Friday, 3 February 2012

Sisyphus Shitae and the labours of hyperbole

I was bored. I could only liken surfing the internet that evening to an extended sojourn in the Intertropical Convergence Zone immediately after the upper reaches of the trophosphere had been sown with a selection of aerosolized benzodiazepines by a belligerent eco-pharmacologist with a penchant for languidity. However, providence always the saviour, brought me via a rather tortuous route to Martin Hall's blog which in my opinion can always be relied upon to spice up a doldrumic evening. Oddly enough, on this occasion it didn't.  I was captivated by a collection of words that had been arranged into a series of paragraphs of meaningful discourse on 'cyber-harassment' that always proved a worthwhile read. It was entitled the 'Dark Side of the Internet' posted a year ago which was rather apposite.

The world according to Darth

Quoting author Paul Bocij's (1) work on cyber-harassment, Hall wrote:

'One such set of abuses is the growing prevalence of cyber-harassment. A widely used definition of cyber-harassment is: “a group of behaviours in which an individual, group of individuals or organisation, uses information and communications technology to harass one or more individuals. Such behaviours may include, but are not limited to, the transmission of threats and false accusations, identity theft, data theft, damage to data or equipment, computer monitoring, the solicitation of minors for sexual purposes and confrontation. Harassment is defined as a course of action that a reasonable person, in possession of the same information, would think causes another reasonable person to suffer emotional distress.”

The key words here are 'group of individuals', 'organisation''information', and 'communications technology'. Professor Hall then went on to state what such 'bullying' and 'harassment' means at the University of Salford-Manchester:

'As a university, we have our own share of cyber-bullies and harassers. They are invariably disaffected individuals with personal grievances who hide behind anonymous blogs and e-mail pseudonyms. They are often neither students or staff. They make unverifiable claims for mass support (sometimes aided by dodgy journalism) and exaggerated claims to be speaking truth to power, or revealing corruption in the public interest. They misuse rights of access to information through serial claims under false identities. Their postings are peppered with defamatory attacks on individuals which may be xenophobic , sexual or just downright nasty. Because these postings are always anonymous, those defamed have no easy recourse. And because of the nature of the Internet, these toxic shards hang around for ever, popping up along with the victim’s name as a virtual doppelganger.'(2)

For starters, I concur with Hall that the University of Salford-Manchester has its 'own share of cyber-bullies and harassers'. I shall elucidate.*

Revisiting older ground

Does this constitute a beard 
or an act of potential 
American Civil War?
This area has been covered before by Vagrants in some detail. So why revisit it now? Using language that a Clarkson would be proud of, I thought it might be worth a quick pit-stop in light of the recent findings by the Employment Tribunal. Thus, in December 2011 I once again donned the austere robes of quilliary and put ink to paper. It was a nice polite letter** (see below) and winged its way courtesy of a chap called Hermes to the inbox of the current Vice Chancellor.

Now this letter was a solicitation. Well a series of solicitations really. But the main thrust was my wish to instigate formal complaints against former Vice Chancellor Harloe, Adrian Graves and my former Head of School Professor Paul Rowlett. Among other things, I also asked for something often referred to by some in the atonement trade as 'an apology'. And increasingly I'm of the opinion that receiving one is going to be about as challenging as extracting a huge oral throbber with a pair of wet rubber pliers. But before we venture into the realms of the entirely possible, and to contextualise this piece, it might be worth just reassessing the Employment Tribunal's findings at section 37 of the Judgement. It's worth mentioning here that both parties were sent this judgement on the 16th November 2011.

Views from an Employment Tribunal

It focuses specifically on emails authored by senior staff and my own Head of School(3) and another authorised by the former Vice Chancellor Michael Harloe. These emails were distributed 'throughout the university community' and to students I taught. Press releases produced by the University, using the same words and implying similar racist motivations written in the same 'extreme way',  were sent to local, and national press:

The view of the Tribunal...

The essential input of Dr Adrian Graves

Forswearing a 'hands-off' approach, the Deputy Vice Chancellor Adrian Graves took a particular interest in one email, or to use his words 'briefing', to my own students suggesting to managers that they include a such non-prejudicial gem as  'I was tempted to suggest as part of your briefing you might slip in the fact that the allegations include the harassment of a female student of Chinese ethnic origin...' (4). Included in this select group is Executive Director of Human Resources - one Keith Watkinson who was not a press officer as far as I know, but who added something called barbs to press releases concerning my suspension. The Tribunal gave us a unique opportunity in exploring the professional activities of Mr Watkinson which readers new to Vagrants might wish to prospect. Yet the question remains; if the Tribunal found these emails to be 'inappropriate' and 'unfair' then surely this is a very serious matter? Any reasonable person would surely conclude that in light of such comments from the Tribunal concerning the behaviour of senior executives and Keith Watkinson with his 'barbs', would at the very least warrant an unreserved apology from Hall and Graves and an investigation?

A comparative analysis regarding the concept of 'bullying'

There is an important point to all this. ACAS suggest a definition of bullying which the University relied upon in the Tribunal to make their case:

'There are many definitions of bullying and harassment. Bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient...'(5)

There is another key word here, the word 'may'. And I'm certainly open to debate on the issue of what constitutes bullying and what constitutes valid commentary particularly around serious issues that centre on matters of corporate governance and particularly the manipulation of appointment processes in a publicly funded authority.

However, if, as the University maintain, the authorship and distribution of the Vice Consul's Newsletters were a form of bullying, harassment, victimisation and brought this particular institution into disrepute (which I dispute which is why I've launched an appeal against the decision of the Tribunal), then what do we make of the authorship and widespread dissemination to staff and students by senior managers, of 'inappropriate' emails and 'barbed' press releases written in an 'extreme way', emails which according to the Tribunal, unfairly implied that I was being racist in my reference to a member of staff? I certainly felt undermined, humiliated, that I'd been denigrated and injured.

Taking the official complaints route - a fools errand?

Oddly enough, the question of these 'inappropriate' and unfair emails came up in two complaints I made in 2009 against former VC Michael Harloe.

It would appear that the investigator Chris Wells (Deputy Chair of University Council), also 'failed to see how this could amount to harassment or bullying' and found against me as I'd anticipated. Yet these finding sit uncomfortably next to the above comments made by the Employment Tribunal.

There's potential aplenty for the besmirching of a reputation

Duke - Is he a potential 
Victorian or does his public 
stance constitute a potential 
act of double-parking?

And what in the Fields of Elysian is an act of 'potential sexual harassment'? It's a nonsensical notion but the words 'sexual' and 'harassment' when placed within the context of a press release certainly jump off the page. But the concept of 'potential sexual harassment' certainly got the creative juices flowing and the potential for over-elaboration was astonishing. Does driving one's car constitute an act of potential murder, or the doffing of one's Trilby to a person of the opposite sex an act of potential rape? Does the wearing of checked shirts constitute an act of potential lumber-jacking? What of the growth of hair-based facial embellishments. Are they little more than a heinous act of potential Victorian imperialism? Capillus Emptor!

...but words not so aplenty

Of course we don't know what the 'female student' said or precisely how concerned she was that this constituted an an act of 'potential sexual harassment' because with regard to my own specific case, she was never interviewed concerning any matters regarding the Vice Consul's Newsletters or the allegations made against me. Nor did she make any official complaint against me. Given the lack of any evidence of 'sexual harassment' potential or otherwise, one can only conclude that they were simply making this little 'fragment toxique' up.

'Toxic shards' and other downright nasties

Which brings me back to Hall's view on the use of electronic and communications technologies to spread 'toxic shards' that are 'downright nasty'. I'm of the opinion that the damage to my professional reputation because of the distribution of these emails and press releases is ongoing. And these particular 'downright nasty' 'toxic shards' are still hanging around in the words of Professor Hall, 'like a virtual doppleganger' for the world to see.

Of course I realise that the Vice Chancellor Hall was not steering the good ship University of Salford-Manchester at the time of the above. He is in charge now. And clearly it was his immediate subordinate Graves who was ultimately responsible for authorising those press releases sent to local, regional and national press publications, that used the same terms and were thus as  'inappropriate' as the emails sent to the wider 'university community' as noted by the Tribunal in its judgement.

Do the University procure the professional services of a Stygian chap
and if so, would it be in the annual accounts under 'consultancy fees?
Response #1

For starters, and rather predictably, what I did get six days after sending my letter, was a copy of a letter from their lawyers sent to the Employment Tribunal. This letter stated that the University would be asking the Tribunal to make an award against me for full costs. The letter was a compelling read. They were duty bound to take such a course of action as 'a custodian of the public funds'. It goes without saying that I'm vigorously opposing their claim. Readers may draw their own conclusions as to the timing of this letter and the motives of the University.

Response #2 from the 'custodian of public funds'

However, just when I'd given up all hope, last week a letter dropped through my door. Clearly considering 'its obligations under the Charities Act 2006' as well as its 'common law duties under charity law generally' this 'custodian of public funds' decided to respond to my calls for an internal investigation, and my wish to avail myself of the the internal complaints process by asking their external lawyers - Eversheds - to write to me. It's a cracking way of saving money in these times of frugalitĂ©. I'd have been quite happy with a short personal response from Hall. Nevertheless, despite its succinctness it is rather amusing. Yes folks... it would appear that they've already dealt with this matter in their letter to me of June 21st 2011, a clear 148 days before the Tribunal released their decision! I'm impressed! I had Professor Hall down for many things, but a sayer-of-sooths wasn't one of them.

The sound of silence

The letter also states that they will not engage in any further correspondence with me with regard to these issues. It's gratifying to know that there are internal mechanisms in place at Salford-Manchester for dealing with complaints against senior members of staff when they have clearly acted in a manner that the Employment Tribunal have deemed to be 'inappropriate', 'unfair', and in a manner which I consider to be bullying and harassing. And all this while I was an employee of the University.

So what does a chap do when his good name and reputation is besmirched among colleagues and students via email, where it is implied that he is racist, and such false allegations distributed to the local and national press and published? Unlike Professor Hall and Dr Graves, I shall not be asking the University to fund a civil claim for defamation in the High Court.

I shall just continue writing this blog instead.

Notes, References and Links

(1) Paul Bocij, “The Dark Side of the Internet: Projecting Yourself and Your Family from Online Criminals,” 2006.
(2)The words of Martin Hall can be accessed at
(3) The email in question: "Dear IFY student. You may be aware that Mr Gary Duke has been suspended from his post at the University. A number of you have in fact signed a petition in support of Gary, which I have forwarded to relevant senior managers within the University. The situation is that there has recently been a series of posters appearing in the Salford Business School, but also elsewhere across the campus, that viciously attack a female student of an ethnic minority and a head of school. The content of these posters is sexist, deeply offensive and defamatory. Mr Duke has been suspended owing to allegations that he is responsible for the production and dissemination of these postersI am sure that you will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the details of Gary's suspension; however, I can assure you that the University is dealing with the situation in an appopriate way through legal processes to ensure that Gary's rights are protected appropriately..." sent via University email system to IFY students 22nd May 2009

(4) Portion of an email from Dr A Graves to K Watkinson, B Longhurst, P Rowlett, 21 May 2009 timed 17:47 containing Dr Graves suggestions.
(5) ACAS Guide for Managers and Employers: Bullying and Harassment at Work sourced at

* Readers are urged to read both the 2005 Gus John Report and GEM Report which exposed a culture of bullying at the highest levels within the University. This writer is of the opinion that if the Professor wishes to avoid the possibility of accusations of double standards being levelled against the University, and the University are serious about addressing the issues raised in the  surely the best course of action would be for him to initiate an immediate investigation into the activities and behaviour of Dr Graves and Mr Watkinson over these issues.

** 'Dear Professor Hall

You are aware that the recent findings of the Employment Tribunal raised the matter of specific emails sent by the Vice Chancellor Professor Michael Harloe to staff and a later email sent by Dr (now Professor) Paul Rowlett to students whom I taught on the International Foundation Year within the School of Languages. The Tribunal’s view of these emails was unambiguous – the distribution of these emails throughout the University community was ‘inappropriate’ and that they were unfair.

I also wrote to you on the 29th March 2011 and the 3rd May 2011 raising several issues. Among other things, I referred you to evidence that had emerged at the Employment Tribunal hearings of March 2011 concerning an email sent by the Deputy Vice Chancellor Dr Graves to senior managers within the University. This email evidence showed that the Deputy Vice Chancellor Dr Adrian Graves specifically encouraged Mr Keith Watkinson, Professor Brian Longhurst and Dr Paul Rowlett (who were liaising with Dr Graves over the specific content of a response that was being prepared by the University to send to those students whom I taught) that they ‘might slip in the fact that the allegations include the harassment of a female student of Chinese ethnic origin...’ It is clear that Dr Graves was encouraging senior staff members to introduce a racial element into the email.

In my second letter to you, I informed you that I wished to instigate a grievance through the University’s grievance procedure against Dr Graves as he had encouraged these staff to undertake this inappropriate behaviour whilst I was in the employ of the University. The University refused to take action with regard to my reasonable request under the grievance procedure which allows for post employment grievances to be lodged by former employees.

The Tribunal’s statements on these emails is unambiguous. They note that the emails sent by Professor Harloe and Dr Rowlett were written in an ‘extreme way’ particularly with regard to the use of wording such as “vicious” and the recognition by the Tribunal that the University unfairly implied in these emails that I was being racist in my references to Ms Xiang Li. I’m sure you will agree that these statements by the Tribunal are serious matters.

The use of such language and phrases and the disseminating of such misleading statements to the wider University community and in the form of press statements to the local and national press has been personally damaging to my professional reputation.

As a consequence of the University’s above actions, I have been subjected to verbal abuse in the street having been called a racist by a member of the public who had read an article in the Manchester Evening News. This was witnessed by my wife and a friend. My youngest son has also been subjected to similar abuse and threatened with violence which is a direct correlate of the University’s actions in releasing such inappropriate statements to the local and national press. This caused and continues to cause me a great deal of anxiety and stress. The damage is of course ongoing as these statements released to the University community and the press act in your own words like ‘toxic shards’ which ‘hang around forever’.

In consideration of the above, and given the Tribunal’s finding in this matter, I wish to lodge a formal complaint against the former Vice Chancellor Michael Harloe for authorising the release of such statements to staff in the Salford Business School and to staff within my own former School; the School of Languages. I would also like to lodge a complaint against Professor Paul Rowlett for releasing such statement to those student whom I taught on the IFY module within the School of Languages.

In consideration of the involvement of Dr Graves in these matters and his senior position within the University, I would also like to lodge two formal complaints on two grounds:

  •  firstly that he encouraged Rowlett, Longhurst and Watkinson to introduce Ms Li’s Chinese ethnicity into Dr Rowlett’s email; 
  •  secondly, Dr Graves clearly has overall responsibility for the actions of those within the University’s Press Office who actively released such defamatory and unsubstantiated remarks to the local and national press. 
 In light of the Tribunal’s findings, I hereby ask that you withdraw all these comments and I would expect the University to provide myself and my family with an unreserved apology. I would also insist that this withdrawal and any apology is publicised throughout the University and among the entire University community via internal communications as well as through the University’s own website.

In addition, given the Deputy Vice Chancellor’s personal role in encouraging those managers below him to release information to staff and students that unfairly implied that I was being racist in my reference to Ms Li, I would also expect a separate unreserved apology from Dr Graves.

Finally, given that such comments were distributed within the local and national press, I would expect these comments to be publicly withdrawn in these publications and an apology printed in those publications concerned.

I look forward to hearing any comments you may have with regard to the exact nature of the investigation you feel is appropriate in order to investigate my formal complaints against the above University officers.

I would also ask that you provide me with a timescale for the carrying out of such investigations requested above and for a timescale for the publishing of the above apologies.

Yours faithfully

Dr Gary P Duke'

Usual disclaimer: This work is the opinion of the author and is produced in order 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. We have reams of documentary evidence which we are happy to provide. A right of reply also operates. We are also happy to make corrections and if necessary provide an apology. So, to save £££sss please avail yourself of this opportunity if you really feel it necessary, which you can do by clicking here.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. I've been following this blog for a few months now as work colleagues have suggested I read it to see what's really going on at the university. I have to say I'm mystified as I find it difficult to believe that what you say is true. I'm not saying it isn't but I can't believe that given the seriousness of what your saying, that the Vice Chancellor wouldn't conduct an immediate enquiry. Like many others who work at Salford, I have found him to be a fiar man and approachable. I note you used to be a member of the UCU as was I a few years ago. I'd like to ask what Chris Sheehey and the Salford UCU are doing about this? Surely they'd be willing to take this up directly with Martin Hall? As this happened while you were an employee then they should be raising this directly with him. As a last resort you could always take this directly to the University governing body and write a letter of complaint to the Chair of the University Council. When all is said and done, the Vice Chancellor and Depty Vice Chancellor Graves are ultimately answerable to the governing body.