undermining the authority of the former head of the English department, Catherine Bates.t

The suspension prohibits all contact with students, which caused confusion among those who had meetings scheduled with Professor Docherty shortly after he was suspended.

It is thought that Warwick did inform students that Professor Docherty was absent, but not that he had been suspended. One reported finding out about the suspension only through gossip.

The ban on contact with students meant that he could not give any further guidance to the PhD students he was supervising. Warwick’s website lists eight PhD or MPhil students for whom Professor Docherty was either a sole or joint supervisor.

These students were reassigned supervisors, but it is thought that this has caused difficulties for doctoral candidates who are studying areas that only Professor Docherty had expertise in.

It is also understood that Professor Docherty was not allowed to act as a referee for his students who were applying for further study or jobs, except when given permission by the senior management.

Although Professor Docherty’s formal suspension dates back to January, THE has learned that he has had restrictions placed on his contact with colleagues since November 2013, although he was allowed to continue teaching.

A spokesman for Warwick repeated a statement issued after news of the suspension came to light in March, which says that “the disciplinary allegations in no way relate to the content of the individual’s academic views or their views on higher education policy”.

He added: “From the outset of any situation involving the absence of staff over an indeterminate period of time, the university will always seek to minimise the disruption or inconvenience to students.”

It is unclear when a decision will be reached on the charges against Professor Docherty, which could result in his being stripped of his position at Warwick.

The case against him cites three incidents in which he is alleged to have undermined Professor Bates, including sighing, projecting negative body language and making “ironic” comments when interviewing candidates for a job in the department.

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Reader's comments (1)

The term "collateral damage" comes to mind. Unless the UK policy in higher education is designed for the next generation that will have attended "university" to be obedient, docile, uncritical and to willingly accept injustice and indebted. Who is the true victim, then?