Friday, 17 September 2010

Freedom of Information

It might seem a little perplexing to any Camusian outsiders reading these words. Yes it appears very peculiar indeed. What is at the root of this peculiarity? Well does it not strike one as a little odd that the full contents of a very important review into appointments in the Salford Business School (SBS) remains at the time of writing this piece, undisclosed to staff? 'What's the problem here' you may ask? Well the Gus John Report in 2005 was made public as was the follow up GEM Report of 2008, which largely confirmed that few of the recommendations in the Gus John report had been implemented.

Hmm.. I shouldn't have called him Freedom of Information...
I shall however keep on flogging him

Many believed rightly or wrongly that the above mentioned review conducted by the TCM Group and supported by Vice Chancellor Martin Hall would be made public on completion. From recent conversations I've had with former colleagues in SBS and UCU, I believe this was also the understanding of many of those who attended the meetings and gave evidence to the TCM Group review.

What's in a review

The review itself was conducted earlier this year against a background of marked disquiet among the rank and file in the Business School, brought to a head by the suspension and disciplining of a member of staff in the School. In addition, staff in SBS were concerned with the manner in which full time lecturing posts among other positions were apparently being distributed in a less than fair and transparent manner to close friends and relations of other staff members.
What bullying and harassment... where?

The above is confirmed by a letter from Head of School John Wilson to staff in the Business School in December 2009 where he makes it clear that there is much discontent among staff around three specific issues: appointments to academic positions, bullying and harassment and communications with the professoriate in the Business School.

In his letter of July 2010 after the review had been conducted, Martin Hall asserted that the TCM Group report 'concludes that all appointments within the scope of the review were appropriate.' He then goes on to say that 'Specific recommendations include processes for shortlisting candidates, the selection and training of interview panels, resolving potential conflicts of interest, and the internal communication of staff recruitment and selection.' Slightly contradictory perhaps and continued rumblings in SBS suggest that staff are not entirely happy with the conclusions the Vice Chancellor has drawn.

Like the mythical unicorn...

What is feeding these rumblings is that few people have set eyes on the report. I for one do not believe it has been written on invisible unicorn horn-based parchment, and is therefore only visible two days after a full moon to those of pure heart who partake regularly of white vinegar and colonic irrigation. Obviously Martin Hall has. Seen the report I mean. It's assumed that HoS Wilson has had one. It does after all deal with allegations that directly concern his School of which of course he's the boss. It's inconceivable that Dr Graves has not had one and pored over its content. Again for clarity, I refer here to the report, not colonic irrigation. As it concerns appointments, I would have thought that Keith Watkinson as Executive Director of Human Resources of Human Resources (HR) would have had one. I've been told that UCU president Chris Sheehy has a copy of the ten page Executive Summary. I haven't got one... yet!

I finished it ages ago... your VC has a
copy so I believe does the President of your Union

It does beg the question that if the situation in the Business School is so rosy and the suggested recommendations are merely peripheral, why then hasn't the Vice Chancellor Hall disclosed the findings of the TCM Review in their entirety?

They shoot FOI requests don't they?

I have it on good authority - my own - that the University are rather reticent when it comes to disclosing certain items of information. I say this with complete certainty as I await the findings of the Information Commissioner regarding around eleven or so Freedom of Information requests I have made that the University have either flatly refused to answer or are still awaiting an internal review (I may add months after the statutory deadline for fulfilling the review has passed). According to University Head of Information Governance Matthew Stephenson, the requests they have refused are 'vexatious'. This is I might add, from a man who pronounced with absolute certainty that a particular set of handwritten notes promised to us by the Chair of the Appeal Panel Mr Simon Atwell, were no longer available (destroyed apparently by Mr Atwell) only to be undermined by Mr Atwell. The document was in good health contrary to Mr Stephenson's initial claims and was supplied forthwith.

Dr Duke's naivety knows no bounds

My own FOI requests deal with claims contained within the satirical Vice Consul's Newsletters. So one might think that the University would be keen to ensure that these requests are processed, and any information that is likely to prove or disprove my case against them would be made available.

I also await the disclosure of an email that had an important name and information redacted by the University. This should have been supplied to me in an unredacted form in a Data Protection Request of November 2009. I wish to enter it into evidence for the Joint Bundle of Documents for the Employment Tribunal. Mr Stephenson has felt the need to discuss the release of this document with Registrar Dr Adrian Graves for reasons that have not been made clear to me. As such I haven't received it...yet!

In my unadulterated naivety I made the obvious error in assuming that the release of information through the FOI and DPA was the exclusive role of Information Governance not the office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor. Buffoon-like and with obvious regard to my own requests as I cannot speak for others, it would appear I erred in thinking that a public authority such as the University of Salford, would have eagerly wished to abide by the general principles of the above legislation. Other public authorities such as the BBC seem to have no problem. There is a silver lining on the horizon. It fills me with a certain perverse warmth to know that Dr Graves is taking such a close personal interest in continuing with his hands-on approach to my case. Nevertheless, and with a certain sense of melancholy, I have felt the need to inform the Information Commissioner about this disregard for certain legal provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998.

What has this to do with a certain person's impending Employment Tribunal?

It may be unrelated but I heard only last week from two sources that the contents of the ten page Executive Summary which has yet to see the public light of day, are 'dynamite'. Might this explain why the findings have not been released?

Now for any of you who read the satirical Vice Consul's Newsletters (and emails that I have received under my Data Protection request in November of 2009 show that many of you were disseminating them across the University) the issue of nepotism and how certain staff members in the SBS were appointed was highlighted in the newsletters. Apart from other issues such as profligacy, the Newsletters also dealt with what I saw were pertinent issues concerning bullying, harassment and victimisation of staff in SBS.

You may recall that for simply satirising these issues was deemed by the University to have constituted bullying and harassing the aforementioned Professor Wilson and the now recently appointed full-time member of staff Xiang Li. For the University, with clause twelve of the Charter of Statutes emblazoned boldly across the front of its corporate cuirass, a clause that professes to encourage dissent in that any Academic staff employed by the University shall have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges... in contrast to this wholly laudable aim the mere act of putting pen to paper and highlighting such inequities according to the Disciplinary Panel, constituted bringing the University into disrepute. This carried a penalty of dismissal for gross misconduct. The ghost of Johnathan Swift turns in his grave at the imprecations of Vice Chancellor Hall, Dr Graves et al.

A horse is a horse unless of course....

I find it rather interesting to note that HoS Wilson has alleged rather publicly in his letter to SBS staff of 11 February 2010, that the 'posters' (it would appear that even at this late stage the clear and qualitative distinction between a 'poster' and a Newsletter is quite lost on the good Professor) 'were seriously defamatory of a number of University colleagues...' I also note that the Professor makes this allegation without providing one shred of evidence to back his assertion.

I was however curious to know how he scaled this 'seriousness'. Was it on a scale of one to ten? Did he run them through SPSS?

As a victim myself of unscruplous, defamatory and potentially criminal remarks (more later along with the documentary evidence) from some of those close to Professer Wilson, I find the Professor's unsubstantiated remarks typical of a form of persecution more familar to historians of Stalin and Joe McCarthy.

I have quite naturally read and re-read the decision of the Disciplinary Panel in preparation for my appeal and for the Employment Tribunal and I can find no mention of the Newsletters as being defamatory. If they were defamatory HoS Wilson knows what he can do!

With over ten years intensive training in researching and analysis at an undergraduate and postgraduate level, if there's one thing I'm quite adept at it's checking my mailbox every morning. And I observe that I continue to not receive a summons from Professor Wilson's lawyers to appear in court answering to allegations of defamation or libel over the authorship of the Vice Consul's Newsletters. I haven't received the same from any of his 'University colleagues' nor have I received similar from any other University staff for that matter. At the time I received this email, I asked myself what was Professor Wilson's rationale for publicly proclaiming that the 'posters' were defamatory? A thought occurred to me. The thought was 'haven't I been here before?'

Deja Vu - it's not merely a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album

 Let me see... firstly make allegations... say of being bullied or harassed. Secondly do not make a formal complaint. Thirdly do not back up the allegation by providing a witness statement to this effect. Finally, refuse a request to appear personally and deliver evidence at a Disciplinary Hearing as to how being the focus of a satirical lampoon equated to being bullied. The more cynical amongst you will conclude that in this way the accuser might avoid any embarrassing questions as to their own behaviour in respect of bullying, harassment, victimisation, nepotism and questionable relationships, such cynicism is surely misplaced!

Forgive me for having a soft skin - I am a southerner after all - but I do find Professor Wilson's pronouncement of defamation to staff in SBS as particularly ill advised. He is perfectly aware that I have no right of reply to this public allegation. There are of course places where HoS Wilson could air his opinion on the defamatory nature of the 'posters'. And to this end an invitation from myself to him to appear at my forthcoming Employment Tribunal and give evidence was treated much the same as the invitation to appear at the Disciplinary Hearing. It was flatly refused by the Professor. 'Why' I ask?  What has he got to hide? I mean surely the truth cannot hurt him?

A feasibility study

Maybe I should make an official complaint against Professor Wilson for bullying and harassment. Hmmm.... the problem is I've been here before. I'll save this interesting episode concerning a lying and bullying  Dean of Faculty (not denied by the University's solicitors) and a very senior manager for later. But it's too late. I've been engulfed by a wave of less-than-enthusiasm and I now have little confidence that Professor Wilson would be suspended pending an investigation into this matter. But your thoughts on a postcard please to.....

Pen-centric penannigans of the defamatory
kind according to a leading Head of School...
and the author's wearing those damnable rose tinted specs
Now, cynicism is not something that comes naturally to me. I'm an eternal optimist. I'm so optimistic, I wear rose tinted spectacles to bed at night even with the lights out. But a rather cynical thought impregnated my natural anti-sceptically inclined deoxyribonucleic acid during the 'wee small hours of the morning'. I wondered if the University were simply sitting on the report and would make it available after the Employment Tribunal? What would the benefit of this be to University chiefs? Well many of you like myself may find it odd that such a severe penalty of dismissal can be apportioned for simply writing about something that is widely spoken about in the corridors and restaurants around the University and just might be confirmed by the Vice Chancellor's own independent review.

Now as the University (the Respondent) hasn't made this document available to me I have had to write yet another letter to their solicitors and ask that they provide a copy for inclusion in the Joint Bundle of Documents as evidence for the Employment Tribunal. I have also asked UCU branch president Chris Sheehy to provide me with a copy. It would be quite a sorry state of affairs if my union branch president had in her hand information that backs my claims in the Vice Consul's Newsletters, and refused to make it available to myself and the Tribunal wouldn't it? Gambling's never been my forte so we'll have to wait and see which side comes through first.

Oh and finally if you have any information that you can legally share be my guest. Email me at

Nothing will be treated in confidence but shared with everyone. After all the truth doesn't hurt does it Professor Wilson?

Employment Tribunal

Dr Gary Paul Duke -v- University of Salford

10:00am prompt
29th - 30th September
14-22 Alexandra House
The Parsonage
Manchester (near the Tax Office)

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