Friday, 9 September 2011

The Fisherman's Rationale

Sheriff: 'Do ye swear to tell something that approximates the truth...'
Disinterested Smithy: Piss off!

True to our promise, this week we explore the involvement of one Mr Keith Watkinson in Duke-related matters of a disciplinary nature. For the uninitiated Mr Watkinson is the current Executive Director of Human Resources at the University of Salford. Mr Watkinson reports directly to Dr Adrian Graves, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Registrar. In the important position he holds, Mr Watkinson would work to what we might agree to describe as 'basic codes of professional practice'. For an idea of what this might or might not mean, readers may wish to visit the Vice Chancellor's blog. Given the sheer extensiveness of the documentary evidence to hand allied to his witness statement, we can only do Mr Watkinson justice in any real sense of the word over a series of postings.

Enter the statement of the Executive Director of Human Resources

It's worth noting that this supplementary witness statement was provided by him on the 6th April 2011 after two days of Tribunal hearing on the 1st and 2nd March 2011. Indeed he sat in on at least one day of the hearing. So it was written with the benefit of a certain degree of hindsight. The rationale for producing this statement was to provide the University with a response to a specific section of my own witness statement regarding a 'Without Prejudice' meeting the day before my disciplinary hearing. More on Mr Watkinson's interpretation of the events of this meeting at a later date.

The Golden Thread

On perusal, it became quite clear to us that Mr Watkinson addressed a whole raft of issues in his statement that were in our view well outside that originally requested by University lawyers - indeed in the region of twenty four additional issues! It was in our opinion an attempt by the University to counter contentious and sticky matters: what we might call 'smatter'. Much of this smatter was raised by previous cross examination of Phillip Hopwood and former Finance Director at UoS Simon Attwell. We were grateful for the University in providing this statement as it presented the opportunity to raise issues concerning the overall process in way the three other University witnesses could never do. Mr Watkinson provided the golden thread that ran through the general process . You can read his entire witness statement here

First contact

For those who have not had the pleasure of first contact with Mr Watkinson, he seems rather unassuming and during the Tribunal, he sported a rather fetching assortment of facial hair. But it's his involvement within the overall process including the disciplinary process of another certain frontal bristler we're concerned with, not his chin. So to business. According to his statement, Mr Watkinson's involvement within the overall process was rather limited:

'Whilst I provided advice and support from a procedural prospective in relation to the implementation of the University's disciplinary procedure, I didn't take any decisions with regards to the process regarding Dr Duke, nor did I seek to influence the disciplinary outcome.'(1)

Robin: Goodly sir..! does a game of passeth the shitty stick take your fancy this fine morn?
Moneybags: Bugger off!

He also claimed that neither he nor the Vice Chancellor Martin Hall or the Deputy Vice Chancellor Graves played any role in either the 'independent investigation' or the 'formal disciplinary process'. Parts of his statement read like the rules of a game called pass-the-shitty-stick, in which no player wants to get the rancid dog-toffee on their fingers. We will of course be exploring with a level of precision known only in the realm of quantum physics, the breadth and depth of Watkinson's 'advice' and 'support'. We will also scientifically explore (using a magnifying glass, some dental floss and a pair of tweezers) the relation these have to the 'procedural perspective' he speaks of. Mr Watkinson states that part of his role as the head of the  '...University's Human Resources Division is to advise members of staff in relation to when the disciplinary procedure might be relevant and to ensure that the disciplinary procedure is applied consistently throughout the University.'(2) This 'applied consistently' matter is something we will return to anon.

Breaches and seepages - not a new Oasis album

The Disciplinary Procedure appears to have been quite 'relevant' as it was used to suspend me on the 18th March 2009. Up until this moment, we might surmise according to the above claims, Mr Watkinson's role would have been reasonably minimal; a bit of advice here... maybe a bit of support there... To reiterate, despite the University's seeming inability to spot the difference between a poster and a newsletter, the production of the satirical Vice Consul's Newsletters was the reason for my suspension. The weekend before my suspension, I'd been contacted by the press twice. And when a journalist bandies around certain key phrases like 'you're' and 'being' and 'suspended' you know some thing's up. It's also indicative of quite a serious breach in confidentiality - what's known in the plumbing trade as a 'leak' - by your employer somewhere along the line, a sentiment which even the most debased 11th century village green illiterati might agree with. It was a potentiality that Watkinson and Graves appeared to take reasonably seriously.

The inevitability of urine and the press

Now I'm prone to leaks but these days they tend to be of a urinary nature. And the only briefs to which I subscribe are of the rubber variety designed to limit the concentration of uric acid on one's best riding breeches. In his statement Mr Watkinson alleges that in responding to these press enquiries, I was taking steps to proactively brief the press. One might argue that responding (answering the phone) to enquiries from reporters hardly merits being 'pro-active' on the press front and might in normal times indicate to an outside observer with a modicum of common sense that one was being a bit 're-active'.
Rather fetching wouldn't you agree?
And not a hint of piss

Establishing a point (or two) the Watkinson way

There are however two interconnected reasons why Watkinson might wish to establish this point. Firstly to demonstrate that it was I who was ultimately responsible for the report that appeared on the 18th May 2009 in the MEN, and not University staff such as 'Uncle Tom Cobbley and all' discussing my suspension in a public area within the University. Secondly, that the University were simply reacting to press reports pro-actively placed there by a certain distinguished wearer of brogues. Thus, in producing internal and external statements, they were acting reasonably, taking necessary steps to preserve and promote the University's reputation. Mr Watkinson's statement says as much at section 13. There is an additional factor when we consider his claim that in my responding to the above queries from the press that this 'added to the damage suffered to the University's reputation' (3) Note the word 'added' here. This is important in that it serves to underline the contentious matter of the alleged damage suffered by the University through the authorship of the Vice Consul's Newsletters. One might hypothesise that if they can prove 'damage', it upholds and underscores the rather nonsensical notion of 'bringing the University into disrepute'.

Producing 'barbed' statements

Now I'm naturally an inquisitive type. I've got documents coming out of orifices that have yet to evolve in humans. One document in particular shows that the University and... well one Mr Watkinson were making preparations on the 7th May 2009 to brief the press. You can view these 'preparations' here. It might be worth flagging up at this juncture that Watkinson emphasises in bold letters that the press release '... for the THE' is 'prepared in advance'. 'In advance of what?' you might ask. Eleven days in advance of my suspension and at least nine days before my alleged pro-activeness with the press. However, the case can be made that a diligent employer would prepare draft press releases in order to respond to possible enquiries from the press.

An itchy knacker and the meaning of the word 'barbed'

But like an indolent itchy knacker that demands attention just before one drops off - to sleep I mean, not the illustrious gonad - something greatly irked me. Scratching my head, I wondered what Mr Watkinson meant by the phrase 'I've made the THE release quite specific and a little barbed'? 'Was Mr Watkinson practicing some sort of arcane amalgam of personnel management crossed with coarse angling?' I pondered. What exactly did he mean by the use of the phrase 'barbed-ness'? For those not working within Higher Education, the THE or Times Higher is a national publication of some prestige which is well perused across the University sector.

Contrast and compare

It's worth comparing the Notification of Suspension with the internal release and press statements made available to the THE and Manchester Evening News by the University to see if we can determine any significant differences. Well for a start the words 'the content of these posters is sexist''defamatory' and 'viciously attack a female student of ethnic minority' were surprisingly absent from the official allegations made against me. The bit about 'potential sexual harassment' was also distinguishable by its non-existence. But one or three of questions continued to niggle.

Why on earth would Mr Watkinson want to add such 'barbed' statements to internal and external press releases? Quite keen to continue this conversation with myself I asked me 'Is this normal procedure?' and I further added 'Could all reasonable employees of the University, who might find themselves in a similar situation to myself expect the same sort of bespoke treatment at the hands of the Executive Director of Human Resources?' Finally I adjured of myself: 'Was the trashing of a chaps reputation a direct and necessary diametrical correlate of the process of '[p]reserving and promoting the University's reputation...' as stated at section 14 of Mr Watkinson's statement?

Why did I make it barbed..? why it makes it far easier 
to scratch one's arse you inquisitive wretch!
Questions... questions...  those damnable questions!

Instead of continuing to ask myself such questions, we decided a better tactic would be to use the opportunity of the Employment Tribunal to ask Watkinson which we did in August. The Suffolkian Longley simply asked why had he added the allegation of 'defamation'. Watkinson's response was even simpler: "I don't know". Asked "Why did you make it barbed?" his response again: "I don't know". Given his centrality to adding this 'barbed-ness', and given the seriousness of these unsubstantiated allegations against me, Mr Watkinson clearly didn't know much. Two thoughts crossed my mind. 'Was he prone to randomly adding words to statements?' 'Did he just throw in the unsubstantiated allegation that the Vice Consul's Newsletters were 'sexist' because he was at a loose end that particular afternoon?'

Alarm bells in the Ol' Fire Station?

Now one might have thought that the alarm bells in the Ol' Fire Station would have been hammering away in a determined yet melancholic rendition of V.E. Day. Surely Mr Watkinson's immediate line manager, Dr Adrian Graves, in order to ensure Mr Watkinson conformed to the 'basic codes of professional practice', would have emailed back a note that went something along the lines of 'Keith, cease and desist! Your actions in adding unsubstantiated allegations to press and internal releases, could constitute gross misconduct, could very well damage the reputation of the University thereby bringing it into some serious disrepute.' Well if he did, we were never supplied with such an email under document disclosure. There might be a very good reason for this.

Upping the ante executive style?

Let's just revisit Mr Watkinson's email once more. It's worth noting that it was addressed to Dr Adrian Graves (now Deputy Vice Chancellor) and the current Vice Chancellor Martin Hall. It might be of some value to point out at this juncture that at the time this email was sent, Martin Hall was the Vice Chancellor Designate not the Vice Chancellor. 'So why is he involved at all?' you might well ask.

What did the Vice Chancellor Designate think?

So let's just rewind this a little. The Executive Director of HR, who says his role is to provide 'advice' and 'support' on procedural matters pertaining to the Disciplinary Procedure is personally producing internal and external releases to the press in which he's added a thing called 'barbed-ness'. These internal and external press releases contain unsubstantiated allegations that never formed the basis of any of the official allegations made by the University against me as part of this disciplinary process. And evidence suggests Mr Watkinson was not acting alone. He asked for comments from the Chief Operating Officer Dr Graves and the Vice Chancellor Designate Martin Hall, who according to Graves' reply, commented on the text. How did Martin Hall respond? Did he say something along the lines of 'Keith, it might be better to simply stick to the allegations made against Duke as outlined in the letter of suspension, as barbed comments and unsubstantiated allegations might be prejudicial to ongoing proceedings?' We'll never know as zero emails from Martin Hall containing any pertinent comments on this issue were disclosed.

Eggs and another internal statement

Now a reasonable person might have thought "that's enough to be going on with now... anything else and you'll be in serious jeopardy of over-egging it." But there's a bit more, indicated by Mr Watkinson statement on page 4 and page 5, section 13. He states that another internal statement was produced by the University and sent by my Head of School Paul Rowlett to students whom I taught, in order to allay their concerns that the 'final stages of the modules were not jeopardised'. Four days after my suspension, on the 22nd May, this statement was indeed sent. Watkinson makes it quite clear that in sending it to students, it 'was a reaction to information disclosed to the press by Dr Duke.' Now this is not quite true as Mr Watkinson well knows. He confirmed under cross examination that the statement was produced and sent to my students in response to a petition they had organised in my support against my suspension. The heading of an email exchange is also eminently suggestive. It states 'Petition from Languages Students'. Yet it's also apparent and was raised in the Tribunal that even this statement was somewhat finessed and a section added prior to its sending. To view the 'before' and 'after' statement (which is at the bottom of the page) press here.

The Freedom of Information 'Champion' Dr Graves

It's during the process of discussion concerning what the content should be that Dr Graves plays a blinder when he exhorts Watkinson and other managers to 'slip in the fact that the allegations include the harassment of a female student of Chinese ethnic origin'. To access this email press right here. In his apparent eagerness to polish this little coprolite, Graves ignored a simple fact: the allegation contained in the suspension letter made no such reference to either Li's gender or Chinese ethnic origin. Now whichever way you look at it, it's not a bad representation of the University's 'FOI Champion' encouraging managers to disseminate a staff member's Sensitive Personal Information, which is of course protected under law - that piece of legislation being the Data Protection Act 1998.

What was the rationale behind Graves statement? In March, it was put to Simon Attwell by the amiable Longley that "Dr Graves' email was a deliberate attempt to smear Duke" and that Dr Graves was playing the racism card. Mr Attwell's response appeared to be an attempt to put some distance between himself and Graves when he stated that "I cannot be held responsible for the comments of Adrian Graves."

What about if I slip in the fact that he's solely responsible for the death of 
Bambi's mum, the disappearance of Flight 19 and that he 
was the second gunman on the grassy knoll ... oh yes.. I 
could also slip in that fact that he's a shite-hawk..?

Promoting respect, honesty and integrity at work

I've just re-read the University of Salford Disciplinary Procedure 2008 that Mr Watkinson places much store in. It states at section 1.1:

'...[t]he procedure is designed to encourage staff to achieve and maintain acceptable standards of conduct, to ensure the safety and well-being of staff, and to provide a fair and consistent mechanism for dealing with situations where misconduct is alleged.'

It also states at section 3.1.1 that 'members of staff are responsible for':

'... conducting themselves with, honesty and integrity to promote an atmosphere of mutual respect...'

I'll leave it to readers to decide if they believe Graves, Hall, Harloe and Watkinson have encouraged the former or conducted and promoted the latter.

Beyond the remit or beyond the pale?

By any reasonable metric tape measure, does the above not demonstrate that Watkinson went quite a way beyond his self-proclaimed remit in providing 'advice' and 'support from a procedural perspective in relation to the implementation of the University's disciplinary procedure...'? Is it usual procedure for the Executive Director of HR to produce press releases and barbed ones to boot? Maybe I've been misinformed but I thought the press office were employed to produce press releases. And what of his claim 'nor did I seek to influence the disciplinary outcome.'(4) which some might agree, rings rather hollow in light of the evidence.

The fisherman's rationale

As any serious fisher(wo)man would know that the reason for affixing a barb to a line is so that it sticks. The introduction of such 'barbed-ness' and unfounded allegations by Watkinson in an internal statement sent by the Vice Chancellor Harloe and in external press releases, was in the opinion of this author, designed to poison the well of public opinion and inflict as much reputational damage as possible. Managers at senior executive level were involved. In giving evidence Watkinson stated that both Vice Chancellor Hall and Registrar (now Deputy Vice Chancellor) Graves were "generally supportive" of the internal release. Martin Hall commented on the texts of these releases. Yet the documents supplied to us by the University under two Subject Access Requests have failed to produce any document to show that Hall intervened to stop their dissemination to staff and to the press. We've also seen how Dr Graves sought to add his own particular flourish in introducing the issue of Ms Li's gender and her 'Chinese' ethnicity into and internal statement to students I taught. Why? Because these students decided of their own volition to support me by producing a petition, and all my former students just happened to be foreign national students. We might ask how could such deliberate misrepresentation of the allegations fail to influence and prejudice the overall proceedings?

The author's opinion

You see I'm of the view that by publicly adding allegations that were not part of the charges against me, it ensured that the road to informal resolution, a principal component of the University's Code of Practice for Dealing with Harassment and Bullying, was closed. Why? Because a member of staff who is an effective and industrious campaigner against job cuts and course closures is one thing. A member of staff who is an effective and industrious campaigner against job cuts and course closures AND gets elected as the UCU Branch Secretary is another. How to deal with this? Inflict a serious degree of reputational damage and as a consequence, drive a wedge between the newly elected chap and the branch membership and union officials, a point made by the facially hirsute Longley to the Tribunal.

But this has never been about defending my reputation. It's about an employee of the University being able to answer to the specific allegations being levelled, and to have a hearing in an environment that wasn't prejudiced by the unfounded allegations and deliberate misrepresentations of Mr Watkinson and Dr Graves. It's not a big ask is it?

Notes and References

Usual disclaimer: This work is the opinion of the author and is authored in to report current events that are of public interest and public concern. The reproduction and use of any documents herein is to provide accuracy in order to avoid civil litigation and claims of misquoting. In reporting current events they are used within the context of Fair Dealing. The author is happy to provide further acknowledgement if requested. To make any such request press here.

The author also suggests that before embarking upon expensive civil actions for libel, contact the author. A right of reply also operates. We are also happy to make corrections so, to save £££sss please avail yourself of this opportunity if you feel it is necessary, which you can do by clicking here

(1) Witness statement of K Watkinson, dated 6th April 2011, pg 2, section 3
(2) KW; page 2, sec 3
(3) KW; page 4, sec 12
(4) KW; Page 2, sec 3

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  1. Good luck to you Gary. This shoddy episode makes me ashamed to have been a student and former employee of that shoddy institution. Shame on them.

  2. I attended Dr Gary Duke's ET along with former University of Salford BME staff, who are also widely recognised Equality Champions within HE and FE, all of whom were in attendance to support Dr Gary Duke, not the University of Salford.

    The University's legal strategy appeared to me to be one of 'muddying the waters' to label Dr Gary Duke a racist.

    This is completely and wholly unjustified according to my own personal experience as former UNISON Assistant Equality Officer at the University and someone who has worked in the Salford Business School.

    Dr Gary Duke has challenged racist organisations such as the BNP and EDL in by publicly exposing their activities and protesting with the UAF, as a consequence he has put himself at risk of potential harm from individuals claiming to represent the BNP & EDL.

    This is in stark contrast to the Realpolitik strategy to Equality and Diversity encompassed by individuals such as Professor Martin Hall and in particular Dr Adrian Graves who bought up the issue of the ethnicity of Ms Xiang Li to label Dr Gary Duke a racist, to prejudice disciplinary hearings.

    I doubt very much you will find Professor Martin Hall or Dr Adrian Graves at UAF demonstrations against the EDL or BNP.

    Unless, you are the type of senior manager and you have identified that international student recruitment has not gone to plan and you need to generate some PR on Equality & Diversity to potential overseas students by turning up and having your PR people taking photos of you, this would be a bit drastic and could potentially put yourself at risk of potential harm.

    A safer approach for such a senior manager would be to have a soiree in which onion bhajis would be on hand to individuals like like myself from the indian subcontinent and speeches on Equality & Diversity and then the photos ending up as publicity for such a senior manager.

    Realpolitik works like this if you use Equality & Diversity without any ethical belief or integrity and just as a tool to achieve institutional objectives or to deal with someone like Dr Gary Duke who has raised issues which have been clearly identified in the TCM Report and Gus John Equality & Diversity Survey 2005.

    The University has the following in relation to staff recruitment since I worked there from 2003:

    "We aim to have a more diverse workforce at all levels of the institution and particularly welcome applications from people from minority ethnic backgrounds and people with disabilities, who are under-represented in our workforce."

    I look forward to the day when the above aim is realised by full representation of all sections of our society at all levels of the University and under the new Equality Act 2010 Professor Martin Hall can make the above aim a reality.

    I doubt if Professor Martin Hall is the calibre of man to realise the above aim in his tenure as Vice Chancellor of the University of Salford and I know Dr Gary Duke is the kind of man that would overcome any obstacle to achieve the above aim.