Charges against suspended professor “hugely embarrassing” for university management

Article published: Thursday, November 1st 2012

The ongoing suspension of a world-renowned critical psychology professor at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) has caused outrage among colleagues and academics around the world. 

The university’s management has charged Professor Ian Parker with ‘gross misconduct’ for sending three internal emails raising questions of workload, transparency and University appointments procedures.

Parker’s supporters question the scale of disciplinary measures against him and claim there has been deliberate secrecy from the management around the charges to harm Parker’s reputation. A University and College Union (UCU) MMU branch spokesperson said, “The secrecy is in their interest. People think, no smoke without a fire and that Parker must have done something wrong.”

A MMU senior member of staff, who asked to remain anonymous in fear of instant dismissal if named, said, “He politely and appropriately raised the question of appointments, which is perfectly appropriate for a professor to do.” But instead Parker was being bullied for doing so.  He added, “It’s a hugely embarrassing overreaction on part of the management”.

The support for Professor Ian Parker, who has been called ‘one of the best known and most influential critical psychologists in the world today’, comes from leading international academics such as Noam Chomsky who has signed a letter and online petition to end Parker’s suspension.

The charges, which Parker denies, are that he “constructed and widely distributed an email, which intended to undermine the credibility of a Head of Department” and that “distribution of this email constitutes a failure to comply with a reasonable management instruction”.

Credibility

According to the UCU MMU branch spokesperson, in his first email Parker had raised the question of workload and received an email from management telling him to not send emails of this nature again. A few weeks later, he sent an unrelated email querying the process of appointments to the department. The UCU spokesperson said, “The management responded by saying he failed to comply”. A hearing was called 18 hours later which was not enough time for a union representative to accompany Parker – a standard procedure in such hearings.

Parker was suspended on full pay, had to leave his office keys and can’t access his staff email account. He is not allowed on campus and can’t communicate with his colleagues and students.

Parker’s students started a campaign to get him reinstated and an online petition has attracted more than 3,400 signatures so far.

For Owen Dempsey, one of Parker’s PhD students, the suspension clearly harms the professor’s reputation. “His work is suffering and he is not allowed to talk publicly about what has happened.”

Dempsey added: “One of the worst things is the way Ian’s postgraduate students, some of whom came overseas to study specifically with him, have effectively had their lives put on hold as well.”

Shocked

Professor Ian Parker

Katia Romelli, a PhD student from Italy, arrived the day Parker was suspended. She said, “I met him a few hours before his suspension, I was shocked and upset when I heard the news.”

Romelli came over for 3 months to work with Parker as an expert in Critical Discourse Analysis.  ”Only few academics have an expertise in Lacanian psychoanalysis and even fewer use this knowledge in a critical perspective. So for my work Ian is absolutely irreplaceable.”

She’s grateful that other PhD students helped her dealing with the situation. “It was hard for me at first to understand what was going on and nobody from the University explained it to me.” She wasn’t officially informed of Parker’s suspension. Her and other students have written letters to Vice-Chancellor John Brooks and Professor Christine Horrocks, the head of the Psychology department, but haven’t received any reply. “Unfortunately, nothing seems to change at the moment.”

The UCU MMU branch spokesperson said Parker had been singled out as a union officer and sees it as another case of the victimisation of a trade union activist. In the summer, UCU MMU branch vice-chair Christine Vié had been made redundant when her department was debanded and all the other members of staff were reemployed. The campaign for her is ongoing.

Fear

The UCU MMU branch spokesperson said, “The climate is one of fear of redundancy and unemployment, and it happens in education across the country. This is against the very nature of what our education is about, when universities become places of bullying and coercion. Not only in the way it is economically organized, but also how it deals with employees.”

The MMU senior member of staff alleged that bullying was seen as “systemic and endemic”.

The UCU branch calls on management to reveal the charges and publish the three emails for everybody to see.

Update:

A spokesperson for MMU said, “We cannot and do not comment on individual cases. We have over 4,000 staff and have recently been awarded Investors in People Gold standard, one of only five universities in the UK to be awarded this. We thoroughly refute any allegations or accusations of bullying at the University.”

Kathrin Ohlmann

This article has been updated to clarify Manchester Metropolitan University’s statement

More: Education, Manchester, News

Comments

  1. This attack on Professor Ian Parker is I would assert, part of a worrying trend. I speak from my own experience. I was formerly a elected UCU officer at the University of Salford and worked there as a lecturer in International Studies. I am currently being sued for libel by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Salford Professor Martin Hall and the Registrar Dr Adrian Graves. The libel claim was launched in response to a blog the Rat Catchers of the Sewers that among many other things, raised issues pertaining to appointments, a culture of bullying, and for raising the issue of workloads at Salford. A list of statements alleged by Hall to be defamatory (not of Hall and Graves, but of the University of Salford and thus allegedly damaging to its reputation) has been cobbled together.

    There is something called the Human Rights Act which prevents a public authority interfering with an individual’s Convention Rights. Yet despite the fact that the University of Salford is publicly funded and clearly carries out a public function (educating the public) which brings it firmly within the ambit of the HRA, Hall and Graves have continued with this libel action. They are seeking costs, damages and an injunction. This is not the place to go into the ramifications or ‘chilling effect’ the granting of such an injunction would imbue not just at Salford but across the entire HE sector. I have raised the matter of this gross infringement of my right to exercise my freedom of expression as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and the HRA and have recently won the right to have this heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. I am confident that Hall and Graves claim will be thrown out. They have thrown tens of thousands of taxpayers and student fee paying pounds into this ill-founded claim. If not, and this goes to full trial, the cost will likely run into several hundreds of thousands of pounds. I wonder what the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) would make of the use in this way of university funds? It is, I contend, a reasonable question.

    I would suggest the UCU and Professor Parker draw on the case of Sorguc v Turkey [2009] where it was established (section 35) in the European Court of Human Rights that the right of academics to enjoy academic freedom is not limited to those areas of academic specialism, but embraces the right to criticise managers and organs of management within any academic institution (see below).

    “35. In this connection, the Court underlines the importance of academic
    freedom, which comprises the academics’ freedom to express freely their
    opinion about the institution or system in which they work and freedom to
    distribute knowledge and truth without restriction.”

    It’s the ‘without restriction’ bit which is the killer. Professor Parker is protected in law by the highest court in Europe. The UCU should immediately launch a claim in the High Court to ensure that Professor Parker’s rights are restored to him immediately, that he is fully compensated for the loss of this fundamental human right, and that he be allowed to return to work immediately. Any reasonable person might also suggest that it is only right that the management of Manchester Metropolitan University also make a full public apology for their actions in this breach of Professor Parker’s Convention rights.

    I wish Professor Parker a speedy return to work.

    Comment by Gary Paul Duke on November 2, 2012 at 11:38 am
  2. Gee, a Lacanian Psychoanalyst–now that’s a really cutting edge scientifically-oriented field, and what a tragedy it would be for MMU to lose critical expertise in that field! :-)

    Comment by Skip Tickle on November 2, 2012 at 3:08 pm
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  4. You’re right Skip, they should just replace his brains with pills instead, that’s the scientific thing to do these days, isn’t it? After all, two positive results is all you need for FDA approval (even if you get 50 negatives). And he probably doesn’t even publish much! After all, you know as well as I do, the more papers you have the bigger your contribution to humanity! It’s scientific!

    Comment by Reply to Skip Trickle on November 6, 2012 at 5:08 pm
  5. Ask this gold-badged management spokesperson how many cases of bullying staff have been brave enough to report to them and how many they have settled with payouts and gagging orders. Fortunately some of the facts have been prised out of management under the Freedom of Information Act. See http://www.academicfoi.com/

    Ask the unions there (UCU, Unison and GMB) what their members say. Ask for the sickness records.

    Check management’s own staff survey and the numbers who reported fear and the likelihood of retribution. Ask them why they have suppressed further survey data.

    Comment by Tip of the iceberg on November 8, 2012 at 9:40 am
  6. Actually Ian Parker is one of the most prolific academics at MMU – he brings out at least a book a year and numerous papers, without bothering with the ivory tower business

    Comment by Reply to Reply to Skip on November 12, 2012 at 3:48 am
  7. I was suppose to browse the net for Ian Parker’s work on critical discourse to supplement the papers I got from the Dec 5-9 2011 Parker-Burman lecture series here in the northern part of the Philippines – and was bombarded with this disheartening news!My, during his lecture here the audience were all intently listening to the Burman-Parker lectures! Personally, I could sit for five days listening to their alternative perspectives! Hearing Parker was indeed a privilege- and surely has a powerful voice! Good to know he’s going back to the University where he is needed. The Scholars have spoken. I think this calls for another discourse?

    Comment by ruth sidchogan on January 20, 2013 at 8:06 am