It has been nearly 19 weeks since 11th April 2018. That’s the date Human Resources (HR) personnel – with all the senior academic managers at Royal Holloway avoiding their official responsibilities – moved to suspend Professor Jeff Frank.
Their justification – as stated in the suspension letter, that Jeff’s presence would inhibit a disciplinary investigation – was never convincing. Asked exactly how an investigation might be inhibited, they referred time and time again to the suspension letter, where their ‘reasoning’ never in fact appears (!). Neither Jeff’s teaching nor his administrative duties are in any way related to the claims of ‘gross misconduct’ being investigated. The suspension solely concerned his activities as a case-worker on behalf of UCU colleagues.
Under RHUL’s disciplinary policy, suspension ‘must be for as short a period as possible’. Does HR really believe that ‘as short a period as possible’ means 19 weeks and counting? Suspension is, furthermore, only allowed where ‘no other solution is deemed possible’. HR just skipped past that clause and ignored the clear duty it implies to act fairly and reasonably. Moreover, for academic staff, the authority to suspend rests with the Principal, who has, for wholly unexplained reasons, exercised the option to appoint twice a ‘delegated nominee’, despite their lacking the necessary seniority or experience.
After 19 weeks of suspension, and with the ‘investigatory report’ now written, HR’s threadbare reasoning is now open to ridicule. With each day, it becomes more obvious that suspension is used at RHUL as a punishment: criticizing HR, questioning breaches of procedures, and undertaking union activities are being classified as ‘gross misconduct’.
Punishment by suspension is automatic, extended, done in secret by HR staff, and wholly unaccountable. What does this say about RHUL’s governance?
Someone (anonymous, of course) hired at considerable expense an HR Consultant to investigate the ‘charges’ against Jeff. After four months, we believe that the HR Consultant filed their report last week with HR (no-one seems to know for certain).
UCU has asked on numerous occasions who will be receiving the report and making any related disciplinary decisions. The identity of the person responsible for this important decision is a secret.
To date, there have been five HR and professional services staff poorly managing the case. Senior academic managers – 1 Principal, 1 Senior Vice Principal, and 4 or more Vice Principals – have been silent. When Margaret Thatcher eliminated tenure, universities reassured staff that academic freedom would be protected. It is the job of senior managers, as the front line, to protect academic freedom and the right of staff to criticize and question. Where are they?
RHUL – through an over-ambitious building programme – is now among the most indebted in England, since its loans have reached some 70% of income. The Finance Director has warned that the financial situation is heading downwards. RHUL’s immediate prospects may explain senior management’s tacit support for a blatantly anti-union HR department. Senior management are blaming staff and staff costs for their own failures, and HR will in all probability be secretly planning where redundancies will fall.
Traditionally, when an employment-related investigation report is prepared, it is given to both sides to check for factual errors and comments. The final version is then released to both sides. We suspect (based on recent history) that due process and natural justice will not be followed in this case. Lengthy punishing suspensions are a tool to undermine professional reputations, and accountability is at a new low.
UCU has been careful not to release details of the ‘charges’ against Jeff (except to comment that they are entirely related to his union casework) and careful not to report on the conduct of the investigation (except to say it is unnecessary and inordinately long). We have done nothing to undermine the investigation, and done nothing that may even be seen to be undermining that investigation. Jeff’s view from the outset has been that full disclosure is necessary for RHUL and, in addition, in his own interest. HR prefer to hide behind secrecy.
It is time for the (spurious) reasons for Jeff’s suspension and the investigator’s report be made public.
In the meantime, we continue to urge all UCU members, at RHUL and nationwide, and all those interested in maintaining the principle of academic freedom to keep publicizing Jeff’s case and its serious implications.