Saturday, July 05, 2008

Rhetta Moran, David Healy - and the language of academic bullying

My friend Rhetta Moran was fired from Salford University (a "greater" Manchester University) in 2005 under very unusual circumstances.

There are fascinating linguistic aspects of sham university procedures and integrity scandals. Rhetta's research was said to be "no longer compatible with the school".

A key problem facing academia in the UK is the lack of any plausible institution that speaks up for integrity and the values of a university. As Rhetta states, "One would have thought that the idea of "compatible" or "incompatible" research would be something that should interest an academic union".

This brief summary of Rhetta's story serves as a prelude to my next post about a joint letter we wrote to Sally Hunt about the dismal integrity failures of the Association of University Teachers (AUT). Hunt is currently General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), and the last General Secretary of the AUT the merger with NATFHE to form the UCU.

The idea of "incompatible" research formed a key part of the scandalous firing of Professor David Healy at the University of Toronto. Following a lecture during which Healy expressed concerns about the integrity of pharmaceutical research, Dr. David Goldbloom fired him, stating that : "We believe that it is not a good fit between you and the role as leader of an academic program in mood and anxiety disorders at the Centre and in relation to the University. This view was solidified by your recent appearance at the Centre in the context of an academic lecture. While you are held in high regard as a scholar of the history of modem psychiatry, we do not feel your approach is compatible with the goals for development of the academic and clinical resource that we have."

In contrast to supine academic unions in the UK, some other academic unions (most notably the Canadian Association of University Teachers) have acted vigorously to defend many academics confronted by important assaults on integrity.

I will let Rhetta introduce herself:

Dr Rhetta Moran, 1 July 2008

I was dismissed by the University of Salford under unusual circumstances in 2005 following a previously successful academic career. During the previous year, I had been the lead investigator in a publicly funded project (Salford RAPAR SRB5) which was designed to collate accurate information about housing, health, employment, economic, personal safety and education problems involving people seeking asylum. The project was funded through the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Clearly this was a contentious project.

No factually plausible reasons for my dismissal as an academic under such circumstances have ever been provided. Employers appear to exercise the right to dismiss staff on the most thinly constructed grounds, or even no grounds at all, such as unspecified research "incompatibility". The university returned all grant funds including a newly obtained one (£192,316) from the European Social Fund.

I have learned that legal structures designed to deal with employment disputes have almost no relevance to academic integrity. Neither, unfortunately, did the Association of University Teachers (AUT).

We now know that the PCT Chief Executive, Mike Burrows, wrote to my "boss" Professor Michael Harloe and told him I was being removed from leadership of the research in April 2004. This was very shortly after a newspaper article appeared in the Observer. In this article (March 28, 2004) the Observer described how young asylum-seeking women were having to go underground in Salford. Drawing on work and contacts provided by myself, it cited me as follows:
People have been dumped in Salford, but without resources,' says Dr Rhetta Moran, a senior research fellow at the Revans Institute with overall responsibility for the Salford RAPAR project. 'There was no additional support for local practitioners. There is not one immigration solicitor in the whole city. And it leads to bitterness because this is a place where locals have been making their own demands on the council for years.
Other staff employed on the project were threatened with immediate suspension for gross misconduct if they had anything to do with me. It appears that there was an attempt to induce staff to accuse me of bullying, but they declined to do so. The following month I received a letter of dismissal signed by John Dobson, who advised that my research was no longer "compatible" with the school. Dobson as it happens is also the current President of Salford University UCU.

This lack of "compatibility" was never explained.

One would have thought that the idea of "compatible" or "incompatible" research would be something that should interest an academic union. The AUT attempted to induce to me to go along with a sham process as well as a gag agreement while ignoring every principle involved. Their silence has been deafening.

The university then stated that the reason for my dismissal was because I was "redundant" - a truly marvellous tautology.

I was finally sacked in January 2005, the day before the Deputy Prime Minister announced the opening of the Central Salford Urban Regeneration Company, in which my former boss Vice Chancellor, Michael Harloe has major involvement.

It is not clear whether any "incompatibility" might be down to fear of research or academic discussion that a City Council or conflicted academic leadership would find uncomfortable. It would be good to know.
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1 comment:

Aubrey Blumsohn said...

Whoever left a comment here on 10 April 2012 - I am very happy to publish it but anonymous ad hominem comments are not on. If you send your full name and contact details I will be happy to oblige.

If you really want to air your concerns you might consider adding a bit of legitimacy to your claims using standard rhetorical conventions and a human face - instead of launching into anonymous ad hominem.