Saturday, May 8, 2010
How NOT to get a PhD Chapter Three
I’ll get back to the thread of my story in my next post, but quite a lot has been happening, and so here is the latest update of recent events……..
First a couple of questions. Is Professor Dame Janet Finch, Vice Chancellor of Keele University, a liar? Is Mr. Simon Morris, Secretary and Registrar of Keele University also a liar? To answer these, I shall provide information as accurately and honestly as I can, and leave the decision to the readers of this blog.
As I mentioned in my previous posts, I received a copy of a very strange letter addressed to my MP, Joan Walley, from Professor Dame Janet Finch, Vice Chancellor of Keele, dated 1st July 2009, which for convenience I link here again:- Letter from Dame Janet Finch.
In it she lists the actions that I have taken against the University, in such a tone that suggests that I had no right to take them. This has been a fairly constant refrain from the University, and one which they successfully pitched to Baroness Amos, who was the Lord President of the Privy Council Office and Visitor for the University at the time. But all of the actions I have taken have been as a reaction to the inability of Keele to investigate my case fairly and impartially, as is my right in law. It is very difficult to see how any individual could otherwise fight a huge institution that has substantially more lucre at its disposal than it has moral credibility. The Machiavellian machinations of the University; the obfuscations, mendacity and deviousness are all documented and provable. It is hardly surprising that they are so unwilling to allow them to be publicly scrutinised.
So, being unable to counter my arguments successfully, what does the University do? All they can do is sling mud, and Professor Finch goes on in her letter to do just that. She alleges that I have harassed “members of her Secretariat” (note the plural). I mentioned the most insubstantial reply to my letter objecting to this from Mr. Edward Youngman (Executive Support to Professor Finch and to Mr. Morris), and this prompted a further letter from me to the Vice Chancellor dated 17th September 2009 (Another letter to Dame Janet Finch) again asking for a retraction or substantiation.
I have to say at this point that I have never harassed anyone in my life. As I said in my letter, I have always been scrupulously courteous in my dealings with Keele. What I could have said is that I have been deliberately scrupulously courteous. I have always been aware that with no substantive arguments against the evidence I have, the only recourse open to the University would be mudslinging, so I was not at all surprised when this occurred.
What did surprise me though was the letter I received when I returned from my holiday in September 2009 from Mr. Morris and dated 24th September 2009. This was a long, insubstantial and remarkably unprofessional rant against me that purported to justify Professor Finch’s allegation, adding also that I had on a number of occasions acted discourteously. A large amount of the stuff in Mr. Morris's letter is not actually relevant. It includes the full text of the judgement in the trial which determined my discrimination claim against the University. I believe that this was a very poor judgement, acquired at great expense by the University, so the more people who do read it the better, in my opinion. (Letter of justification from Mr. Morris).
The allegations, however, were utter nonsense. Mr. Morris identified the recipient of my apparent harassment as none other than Mr. Youngman (Executive Support for Professor Finch and Mr. Morris), and alleged that certain questions that I put to him as a defence witness in the discrimination trial amounted to harassment. It makes no legal sense, and has no legal basis, to accuse someone of a criminal offence during a court process, and even less to do it two years after the event. In any case, I’d had no intimation from Mr. Youngman at any time that he felt harassed by me – indeed he had an opportunity to do so in his letter of 20th August 2009 (amongst many others), but gave no hint. In fact, Mr. Morris offered no evidence of harassment or discourtesy whatsoever – no emails, no reference to phone calls; he didn’t even identify which questions put to Mr. Youngman in court were felt to be offensive, not that it would have mattered, since it was very much up to the Judge as to whether I acted in such a manner. If anyone was being discourteous here, it was Mr. Morris to the Judge in implying that he was failing in his duty to conduct the trial properly, and to me for publishing this utter fabricated nonsense. I sent a response to this as quickly as I could, dated 6th October 2009 (Response to Mr. Morris).
Contrary to popular opinion, it is very difficult for ordinary people to take a libel action, even in such obvious circumstances. The idea of ‘no win no fee’ is actually a non-starter, because you need to put at least £1500 up front for advice from a barrister before any decision is made as to whether to allow a ‘no win no fee’ action. Without the barrister’s advice, it is impossible to get ATE insurance for the action, and no solicitor would contemplate a libel action without it. Needless to say, after many years of fighting the University, and with their failure to issue references for me, £1500 is a small fortune.
It is interesting, however, to speculate what might have been the process and outcome of an action, and I set about trying to get as much legal advice as possible without too much expense.
Just to summarise what turned out to be several months’ worth of legal data from many different sources, I believe on balance there would be a case of libel against Professor Finch and Mr. Morris. Initially it appeared that the letter to Joan Walley from Professor Finch would be protected by ‘qualified privilege’ on the grounds that it was information requested, and both parties had a significant interest in the information. Mr. Morris’s further disclosures, especially to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator I think would not be so protected. It is also very important to understand that even if the defence of qualified privilege applies, it has nothing to do with whether it was true or not. The issue of a libellous statement is in fact separate from the issue of a true or false statement since it is the application, or not, of qualified privilege that defines the legal libel of the statement, but not its truth or falsity. In other words, if something is libellous it must be untrue, but an untruth is not necessarily libellous.
The defence of qualified privilege can be rebutted if the claimant can show that there was no duty to publish, and/or no duty to receive the information. It is also completely rebutted if malice can be proven. Malice has two limbs to it.
• that the defendant knew at the time of publishing the information that it was untrue.
• that there was a ‘dominant improper motive’ for the publication.
The claimant can show either or both of these limbs to be successful, and I believe that both of them apply to this situation.
On the first limb, I think it is very clear that the University’s own harassment procedure is relevant. It states that:
“an allegation (of harassment) cannot be presumed proved until properly investigated and tested against (a) principle of reasonableness”.
The University acts intra vires, which means that the state entrusts them with certain legal powers. One such power – and responsibility – is the duty to investigate and act upon any allegation such as harassment of an employee in any circumstance. Since there has been no investigation or test of reasonableness, then by definition harassment did not occur, and both Professor Finch and Mr. Morris must have been aware of that at the time of publishing their allegations.
On the second limb, it is very relevant that both Professor Finch and Mr. Morris are personally cited and criticised in my complaint to the University and to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, which certainly gives a substantial ulterior motive for the termination of my case, and could be argued to a be a dominant improper motive.
Is Professor Finch a liar, then? I can say categorically that what she said was untrue, but my opinion on this is irrelevant, because the facts speak for themselves. Professor Finch is a significant member of University Council, and it is University Council that sanctions the legal procedures such as the harassment policy quoted above. When she accused me of harassment it was in the full and premeditated knowledge that it was untrue. So, she is either a liar or she is incompetent. Certainly Mr. Morris seems to have been lying when he tried to clear up the mess created by Professor Finch by attempting to justify these allegations without any evidence at all. Perhaps most significantly, Mr. Morris sent a copy of these untruths to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, which I believe was a cynical attempt to prejudice any possible future re-investigation into my case by them, and it is very clear that the intention of these lies was to persuade the Privy Council Office to terminate the investigation into my case, contrary to my human right to a fair hearing (Article 6).
As I pointed out in previous posts, the negotiation referred to in Professor Finch’s letter, was nothing more than an attempt to coerce a termination of my case against the University. The costs of one action were being used to coerce the outcome of an entirely different legal action. If nothing else, together with the avowed intention of Mr. Morris’s letter of the 24th September 2009, it was very apparent that the University were intent on preventing me from having a fair and impartial hearing of my evidence against them. It must be significant that both Professor Finch and Mr. Morris were personally cited and criticised in my complaint, and it was they who were attempting to terminate the case, ostensibly on behalf of the University, but I wonder how much of this University Council knew about?
The involvement of both of these senior University Officers has blighted my attempts to get a fair hearing for years. How on earth can I have a fair and impartial hearing when the two most senior University officers hold such entrenched negative views about me, and are themselves personally involved in my case? It doesn’t make sense.
Thankfully the Privy Council Office decided to distance itself from this, and declined to support the request by the University to terminate the investigation in a letter to Mr. Morris copied to me on 20th April 2010 (Letter from PCO to Mr. Morris), although it took them many months to reach this politically expedient position.
But the Privy Council Office is not blameless in all of this. Baroness Amos was the Lord President of the Privy Council Office, and acting as Visitor to Keele University at the time of my petition. Despite Keele having failed twice to investigate my case fairly, she required them to investigate again – the obvious implication being that the previous investigations described by a Keele spokesperson in the THES as having been carried out ‘carefully and exhaustively’ were in fact inadequate. So having failed twice, what was the point putting it to them a third time? I have always believed this to have been a mistake. Recent events have served to support this.
Baroness Amos argues that my petition to the Visitor was successful, but any judgement by her was directly proportional to the adequacy of the advice and information given to her by the Adjudicator (Dame Ruth Deech), who was contracted by the Privy Council Office to investigate my case (it took them 14 months to do so), and documentary evidence shows very clearly that that advice was inadequate. So, although ostensibly favourable, the judgement by Baroness Amos was unable to draw conclusions about important elements of the case, because information needed to reach those conclusions was not included or assessed in the advice given to her by the Adjudicator.
I have always maintained that there was an unhealthy connection between Dame Ruth Deech and Dame Janet Finch due to their mutual association with the BBC, compounded by their connection as very senior University personnel (Dame Ruth Deech gave up her post as principal of St. Anne’s College Oxford to take up her role as Adjudicator and part time job as Governor of the BBC). I only have a duty under the Human Rights Convention to show that bias was a possibility, not to provide absolute proof for it, and I believe that this connection was sufficient to fulfil this. But regardless of any potential connection between these two, and whether it impacted on the conclusions, the advice from the Adjudicator is demonstrably inadequate. The injustice is that by law I have no right of appeal against a decision by the Visitor, and I had no right of appeal against the advice of the Adjudicator, because it was only advice and not adjudication. Catch 22 again.
Recent letters from the Privy Council Office have made it very clear that they had no responsibility for my case as of the date of the decision in October 2005. In fact I have been told this many times since the decision when I tried to complain about its inadequacy, and to get information about procedures. Yet the University repeatedly made successful representations to Baroness Amos, and received advice, without me or my Union representative being able to comment or rebut.
I have made the case to the Privy Council Office that Baroness Amos acted outside her remit, as defined in the recent letter from the Privy Council Office to Mr. Morris as well as the one dated 4th February 2009, in allowing representation from the University after her decision in 2005, and issuing advice based upon this, compounded by the fact that I was not given any chance to rebut these representations. The subsequent suspensions of the University investigation, still in force as far as I am aware, and based upon her advice, therefore had no validity. The letter sent to Joan Walley from Baroness Amos based upon these skewed arguments, was used against me in court at the discrimination trial, and is therefore quite significant (Letter from Baroness Amos to my MP).
Baroness Amos missed the essential point in her unwarranted remarks made to my MP. Who is damaged, and who stands to gain by any delays in the implementation of her decision that required the University to re-investigate my case? Clearly any damage due to delays is entirely mine, and any gain very much in favour of the University.
Professor Finch and Mr. Morris complain that the University has incurred expense in excess of £40,000. But this was in defence of a discrimination case that was put in the Small Claims process, which, even if they had lost, would have incurred maximum damages of just £5000. Yet even during the Small Claims process, where solicitors are not required and there are no costs involved, the University engaged a senior grade A solicitor (partner in Knight and Sons Solicitors) and a barrister. Their legal team then took every opportunity to prolong the process, and to use vastly inflated and inappropriate costs to intimidate me over a two year period. I do not believe that the outcome of this trial was just, and when you consider that the process took two years, and the University spent £40,000 for the services of two barristers, a senior solicitor and up to five junior solicitors, the fact that I lost as a litigant in person fighting on my own is really not so surprising. Again, I wonder how much University Council knew about the profligate expenditure of this public money, arguably spent to protect the interests of just two University officers?
So after yet more wasted time, we are back to square one. The difference now is that it is glaringly obvious to everyone that a fair and impartial hearing at Keele is impossible - something of course that I have been arguing for a number of years. The problem for the University is that the Privy Council Office is requiring them to fulfil the terms of the decision in 2005, which they have steadfastly been trying to avoid for years. The only logical solution is for my evidence against the University to be reviewed and investigated either by a Higher Education Institution other than Keele, or by a re-investigation by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. Despite Mr. Morris’s blundering attempt to prejudice the latter, this is what I would prefer, simply because the lies disclosed to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator by Mr. Morris are so risibly obvious, and by showing an instinctive ability to lie in this instance I believe shows very clearly an equally instinctive inclination to have lied in the past.
The biggest problem now is one that has always been there. The decision of the Visitor is not legally binding on the University. As far as I am aware this manifestly unjust situation is also the case for the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. When the Office of the Independent Adjudicator came into being in 2004, Professor Gower commented that although the conclusions of the Adjudicator were not legally binding it was ‘understood’ that Universities would comply. But such a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ presupposes that both the parties are capable of acting like gentlemen, and as recent events have shown, this is not the case with Keele University. So yet again they can just do nothing at all - something that they seem to be most adept at doing.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
How NOT to get a PhD Chapter two
As is often the case with dealing with Keele, the latest news is that nothing is happening. As I mentioned in my previous post, the University were told quite definitively by the Privy Council Office “It remains a matter for the University how to give effect to the Visitor's directions” in their letter to them dated 4th February 2009. All I’ve had so far is a remarkably unprofessional letter addressed to my MP, Joan Walley, from Professor Dame Janet Finch alleging that I have harassed her ‘Secretariat’. I’ve written again to her, asking for a retraction, or a substantiation of this allegation.
This of course means yet more months wasted. I’m registered blind, so my job searching is hampered by the acknowledged 50% reduction in the chance to secure a job because of my disability. But I am even more hampered by the failure of the University to issue references for me. I know this for a fact. Despite getting my first BA (Hons) degree, and my Postgraduate teaching qualification at Keele, which should have been the minimum reference, the only tangible problem that the University might have had with this was my time as a postgraduate researcher, which was still under (prolonged) investigation. Yet the letter I had from Mr. Simon Morris on 14th December 2004 should have provided them with some substantial material for my reference. Mr. Morris stated that he was willing to write a statement for me to use in an application to another University to the effect that ‘your failure to graduate at Keele was for reasons for which you were not responsible’, which would certainly have been more effective than no reference at all. Of course it does beg the question as to who was responsible, if not me. When doing PhD research there is only one other person involved, and that is your supervisor. My supervisor was Dr. Mike Boulton, and I have been complaining about his inadequate supervision for many years.
On with the story…..
I have to apologise again, because there is so much to tell, so many documents involved, that my head jumps from one significant incident to another. As I said before, there are two discrete strands to the story – what I thought was going on at the time, and what was actually going on. It was only after the disastrous and lengthy ‘investigation’ in 2002 by the then Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Vincent, that I belatedly came to realise that the University was not interested in my welfare. My issues did not, as I thought then, begin and end with the harassment by Dr. Boulton and Dr. Choi. But even then, I did not begin to imagine the manipulations that were going on behind my back. I hesitate to use the word ‘conspiracy’ because it immediately conjures images of me as some paranoid loony (luckily, my sister is an eminent consultant psychiatrist, and she has never had any concerns about my mental state in that respect) – ‘evidence’ of my paranoia was sent to the court in my recent discrimination trial by the University solicitors. To apply some Keele spin, let’s call it ‘a collective determination to achieve a pre-determined end’.
Before I jump back in time again, I mentioned in my last post that the upgrade viva that I was obliged to undergo was ‘pre-emptive’. I’d like to explore this a bit further. The first intimation I had about this viva – after some 14 months without any supervisor support – was on 6th December 2001. At this time of course I was in a state of anxiety over my complaint to the University, the hearing for which was held on the 27th November 2001. Professor Sloboda notified me that he was acting as ‘temporary’ postgraduate tutor, because Dr. Boulton had been promoted to that post, and he could therefore not act as such. He informed me and my union representative that all the personnel (himself included, presumably) had been kept in a ‘black box’ and knew nothing of my case, which of course we took at face value.
But this was a long way from the truth. Professor Sloboda was at the meeting in April 2001 at which it was decided unilaterally that I would be withdrawn from the University. He must therefore have been aware that his chosen chair for the viva, Professor Gellatly, was also at that meeting. This meeting was held in secret, and I had no knowledge of it. So both Professor Sloboda and Professor Gellatly were intimately involved in my viva process with the foreknowledge that a decision to withdraw me had already been made.
This does not address the interesting question as to how Professor Sloboda was aware of the outcome of the RDC investigation i.e. a requirement for the Psychology department to review a document that was not addressed to that department, before the RDC report was signed. The document is dated 17th December 2001 – so Professor Sloboda was apparently aware of its outcome almost two weeks before it was signed.
I went into the RDC hearing with the belief that the panel of professors had access to all of the documentation. Amongst many error and misrepresentations, the panel commented in their report that my complaint seemed to focus particularly on my time on medical leave of absence (1999-2000), and that my answers appeared to be vague. These comments seemed strange at the time but became crystal clear some four years later when I finally received more complete documentation from the University, because a memo to the panel of professors from Dr. Sarah Anderson (Administrative Affairs department) lists the documents to be before the panel. She specifically EXCLUDED all communication prior to June 1999, which conveniently excluded all documentation, including my references, while I was actually a student at the University, as you can see (here). I was, by the determination of the University, a research student at Keele from 1997 to 1999, and yet no evidence from that time was submitted by Dr. Anderson to the investigating panel.
Surprisingly, however, despite excluding communications from my time as a student (in a student complaint), she did submit a letter from my previous Head of Department (not Postgraduate tutor as the panel believed) at Crewe and Alsager college. This letter was antagonistic towards my research at the time – a perfectly reasonable academic stance to take. This letter had been given by me to Dr. Boulton in confidence as an example of the problems that I had in instituting what was then a contentious research topic, and should never have been given to the panel, but far more important was that the letter pre-dated (1996) the work that led to my successful publication, and later letters from the same person were much more encouraging, but these were not submitted. It seemed to me that this process of manipulating documents put before an academic panel instituted by the administrator, Dr. Anderson, was clearly biased – only submitting those documents that were perceived to be damaging to me, and omitting those that were supportive. Her list of documents, despite including one from a different institution, and dated 1996, failed to include my effusive references of 1997, as well as the many emails and letters that made up the bulk of my complaint. Little wonder then that my responses at the hearing were vague – we were not working from the same hymn sheet – and little wonder they believed my complaint to be focussed on my leave of absence year (1999-2000) since no documents were submitted that related to the time before that, about which I was complaining.
Interestingly, when the University attempted to set up their third investigation, this same contentious sub-set of documents were put before the new panel in December 2006, and the University seemed surprised when I reacted negatively to this.
Dr. Precilla Choi
At this point I have to address a very difficult and distressing situation. My complaint against Dr. Choi, outlined in detail to the University and to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, was well established at the time I submitted my petition to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator/Visitor in September 2004. I learned that Dr. Choi had died in ‘sudden and tragic circumstances’ on 10th May 2005, some seven months into the investigation by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator in which I had made significant complaint about her role as my postgraduate tutor.
I am immensely sorry for her family and friends for their loss. But this does not address the damage to me and my family made by her actions, though it makes it difficult for me to present my evidence without ‘speaking ill of the dead’. Indeed, the response to her death was marked. Many effusive obituaries are on the internet, and I learned that her office in Melbourne had been turned into an ‘aboriginal smoking room’ in her honour. But Dr. Choi deliberately and premeditatively damaged me with no other justification than that she had taken a dislike to me.
After being invited to join the Psychology department in 1997, my first day was blighted by Dr. Choi. I attended a meeting with my research peers and members of the department, at which she stood up and proclaimed that I was not a member of the department. In every way I had followed the procedures insisted upon by the University administration for my ingress into the department. I needed a reference from my previous supervisor, and one from my prospective supervisor (Dr. Boulton), both of which I secured, and were effusive (References). So what was her problem? And surely a more professional way to address this would have been in private. I received a very half hearted apology from her for this, but the damage was done (Letter from Dr. Choi) At that time I was a well qualified and very experienced teacher, with more years teaching under my belt than Dr. Choi. It was embarrassing and discourteous. But this paled into insignificance with the reaction I saw from my supervisor, Dr. Boulton (unusually present for this meeting). The look of sheer terror on his face was alarming, and I now think that this moment defined the death of my research career, and the beginning of a long process of academic annihilation.
Dr. Boulton’s interest in my project plummeted. Bear in mind that while I was at Crewe and Alsager College doing the research upon which my paper was based and for which at that time I was ready to write up for MPhil, I had been in contact with Dr. Boulton for some four years . He was one of many researchers in my academic area with whom I had contact and was consistently enthusiastic about my research. Suddenly that enthusiasm evaporated after our confrontation with Dr. Choi, which was probably the last time I and my supervisor stood together in mutual accord.
He was simply not available whenever I needed to meet him, the departmental secretary telling me on numerous occasions that he was ‘working from home’. Interestingly, and to jump ahead for a moment, Dame Ruth Deech, the then Adjudicator, concluded in 2005 that it was sufficient supervison to rely upon minimal meetings and email contact. But she forgot that in the years that she was investigating, email at home was almost non-existent and certainly not available to Dr. Boulton ‘at home’, and therefore he was consistently unavailable to his students, in contravention of his contract to educate.
He started to insist upon stringent statistics training for the entirely new project that he had envisaged, but without any attempt to assess my competency in statistics. The stats in my published paper were pretty basic, but at least indicated that I had some competency. But Dr. Boulton insisted on ever increasing levels of knowledge, even exceeding his own when he insisted I attend another course in path analysis, and tell him what it was about when I got back! I was given no indication of what area of statistics I needed to review. There are thousands of statistical variations of method and implementation, so to simply insist on statistics training wasn’t very helpful. Even less helpful was that Dr. Boulton did not assess whether the courses were any good or not. Completely pointless and very expensive.
I think that is important to acknowledge the successes during the year of 1997-1998, a mere six months if I were not part time, and perhaps later to compare them with Dr. Boulton’s reports to the University:
· By the end of my first year part time, I had a paper published in a major journal for my area with a great deal of press attention.
· I had presented some of my findings at a prestigious conference, reported by the British Psychological Society at Derby University.
· I had attended the University Social Science B research training course, as well as a rigorous statistics and research methods course at Essex.
· I had attended and reported on an important SRHE conference in London.
· I was already in close contact with the major teaching Unions, ready to take their offered help as soon as my project warranted it, and after a great deal of correspondence, I secured £1000 funding from the National Union of Teachers. · I received clear agreement in principle from the NAS/UWT that their extensive mailing system would be made available for survey distribution.
· Members of the Council of Europe had expressed interest in my work, and I had corresponded a number of times with Wilson Barratt, head of the Council of Europe’s Document Centre for Education.
· In addition, by the August that year (1998) I had already finalised a pilot study ready for implementation in schools just a few months later.
The end of the next year (or six months equivalent full-time), despite very little contact with Dr. Boulton, my supervisor, I had an abstract accepted for a verbal presentation, and successfully presented this at at Lancaster in July 1999. It was very well-received.
Yet, unknown to me at the time though later submissions of documents attest, none of this was reported to the Department or the University. In fact Dr. Boulton’s confidential submission to the University was little more than a rant against me, without any moral substantiation, let alone any academic justification, and not a single intimation of the many successes that I had had (appendix 5 of the Psychology Departments memo to Research Degrees Committee (Dr. Boulton's report).
You can probably tell, I find it difficult to focus on Precilla Choi. It is very difficult to make a case against a person who has died in ‘sudden and tragic circumstances’. Vacillating again, let me tell you about an interesting coincidence in my case before documenting the activities of Dr. Choi.
My petition to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator was in September 2004 – right in the middle of the Higher Education Act implementation that abolished the role of the Visitor in student complaints. Consequently, the Privy Council Office as Visitor contracted the Office of the Independent Adjudicator to investigate my case and provide an advisory report from the Adjudicator, Baroness Deech (recently the Principle of St. Anne's College oxford) – a period of some 15 months spanning the date of my petition, to the decision by the Visitor (Baroness Amos). At the time of my Office of the Independent Adjudicator investigation, the Adjudicator had another pert time job as Governor of the BBC. My research discovered that at the same time, Professor Janet Finch was an important member of a committee looking into the Royal Charter of the BBC – presumably amongst other things, dealing with the wages for the Governors. Whether or not this was a purely accidental connection, I have no idea, but it certainly seemed to me to be an unhealthty one.
OK. Back to Precilla Choi, because one aspect of her contribution to this story formed a very curious sequence of events. Once the University realised that I was pursuing a case with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, they requested an ‘informal’ meeting. I insisted that this should be at my home, since the last ‘meeting’ – the hearing of 2001 – I had found little help for my disability. The meeting was eventually agreed for 10th January 2005 at my home, and in accordance with my visual disability, I recorded it. Mr. Morris at the meeting told me, amongst many things, that the University had approached (now) Professor Choi in Australia, as a consultant in the proceeding of my case.
I was appalled. How could the University request a consultancy regarding the process of my case with one of the principle targets of my complaint? By this time, I had still not received a full disclosure of documents from the University, despite many DPA requests, but my final request, perhaps buoyed up by the recent Freedom of Information Act engendered in excess of five hundred pages of hitherto undisclosed documents on 9th April 2005, still during the investigation into the very information being disclosed, and some three months after learning about the dubious involvement of Dr. Choi in my case. By contacting Dr. Choi, the University certainly alerted her to the fact that I was pursuing my case, and presumably informed her of the proposed disclosure of documents, that included a number of very damaging confidential emails between university personnel and Dr. Choi. One month later on 10th May 2005, I learned that she had died.
It probably sounds a little cold (I have had ten years of damage caused by her actions to cool me off), but my initial thoughts were a realisation that her death would make it even harder to pursue my case against her. Apart from the natural urge to speak well of dead people, the apparent sainthood of Dr. Choi was quite remarkable. Here is an example of a typically ebullient obituary:
here. And here is the text of an obituary from the Keele:
A Tribute to Precilla Choi, originally delivered at the Keele AUT local association EGM on Tuesday, May 17, 2005.
Precilla Choi died on Tuesday, May 10, 2005, in Melbourne, Australia, in tragic circumstances. During her time at Keele, Precilla worked tirelessly, and very hard, not only for the Local Association of Keele A.U.T., but also more generally in the University's politics, confronting, when she met them, issues of sexism and racism with unfailing courage and bravery. Precilla was, in fact, one of the bravest and most courageous people I have ever had the (very great) pleasure of knowing, and, -- for much too short a time -- of working with. She was sure in her opinions, sometimes outspoken in expressing them; but always, and unfailingly, supportive to those who sought her help in fighting injustice, be that injustice something that affected many people, or only one. She was very special, and every local community that was, or might have been, enriched with her presence, is impoverished by her death.
Susan Bruce, Deputy President, Keele AUT.”
You can perhaps appreciate how much more difficult my task suddenly became, and yet I see no problem with acknowledging the faults of people who have died – especially if those faults have caused lasting damage to others. Dr. Choi damaged my life, and even more importantly damaged my family for no earthly reason other than she had taken a dislike to me. For that I allege she was guilty, and that allegation has still to be tested by the University who employed her. To make out that she was a soldier for injustice is to show only one part of her personality, and in common with us all, she was not perfect.
Her death came some eight months after my petition to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator/Visitor; six months before its conclusion and so arguments by the University that this in some way hampered their ability to investigate are not tenable. By this time the University had already investigated my case twice ‘carefully and exhaustively’ (as reported by their spokesperson in an article in the Times Higher Education Supplement, 28th May 2004). I already had extensive documentary evidence, which was augmented and corroborated by the large disclosure in April 2005, and the University had already acknowledged that they had been in contact with her in Australia, albeit as a ‘consultant’. Thus they had had ample time to accrue evidence from her before her untimely death.
In order to show how damaging the newly disclosed documents were, it is probably best to give an example, which lurches us back in time again. On October 27th 2000 I finally emailed Dr. Choi and Dr. Boulton to the effect that I did not believe that my supervision was adequate, and that the Department were not giving sufficient support to my PhD studies. Most of the sequence of emails that I am showing you here were not addressed to me, and I was totally unaware of them until the mass disclosure of documents by the University in April 2005.
So …… on 27th October 2000 I emailed Dr. Boulton to the effect that I no longer believed that the Department could support my PhD, and copied it to Dr. Choi, who responded to it on 1st November 2000 at 10:19 (My email). This was cc-ed to Mrs Hill, Dr. Boulton, and more significantly, Dr. McLean in the Education Department. There does not seem to be much practical purpose in copying my letter of grievance about the Psychology Department – a matter solely of interest to the Psychology Department - to a member of the Education Department, unless the intention was to cast doubt in the minds of those in the Education Department about me.
In this email, Dr. Choi states that:
“The exploration of whether you can transfer to education or not needs to begin in the Psychology Dept so it is not appropriate for you to approach Monica McLean or other members of the Education Dept yet. Mike and I are trying to speak to Chris Phillipson about the procedure so rest assured that I have things in hand.”
Twenty-five minutes later, Dr. Choi emails Dr. McLean (Dr. Choi to Dr. Mclean):
“Chris says you're to do nothing. We have to submit a report and recommendation (which I can tell you now will be that he withdraws) to research degree sub comm who will decide whether he should be asked to withdraw or given another chance. If they decide the latter then I guess they approach you and your dept takes it from there.”
- and at 11:00 Dr. McLean replies:
“That’s a relief! I’ll give Ken Jones, the Head of the Department this correspondence. See you v. soon I hope.”
The only time that I had met Dr. Mclean from Education was on 20th July 2000 – the day before my Mum died in Intensive care. So her response – ‘that’s a relief’ – is very strange to me. As far as I was aware, she knew nothing about me or my research, unless of course as is likely, Dr. Choi had spoken to her as well as emailing her.
At 11:16, Dr. Choi emails Dr. Boulton (Dr. Choi to Dr. Boulton) with a sense of urgency. In this email Dr. Choi appears to assume the inevitability of my withdrawal, but be somewhat unsure of what to hang it on. She tells Dr. Boulton:
“As you will have gathered from my previous emails I think we should consider his failure to submit his upgrade doc as our case for recommending he withdraws. We will need to document and provide evidence for his lack of progress and for your dissatisfaction with him etc.”
(The ‘previous emails’ referred to by Dr. Choi have never been disclosed).
This seems to suggest that, up to this point, the evidence of my ‘persistent failure – the only grounds for my withdrawal - was not available. If I was a long time failing student, as argued retrospectively by the Department, then surely this documentation should have been carefully collated by Dr. Boulton, and been instantly accessible, not cobbled together out of panic. Evidence now shows without any doubt that the date for the submission of the document referred to by Dr. Choi was entirely incorrect, and in fact at the time of writing this, the actual submission date (defined by Professor Sloboda as 20th November 2000) had not yet been reached. The information was put together and submitted to RDC on 22nd November 2000, including in Appendix 5 of this submission to RDC, the report by Dr. Boulton requested by Dr. Choi, but without any attempt to allow me to defend or rebut it. I believe that the unseemly haste with which this was concocted gave rise to the many anomalies in that report, identified in my complaint. This email has only recently been disclosed, but patently has been on my file, and had RDC investigated conscientiously, this might have been an issue for discussion. Within that hour – 10:19 – 11:16 on 1st November 2000 – I believe that my fate was established irrevocably by Dr. Choi before any persons in the Department, or the University had made any decisions at all.
So the process of joint supervision or transfer to the Education Department referred to by Dr. Choi which was to start in the Psychology Department was in fact a clear intent to blacken my name with the Education Department, and the fact that this material was given to a senior member of that department (Dr. McLean) and passed onto the Head of Department (Professor Jones), again without any chance for me to defend it, meant that any possibility of interaction with the Education Department, at that time or any time in the future, was permanently compromised. As mentioned in my complaint, the ‘sympathetic’ offer to allow me to apply to the Education Department after my dreadful upgrade review was a foregone negative conclusion. The statement by Dr. Choi: “rest assured that I have things in hand” was ominously accurate.
In the recently disclosed confidential document (Dr. Choi to Ms. Frankish) Dr. Choi makes it clear to Ms. frankish of the Acadmic Affairs Department that I have been deemed to have failed. She states that Dr. Boulton is ‘no longer prepared to supervise him.’, contrary to his contract Also that, even if my upgrade document was ‘a brilliant piece of work’ there would be no-one to supervise me. Dr. Choi makes clear that the comments outlined in her email are to be treated as a report to RDC. As Dr. Fletcher has pointed out to me, under the regulations supervisors do not have the right to take such decisions, and neither do departments. As mentioned in my last post, I was officially, and without any prior warning, sacked from the University for the first time on 4th May 2001.
Dr. Choi unilaterally decided the date for the submission of the document – in fact giving me several dates, all of which were incorrect, and then unilaterally decided that I was to be withdrawn on the basis of not submitting it on an entirely fictitious date. Apart from the fact that she did not have a mandate to unilaterally sack me, at no time did she ever consider the dreadful circumstance of my Mother’s death, and the family difficulties that that entailed – clearly by anyone’s standard, mitigating circumstances.
After years of fighting my corner, in his letter to me dated 14th December 2004, (Letter from Mr. Morris) Mr. Morris finally apologised for the fact that these mitigating circumstance had not been taken into account. But what good is a desperately belated apology without responsibility? It’s easy to say sorry, but less easy to actually act to remedy the situation being apologised for, and the University remains guilty of failing in its duty of care.
More posts to follow.
All the best
Labels: Keele University Dispute
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
How NOT to get a PhD
INTRODUCTION – and latest news
I think I am now ready to tell my story. I’ve been restrained for so long by ongoing investigations, interminable delays by the University, and court cases that have been sub judice for at least ten years. I hope now that I have done everything humanly, and legally possible to bring my case against Keele University to public scrutiny, and my blog will be a record of this time.
I’m new to blogging so forgive this long post, and please let me know of any problems with it.
I was sacked twice from the University and my complaint and appeal about this is still not resolved. The archaic and arcane Visitor system under which my case fell probably means that it never will be resolved. In this system where the Lord President of the Privy Council (in lieu of the Queen) acted as the final arbiter for student disputes, I was not allowed legal aid, I have no right of appeal, and any decision made by the Visitor is not legally binding on the University. In effect, whatever the decision of the Visitor (or now the Adjudicator), the University can choose to do nothing if it so wishes, and in my case that is precisely what they seem to be doing. When the Visitor system was abolished by the higher Education Act of 2004, very few of the serious problems with that process were addressed by the institution of the new Office of the Independent Adjudicator.
Almost all of the documentary evidence regarding my case has been on my rather haphazard website – Keele-Hauled.com – since 2005.
On February 4th 2009, almost ten years after my first complaint to the University and over four years after the Visitor (then Baroness Amos) made her decision, the Visitor (now Baroness Ashton) wrote to the University, re-iterating that the Visitor had effectively quashed the report written by the then Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Vincent, upon which my second sacking was based, and told them that “It remains a matter for the University how to give effect to the Visitor's directions”. (Letter to Keele from PCO). After another wasted six months, my MP, Joan Walley, approached the University on my behalf, and she sent me a copy of a remarkable letter to her from Professor Dame Janet Finch, the Vice Chancellor of Keele - Letter from Dame Janet Finch to my MP .
The content of this letter is as iniquitous as it is untrue, and it is a most unprofessional misrepresentation of the facts.
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 states that:
(3) Subsection (1) does not apply to a course of conduct if the person who pursued it shows—
(a) that it was pursued for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime,
(b) that it was pursued under any enactment or rule of law or to comply with any condition or requirement imposed by any person under any enactment, or
(c) that in the particular circumstances the pursuit of the course of conduct was reasonable.
… and section (b) and (c) are particularly appropriate. I was following my right to question firstly the Visitor’s decision by the only route that I knew how, since there was no right of appeal – by Judicial Review. I was certainly following my right as a disabled person (I am registered blind) when I questioned the actions of the panel hearing at Keele purportedly looking into my case, and made a claim for disability discrimination in the Small Claims process. The University spent an inordinate amount of public money to ensure a favourable outcome of this, after two years of legal machinations. The amount of £40,000 of public money quoted by the Vice Chancellor is probably a conservative estimate, but it funded two barristers, a senior solicitor, and up to five junior solicitors, against me as a litigant in person initially in the Small claims process which does not require any legal representation. It also precludes legal aid, which was also disallowed due to the involvement of the Visitor.
This next email was a response to, and rebuttal of, the Vice Chancellor’s letter sent to Joan Walley (Response to my MP), and I sent a letter to the Vice Chancellor requesting a retraction or a substantiation of her allegation of harassment (Response to Dame Janet Finch, VC). I received this insubstantial reply from Mr Edward Youngman, the Secretary of the panel at which I alleged discrimination, Executive Support to the Vice Chancellor, and who was a principle witness for the defence in the eventual trial that decided the discrimination case (Letter from Mr. Youngman).
‘negotiation’ referred to by the Vice Chancellor was a very dodgy affair. Basically they offered to waive the costs incurred in the discrimination case (dramatically diminished by the High Court judge at my appeal against the decision), if I dropped my main, and entirely separate, case against them. A CAB debt advisor described this as ‘blackmail’, which may not be far short of the truth.
This unresolved complaint against Keele University regarding inadequate supervision and numerous instances of disability discrimination, has been going on for over ten years, during which time I have been thrust into the deepest emotional and psychological distress and turmoil. What started out as an academic dispute rapidly turned into a whistle blowing situation as the University spent more and more resources on covering up their initial, and then further inept decisions. My consultant psychiatrist sister told me once that I was the most stable person she had ever met – I’d certainly never before suffered from any illnesses that would have come within her sphere of expertise. But during this desperately long and painful process I have been prescribed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication for years.
My tale is convoluted and at first sight seems inextricably complicated. But like many such stories, upon examination it tends to have the same few common strands, coalescing into a relatively simple narrative about some of the basest of human interactions – vanity, greed, power. It also encompasses the mindless knee-jerk self preservation of a large and wealthy organization at the expense of individuals.
Anyone expecting a clinical, linear exposition of the facts will be disappointed. My lengthy complaint document to the University gives a diary of events as they pertained at the time (this can be found on my website Keele-Hauled.com). But later corroborative evidence has shown that there was a distinct and discrete strand of events of which I had no knowledge at the time. I knew something was very wrong, but I had no idea just how very wrong it was, and so inevitably the narrative will jump from time to time between what I thought was happening, and what the evidence subsequently revealed was actually happening.
I started my PhD studies at Crewe and Alsager College and was invited to join the Keele Psychology Department when my paper was accepted for publication in a prestigious academic journal, by Dr. Mike Boulton. After two years part time I was withdrawn from the University (i.e. sacked) for the first time on the grounds that there was no-one to supervise me, and that I had failed to submit a document on time. Although this was never rescinded, I was sacked a second time on the basis of very spurious evidence that I was persistently failing in my studies. If I were persistently failing in my studies then logic suggests that that should have been the basis of the first withdrawal too, but there are many aspects to my case that lead to irreconcilable conclusions, as I hope to show you.
Behind all of the convolution is one such irreconcilable conclusion that the University has thus far failed to address. When Dr. Boulton invited me into the Psychology Department (something that he has later tried to deny, but is a matter of fact) I was told that I needed references from my previous, and from my prospective supervisors. Dr. Boulton’s reference was effusive in the extreme. Even more so was my reference from my previous supervisor who stated that at that time, October 1997, I was ready to write up for MPhil (these references can be seen on my website:
The glaring contradiction arises with my final report from the University, after two years of gross misreporting of my work by Dr. Boulton, such that I had done “insufficient work even for MPhil’. No-one to this day has yet given me a sensible explanation of how any student can go academically backwards simply by attending Keele University (I am open to suggestions!). On the other hand, my explanation is simple. Drs Boulton and Choi manufactured reports for the Department and the University that were not true, but the University Administration seem loathe to acknowledge this allegation, and appear to have spent a great deal of time and public money in avoiding a fair and impartial investigation of the issues.
I have documentary evidence of this misrepresentation of my work, but before outlining these in more detail, I would like to tell you about one particular event that I believe gives a good indication of Dr. Boulton’s propensity to do this.
After just 7 months part time at the University, on June 26th 1998 my paper, exclusively based upon my work at Crewe and Alsager College, was published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology, and a lengthy review was printed in the Times Educational Supplement. There was considerable press attention, and on that day, despite other commitments due to my part time status there, the Department secretarial staff asked me to get into the Department because of the volume of calls. I was interviewed by telephone by reporters from a number of major newspapers, as well as being interviewed a number of times on live local and national radio, and it was reported at some length on Ceefax. I think I sweated naked fear that day.
I faxed copies of my paper to many news agencies and newspapers. This strategy was agreed with the Departmental secretary in order to avoid any errors or misconceptions due to my lack of experience with the press. This was an extremely stressful situation for any student, but Dr. Boulton was not available in the Department – he was often not available in the Department, which was a principal facet of my complaint against him - and was thus not party to any of the decisions and interviews that were of major consequence to my work.
One call to the Department from the Daily Express that I was unable to take was routed through to Dr. Boulton at his home (he was often ‘working from home’, which also meant at that time that he was not available by email), and he was interviewed about my research. The resulting article leaves the reader with the distinct impression that the research was carried out by Dr. Boulton (untrue) and at Keele University (also untrue). A copy of the article can be found on my website at Daily Express Article.
My research was carried out while I was registered at Crewe and Alsager College, and it therefore had nothing to do with Keele. The study was carried out exclusively by me, with no help from anyone else, contrary to the implication of this article, and had no connection to Dr. Boulton. All Postgraduates at this time were being strongly advised by Dr. Choi, who was the acknowledged media expert in the Department, to be careful with the press, to check and recheck that printed material was accurate. Yet here was a senior academic, with media experience, failing to correctly acknowledge the research of his student. I had no apology from Dr. Boulton or Dr. Choi about this, and the misinformation was never retracted or corrected. If nothing else, this was a very serious error by a senior academic that has never been acknowledged by the University.
In my opinion though, there are much more damning instances of misrepresentation by Dr. Boulton, including confidential reports to the University now disclosed that are demonstrably untrue. The University at that time (summer 1998) required students and supervisors to fill out six monthly reports. These were photocopied blank forms on both sides of an A4 page, the design of which (having been in business for some years prior to my research) I felt was a little peculiar, and certainly no-one informed me that they might be used in a legal context as evidence. They were never presented to me as a legally binding document – more as an internal administrative necessity – and so I never questioned their use, though they now form a mainstay of the University’s case against me. They were copied onto the front and back of an A4 page, but the student’s signature was only on the reverse – this, I believe, gave the potential for serious manipulation of the material on the side that had no signature, and as I recount later, I believe that this is what actually happened. These documents were always presented late, with urgent requests from Dr. Boulton that they be completed ASAP, and I signed the section that related to my comments as a student on the reverse side of the page.
These reports took a great deal of effort to get from the University as part of several DPA rquests for the documents reviewed by the panel investigating my complaint. These formed a seriously biased sub-set of the evidence that I provided (organised by the senior administrator at that time, Dr. Sarah Anderson – more about her later), including a letter given to Dr. Boutlon in confidence from my previous Head of Departemnt that predated any of my research (from 1996). After finishing my research, the same chap had much more positive things to say, but Dr. Boulton apoparently decided that the panel would not review these more favourable views. Take a look at these documents on my webpage:
Reports disclosed in 2005
One of these reports had the title page of “JULY 1998”, but this was hopelessly late, eventually being signed by all parties on 14th October 1998. This discrepancy in dates was important. In a confidential section of this report (on the front of the A4 page that had no signature), and only seen by me years later when documents were eventually released by the University, Dr. Boulton had stated that I had not fulfilled what he saw as my obligation to design and implement a pilot questionnaire. However, I also have emails to and from Dr. Boulton surrounding the signature date of this report that prove beyond doubt that this assertion by Dr. Boulton was absolutely untrue. The questionnaire was started in August 1998 with minimal input from Dr. Boulton, and it was completed and issued to schools on 2nd November 1998 – well ahead of any research schedules, and despite the increasing unavailability of Dr. Boulton for supervisor input.
Remember, as a part timer I had worked for only the equivalent of six months full time, and no research peer of mine had managed to produce a questionnaire in that limited time. Dr. Boulton has consistently argued, and reported to the University, that this work was not completed, when demonstrably it was – I still have the completed questionnaires and many letters and faxes from schools that prove this beyond any doubt. This was palpably a lie by Dr. Boulton and a deliberate misrepresentation of my work to the University that he persisted with in later confidential reports, and the University has consistently used this lie as an indication of my failure, and a justification for my second sacking.
The circumstances surrounding my six month report face dated “MARCH 1999”, but actually signed much later on May 19th 1999, are even more suspicious, and I believe that the evidence I have strongly suggests that Dr. Boulton actually falsified this document by photocopying information over it. As a teacher for many years, I was well aware of how a document could be amended using a photocopier – I was taught how to do it at Keele University during my post graduate teacher training – and it is perfectly possible to completely edit a document using just a photocopier if you know what you are doing. Unfortunately, Dr. Boulton was not very accomplished at this, because the new material photocopied over what I believe to be the original material for which I signed is not only obviously skewed on the page, but it obscures the ‘Please Turn Over’ section of the form that appears on every other report. It could be argued that this was simply a convenient, though legally dodgy, way of putting information on the page, and this could easily be confirmed by referring back to the original. However, despite DPA requests to the University for the original of this document, I have been told in a letter from the University Administration that the copy sent to me under the explicit DPA request for the original, is a ‘copy of a copy’, which is exactly my point. If the administration accepted a photocopy of the signed report, and not the original, then all material on the report is suspect, and cannot be used as evidence against me. This is why courts always require originals, and not photocopies.
Although title dated March 1999, the report was only submitted to me for signature on 19th May 1999, after a long, gruelling and abusive meeting with Dr. Boulton and Dr. Choi on 13th May 1999, so the report was already very late. Why then was the report not submitted immediately to the University? Evidence shows clearly from confidential documents between Dr. Choi and the University, that the report was not submitted to the administration until 22nd June 1999. It is my contention that Dr. Boulton altered the report during this time, possibly with the blessing of Dr. Choi. But in any case, since the University does not have the original, the document is hopelessly compromised.
This is vitally important because this document was used to justify my second withdrawal from the University – a dubious basis for something stated as fact at my discrimination trial.
My story will involve a substantial cast list of academics and senior administrators. I am very well aware of the laws of libel, at least as much as a layman can be, and I know that libel can only be libel if the information is untrue. I shall endeavour to provide documentary evidence, as any good researcher should, to show that my assertions are not libellous. Any suppositions that I make I shall make plain, but they will be made within the sort of statistical parameters that many researchers would regard as being significant.
Given the academic and administrative status of many of the antagonists and contagonists in my story, some of whom have already been mentioned, it is probably best to introduce a few of them from the start.
Dr. Mike Boulton was my supervisor, and was a well known academic in the very new field of bullying research at that time. He invited me to join him in the Psychology Department from Crewe and Alsager College in October 1997, after the acceptance of my paper in the prestigious British Journal of Educational Psychology. I allege that Dr. Boulton not only failed to provide me with the necessary teaching and support required by the University regulations for supervision, but that he actively bullied me with the intent of removing me from the University. I allege that Dr. Boulton falsified reports of my academic work to the University by physically altering documents, and misreported my progress to the University with a view to forcing my withdrawal. Dr. Boulton never, as any good supervisor should, assessed my competence in statistics, but insisted that I attend very time consuming and expensive training courses (at Essex University) in statistics. He also failed to assess the results of these courses, which rendered them worthless to me as a student. These training requirements became more and more intensive, but without any academic basis, which as I know from my own research, falls well into the behaviour of a workplace bullying.
Dr. Precilla Choi was the Postgraduate tutor, and direct superior to Dr. Boulton. She was a strident feminist who made it clear from my very first day in the Department that she did not want me there. This was a purely personal prejudice – she had no knowledge or expertise in my area of research. I was invited by Dr. Boulton to join the Department, and had not gone through what she perceived as the required committee procedures, and this apparently incensed her. She was undoubtedly a bully, which I believe was widely known in the department. Her particular focus for this bullying seemed to be against men of lower status as perceived by her, and especially against males who were older than her. She harassed and bullied me remorselessly while I was a research student there. When I told my supervisor, Dr. Boulton, he responded by saying that “senior academics do not behave like that” – this nonsense from an experienced researcher into bullying!
I have documentary evidence to show that it was Dr. Choi’s unilateral decision that I would be withdrawn from the University, made without any academic foundation. She decided this without any intimation being been made to me that my work warranted withdrawal, contrary to University regulations, and without any opportunity for me to defend my work. She deliberately prevented me from seeking joint supervision and subsequently from transferring to the Education Department by subverting any fair processes by which this may have been achieved. A series of emails released by the University years later show her contacting Dr. Monica McLean, a senior member of the Education Department (a department close to my research area of bullying in schools), telling her without any justification or opportunity for defence, that I would be withdrawn – effectively corrupting the process for joint supervision or transfer. These emails pre-dated my first withdrawal by at least six months. I believe now that the evidence shows incontrovertibly that neither Dr. Boulton nor Dr. Choi could allow me to transfer, because by doing so their own inadequacies and malfeasances would have been exposed.
Professor Angus Gellatly was head of department while I was there. I believe that he had the wool very firmly pulled over his eyes by Drs. Boulton and Choi. Certainly had he had his finger on the pulse as HoD, he would have been more aware of the serious harassment and machinations of Dr. Choi, but he did not. In April 2001 he attended a very secret meeting, the minutes of which were disclosed to me many years later and after many Data Protection Act requests. Dr. Choi was also at this meeting, and it concluded with the decision that I was an academic fail, and should be withdrawn. At the very least I should have been contacted about the outcome of this meeting, and since coincidentally the meeting preceded my actual withdrawal by one month, it would have served as a four week warning under the University regulations, but no-one bothered, certainly not my supervisor, nor my Postgraduate tutor, both of whom had putative responsibility for my welfare.
As a result of my appeal and complaint regarding this first withdrawal from the University, Professor Gellatly chaired a disastrous Upgrade Viva (a sort of practice viva which the Department referred to as ‘supportive’), as required by the as yet unpublished report from the RDC. I and my Union representative were told quite specifically that no-one on the viva had any knowledge of my case, and yet here was Professor Gellatly having attended a meeting only six months previously about my case, sitting as chair of the viva, and Professor Sloboda, also at that same meeting, organising this remarkably pre-emptive viva as acting postgraduate tutor (by this time Dr. Boulton had been promoted to post graduate tutor, but could not act as such for this process).
Why was the Professor chair of this viva, after attending a meeting in which it had already been decided that I should be withdrawn? Why didn’t he recuse himself from this process? And why was the report that he prepared regarding the viva in which he voiced a number of concerns about the process, edited by a senior administrator (Mr. Chris Pike) with no skill or knowledge of Psychology specifically to exclude those concerns? I wonder if he is aware that this was done? The full report, again only disclosed years later, shows that he was honest enough to acknowledge that he was at this meeting, but not so honest as to acknowledge that the meeting had already decided that I would be sacked.
I complained that documents were thrown at me by Professor Rotenberg during this viva that I could not read due to my visual disability. I was subsequently told by Professor Vincent (then Deputy Vice Chancellor) during his later ‘investigation’ that Professor Gellatly recalled offering to read them out to me. Utter nonsense. He did not. In any case, no-one during all of my time in the Department had ever read out a document to me, nor been asked by me to do so. There was a long established means of preparing documents in A3 format for me. As postgraduate representative attending departmental meetings, Professor Gellatly was well aware of this practice, and my disability was well known in the Department and had been officially acknowledged to the University in 1997 – the Disability Discrimination Act does not allow for random alterations to established and accepted reasonable adjustments for disability, and the viva was on 17th December 2001, some three months after the implementation of SENDA which incorporated Universities into the mainstream of disability legislation.
I made a direct appeal to the Vice Chancellor personally about this disability discrimination (Personal Appeal to the Vice Chancellor). I recieved a letter from Mr. Chris Pike (he was the administrator who edited the report by Professor Gellatly just afew weeks previously), to the effect that no action would be taken because I had not ‘registered’ my disability. Nonsense, since the University had been made very clearly and very legally aware of my disability since 1997.
Just a month before this disastrous viva after several years partially sighted, I was registered as blind, and this was reported to the University by my Union representative at the time. Since Professor Gellatly as panel chair had not asked me about any reasonable adjustments that I might require, and I had not asked for any change to the established practice, it was reasonable for me to assume that that established practice would be maintained, and any documents provided in the agreed manner, but it was not. The documents comprised nine pages of dense computer database references, which not only would have been pointless to read out during a viva even to an able bodied student, but would probably have taken most of the allotted time. As I relate in the next section, in any case, the documents were academically worthless.
Professor Ken Rotenberg. Although the head of my research discipline, Social Psychology, I had never been introduced to him by my supervisor, nor had I ever had an opportunity to discuss my research with him. I met him once in an informal setting, and decided to send him a synopsis of some of the problems I was having, particularly with Dr. Choi and Dr. Boulton. It is most significant that he was the direct superior to Dr. Boulton. Professor Rotenberg was the other member of my Upgrade Viva panel. As superior to Dr. Boulton, about whom I was already making serious complaint, he should not have been within a mile of the viva – a viva required by the unpublished report from the University Research Degrees Committee. He was openly hostile towards me throughout the viva, having to be physically restrained on two occasions by Professor Gellatly, a fact that I reported to Professor Sloboda the next day, but was not acted upon. He completely ignored the difficulties of my disability – literally throwing a sheaf of documents at me that I could not read (as mentioned above). As if this were not bad enough, when I was able to examine the long lists of database references from PsychInfo, I discovered that a significant number of them actually post dated the date of the paper that was under review in the viva – the date of the paper under review was firmly fixed in an email from Professor Sloboda, acting HoD. Professor Rotenberg effectively criticised me for failing to be clairvoyant. What an appalling indictment for a so-called professional researcher.
The University has subsequently described this process, that is the potential transfer from Psychology to Education, and the ‘imposition’ of the upgrade document upon which the viva was based
Letter from Mr. Morris as being handled ‘clumsily and ineffectively’ – a criticism that must fall squarely with Professor Sloboda who organised it, and in the same letter offered to facilitate a move to another institution by giving me a statement that could be sent with my application:
“The essence of such a statement would be to clearly reflect to any other academic institution that your failure to graduate at Keele was for reasons for which you were not responsible.”
An academic decision that should not be made by an administrator, and if academically untrue, then potentially fraudulent.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I’ll talk more about the implications of this letter later.
Professor Vincent in his discredited ‘investigation’ into my case stated that Professor Rotenberg had acted ‘vigorously’ during the viva, but this was not vigorous academic debate – it was a very inept attempt at academic annihilation. As superior to Dr. Boulton, he should not have been on the viva panel. I have a copy of the long email that I sent to him outlining my problems, and any assertion by him that he had no knowledge of my case is nonsense, further belying the assurance made by Professor John Sloboda (acting HoD) that no-one on the panel had any knowledge of my case. It was also stipulated by Professor Sloboda that the panel members would have no contact with Dr. Boulton. I strongly believe that Professor Rotenberg did have contact with Dr. Boulton. PsychInfo searches have a unique record of the login details of the searcher. The documents thrown at me during my Upgrade Viva by Professor Rotenberg had two unique user numbers, so the Professor was certainly working with someone else. Supposition I know, but I would put money on this being Dr. Boulton.
Documentary evidence of all of this was submitted to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, who chose to ignore it. This whole ‘clumsy and ineffective’ process was nothing more than a kangaroo court – a serious allegation against the university made to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator that has still not been addressed. The viva was ordered by the RDC, but the viva itself was on the 17th December 2001. I didn’t receive my copy of the decision by RDC until 19th December 2001, and in fact the signature of the chair of that process was dated 17th December. A barrister later asked to look at this described the organisation and implementation of this as pre-emptive. It was certainly that.
A bit of background
I made my first complaint about lack of supervision and support in April 1999 to the Dean of Postgraduate affairs, Professor Andrew Linklater. He quite correctly directed me to my postgraduate tutor, Dr. Choi, but like me, he had no idea how deeply involved she was in the problems about which I was complaining. I took his advice and complained to Dr. Choi about my supervision. She acted very aggressively to this, but made no attempt to pursue the complaint through the Departmental or University channels, and I believe that my serious complaint was never passed on to anyone higher up in the Department hierarchy.
Dr. Choi emailed her friend, Dr. Monica McLean, in the Education Department (the Department that I was trying to secure for joint supervision or transfer) on 1st November 2000, just a few months after my Mum’s death the previous July 21st, to the effect that I would be withdrawn. This disastrous assertion was made quite arbitrarily, and without any academic justification. Documents released years later reveal that in April 2001, five months later, a special meeting was held to discuss my situation (a meeting that included Dr. Choi), and it was decided that I was an academic fail and should be withdrawn. At no time was I ever informed of these decisions, given a chance to defend myself, nor given any chance to rectify whatever Dr. Choi claimed to be my failings.
On 4th May 2001 I received an official letter informing me that I had been withdrawn from the University. Despite later assertions by the University to the contrary, no-one had ever informed me that my work was failing, let alone that I would be withdrawn due to academic failure. To my face both Dr. Boulton and Dr. Choi stated that I was committed to my research which was a good PhD project. At one particularly gruesome meeting with them both, I even offered to let someone else take over my project. They were both very insistent that this should not happen. I now believe that were anyone else to have taken over my project, again the inadequacies of both Dr. Boulton and Dr. Choi would have become apparent.
I immediately appealed against this bizarre withdrawal. I was utterly certain that it was invalid for a number of reasons. It stated that the University could not find a supervisor for me. Manifestly this was the responsibility of the University to do, and not a valid reason for withdrawal. It turned out in later disclosed documents that Dr. Boulton was simply not prepared to supervise me anymore, which would seem to be a breach of his contract with the University, and a breach of his contract to educate. If a student’s supervisor died, or moved away, it did not make sense that the student’s studies should be terminated. The withdrawal also suggested that I had not submitted a document on the required date. Again this was nonsense, but it took several years before I could get the relevant documents from the University to prove it, and they are very clear that this document was not due for submission on the date that both Dr. Boulton and Dr. Choi had stated, and the extreme pressure that they both put on me at a very vulnerable time (my Mum had died only a few months prior to this) I believe itself constituted harassment.
When I showed this to Dr. Matt Wyman who had been the tutor for me during one of the many erroneous statistics courses that I was obliged to undertake, he also pointed out that the University had not followed its own regulations by giving me a four week warning before withdrawal. Despite many failed investigations by the University, and a 14 month long investigation by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, the University has put its hands up to the procedural irregularity of failing to provide a four week warning, but conveniently failed to investigate or comment on the other far more serious procedural and academic implications of the withdrawal.
If the only problem with this first withdrawal was the lack of a four week warning, why didn’t the University simply issue a warning and then re-issue the withdrawal? Instead, having realised that the regulations only allowed withdrawal of a research student for persistent failure, they embarked upon a hasty and highly ill conceived process which attempted to retrospectively generate my failure. This resulted in the Department reviewing at a hurriedly convened upgrade viva a document that was not even addressed to them (by that time I had been obliged on the advice of the Dean of Postgraduate affairs, Professor Chris Phillipson, to bastardise my research to make it more palatable for the Education Department, even though at that time he must have known that the Education Department, based upon information from Dr. Choi, had already refused to take me. It was this document, submitted on time (February 2001) as requested by the University Administration that was reviewed by Psychology). I had no opportunity to have a supervisor with me at the viva, and was given just 5 days, after nearly 14 months without any supervisor contact, to prepare for it, and all of the personnel involved in the process can be shown to have been biased in one way or another. A kangaroo court by any definition.
One of the most disturbing aspects with regard to many of the academics who got involved in my case, either by design or by accident, was that they were so willing to listen and to act upon the information given to them by Dr. Boulton and Dr. Choi without any critical analysis; without any reflection on the possibility that there might be another side to the story. Many of these academics regard themselves as researchers, and yet they failed in the most fundamental aspects of their own profession. They accepted data without question and without investigation, preferring to protect the reputation of a colleague at the expense of truth and justice. It is difficult to find words to adequately describe my feelings of repugnance for this.
In my next chapters I shall look at some of the dubious ways that the University administration manipulated documents. I shall also introduce some more characters into the cast list, including Professor John Sloboda, Professor Janet Finch, the Vice Chancellor; the Adjudicator, Dame Ruth Deech, and some Keele administrators – Dr. Sarah Anderson and Mr. Chris Pike, but particularly Mr. Simon Morris, the Secretary and Registrar of Keele, who is the head of the growing infestation of administrators that has besieged Keele over the years. I shall tell you about the disastrous investigation of my case by Professor Vincent, then Deputy Vice Chancellor, his report of which was effectively quashed by the Visitor, Baroness Amos.
If you have got this far, then thanks for reading, and my next post should be along shortly.
Labels: University Dispute
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Dispute with Keele University
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Labels: University disputes
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