Disputes in British Universities

Private Eye 1134 (June 2005)

High Principals

LECTURERS at Liverpool John Moores University are demanding an independent inquiry into the dismissal of an academic who is an outspoken critic of the local transport body.

Transport science expert Professor Lewis Lesley was sacked in 2002 for "gross misconduct" after 25 years working at the university. There were allegations that he was "difficult to work with" but colleagues signed a petition saying this was nonsense.

A year later, rather than face a tribunal the university unsacked Prof Lesley and gave him voluntary severance which granted him an emeritus professorship and five-figure settlement.

Following a ballot of members last month, lecturers' union Natfhe is calling for the whole incident to be re-examined by an outside inquiry. It says there is disturbing evidence that vice-chancellor Professor Michael Brown's view of Prof Lesley was coloured by his open criticism of local transport projects.

Letters disclosed by Merseytravel, the transport consortium managed by local authorities, show that just before the dismissal the local authorities had complained to the university about letters Prof Lesley had written to local newspapers criticizing their abandoning of a local tram project.

Prof Brown replied, saying he didn't want to "disturb the positive relationship" between the university and Merseytravel, both big players in various regional projects, and that Prof Lesley may wish to "consider his position" after being told to always make it clear that his views were not those of the university and that the professor would "not receive any support in any way from his employers" if sued by Merseytravel. So much for defending academic freedom.

Liverpool John Moores told the Eye it was unable to comment on the case due to a confidentiality clause in its agreement with Prof Lesley.

PS: Natfhe has other concerns about the - University's attitude to staff. The lecturers' "common interest committee", which is supposed to bring senior managers together with staff to discuss employment issues, failed to meet for two years, until the union forced a meeting in March.