Dear Professor Driscoll
Thank you for sending us this update regarding the closure of Philosophy programmes and suspension of staff and students following the occupations that took place at Trent Park. As you are well aware, many of us in the University, and many more thousands of academics nationally and internationally, have been expressing concerns about the total lack of accountability and openness on the part of Senior Management and Executives, as well as concerns about the environment of fear and anxiety you have created amongst staff through your recent decisions and actions with regard to the Philosophy programmes and the campaign to Save Philosophy at Middlesex. Since the beginning of this dispute, you have not been able to promote “a working environment where employees can feel safe to raise concerns without fear of being seen as troublemakers and to encourage freedom of speech without workers being subject to any detriment, including victimisation and disciplinary action” (Human Resources Policy Statement HRPS21).
However, I wish to go beyond merely reminding you of your responsibilities here: This latest email you sent all University staff – together with the official University statement on the staff intranet – only adds to and intensifies the doubts we have regarding your accountability and openness as it involves various misleading statements, of which I shall address only one for the time being.
In your letter you state that “In accordance with the University’s Staff disciplinary Procedure, a suspension on full pay may be made where there are allegations of possible misconduct”. Again, according to the official University statement on the intranet “The suspensions are part of standard University policy to enable a thorough internal investigation into alleged misconduct to proceed unhindered”. This is simply not true.
In case you have failed to read the University’s Disciplinary Procedure document produced by Human Resources (October 2009), let me remind you what the standard procedure is:
“Accordingly, when an alleged conduct issue is identified, HR and Dean/Director are to be informed. This is part of the so-called Informal Procedure: During this stage, the staff member in question is to be given five working days notice of an interview with his/her Line Manager, together with a written indication of the complaint(s) to be discussed. In such an interview the member of staff shall have the opportunity to rebut the allegation. Following the written notification, the Line Manager meets with the employee to informally discuss the incident. Then the Line Manager decides if further investigation is required: at this point s/he decides whether the incident potentially constitutes gross misconduct. If s/he decides that the incident does not constitute gross misconduct, then the Line Manager gathers witness statements, submits investigation report and conclusion to Chair, who then decides if a disciplinary hearing is required.”
It is, therefore, NOT standard policy to suspend staff on allegations of misconduct without following the above-outlined procedure. Contrary to what you claim, nowhere in the Disciplinary Procedure document or the Academic Staff Handbook is it stated that staff can be suspended for alleged misconduct. By copying Teresa Kelly into this email, I request information regarding the date the required notifications mentioned above – which are part of the Informal Procedure – were sent to Professors Peter Osborne, Peter Hallward and Dr Christian Kerslake; and the date and time they have met with their Line Managers. I suspect these notifications were never sent, and the meetings have never taken place.
It therefore must be the case that the allegations made are of GROSS MISCONDUCT, since according to the Disciplinary Procedure document, “Suspensions may be used where the complaint is of serious or gross misconduct and/or urgent cause relating to the University’s aims and objectives which could potentially amount to gross misconduct” (DP 2009: 2). Furthermore, “where Gross Misconduct is alleged the nature of the misconduct shall be such as would normally justify dismissal. (ASH 1996: 39). In such cases, the so-called Formal Stages of the Disciplinary procedure are to be used, and “the decision to involve the formal stages of the procedure lies with the Senior Manager” (ASH 1996: 38). Note that the Formal Procedure involves 2 stages: during the initial stage the Senior Manager normally gives five days written notice to the member of staff of a formal interview to discuss a disciplinary matter. However, according to the Disciplinary Procedure document, “It may be appropriate to move straight to Stage 2 of the Formal Procedure for alleged gross or serious misconduct, provided that a thorough investigation precedes such a decision. It shall be the first duty of those using the procedure in this way to consider whether such use can be justified and to make a formal written report on this as well as on the substantive issue. (ASH 1996: 39)
Now I ask you: Since you have moved immediately to the second stage of the Formal Procedure after the occupations at Trent Park, did you prepare such a formal report justifying the decision to suspend staff, did you establish the validity of the claims, and if yes, when and by what means? Most importantly, did you talk to Professors Osborne and Hallward and Dr Kerslake as part of your evidence gathering stage? Once again, I request information about this report you should have prepared from Teresa Kelly.
Surely, you are aware of the fact that there is a categorical difference between misconduct and gross misconduct? If there were not, the University Disciplinary Procedure document produced by Human Resources in October 2009 would not have clearly differentiated misconduct and gross misconduct (p.9). Misconduct involves cases such as: breaches of the University’s Code of Conduct, failure to meet performance standards, poor timekeeping, poor attendance record etc., whereas gross misconduct involves the likes of theft, fraud, threatening physical violence, deliberate damage to University property, bullying or harassment of students or colleagues, being under the influence of alcohol, serious breaches of occupational health and safety procedures including endangering others in their work. Can you clarify what the nature of the gross misconduct allegations against the three suspended staff members is?
You are in effect claiming that you have judged, based on no proven evidence, that three very distinguished and respected members of our academic community constitute a risk to the University or to others if they remain at work while the investigation is carried out (DP 2009: 10).
If the allegations are of misconduct, by authorizing the suspension of the three staff members in Philosophy, you have seriously breached the Disciplinary Procedure Codes specified in detail by the University’s own documents.
If, on the other hand, the allegations are of gross misconduct, you have been deliberately and systematically spreading untrue, misleading information to all University staff as nowhere in any of your communications with us did you use the term “gross misconduct”. If gross misconduct “is the kind of act or behaviour that would undermine the trust and confidence which is the basis on which all of our contracts of employment are made” (DP, 2009:9), then you could be accused of allegations of Gross Misconduct yourself for either of these actions.
I invite you to rectify this situation immediately; otherwise, an official Public Interest Disclosure of your mismanagement will be in order.
Prof. Dr. Mine Dogantan Dack
Research Fellow, Music
Department of Performing Arts
School of Arts and Education
DP – Disciplinary Procedure; Produced by Human Resources in October 2009
ASH – Academic Staff Handbook; Produced by Middlesex University in April 1996