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