A world-renowned professor has been suspended from work for questioning university recruitment policy, in a move which supporters argue is a threat to “academic freedom” and reveals a “culture of bullying” at the institution.
Hundreds of academics have joined in support of a psychology professor, Ian Parker, who was suspended for questioning Manchester Metropolitan University's recruitment procedure. It has banned him from campus, contacting colleagues, and accessing his emails in a move which has led to a global outcry from fellow academics including Noam Chomsky.
Professor Parker sent an email to departmental staff as the representative for the University and College Union (UCU), questioning whether bosses had followed proper procedures in a recent staff appointment. His superiors accused Professor Parker of gross professional misconduct. He was asked to relinquish his office keys, and was suspended on full pay on 26 September.
A senior MMU staff member, who asked not to be named, said: "People are just astounded by the level of punitiveness and the over-the-top approach by the management."
Explaining the need for anonymity, the staff member added: "That's the whole point about the climate of bullying at MMU: anyone [speaking out] would be instantly sacked. People face gross misconduct charges for minor alleged infractions."
An online petition on behalf of Professor Parker has attracted 3,000 signatures from academics. Supporters have also sent letters of protest to MMU vice-chancellor Professor John Brooks. One letter, signed by 75 academics including Mr Chomsky, says it is "a serious matter when a university takes such unusual disciplinary steps against one of its members, an academic with a worldwide reputation, who brings considerable credit to UK psychology and to his own institution."
Professor Parker, who is continuing to meet students off-campus, said: "I joined the university in 1985 and I'm very unhappy that the reputation of MMU has suffered, and my own reputation as well. The support has been very sustaining for me and very sustaining for my students."
The UCU said: "We believe the university's decision to suspend Ian Parker was heavy-handed and disproportionate, and a misuse of the suspension procedure.
UCU said it was also preparing a legal case for Christine Vie, a senior UCU officer at MMU, made redundant as the only member of staff not found alternate employment when her department was restructured in July. They will argue unfair dismissal and victimisation on the grounds of trade union activity at an employment tribunal.
The university insist that Professor Parker's students have been supported, with alternative teachers and research supervisors appointed.
But Claire Parlane, a PhD student who Parker was supervising, said: "Ian Parker's research students have been effectively suspended as well. I think it's disgusting. I think it's an egregious disregard for everything university tuition is supposed to be about. "
A spokesperson for MMU said: "We cannot and do not comment on individual cases. We have over 4,000 staff and have recently been awarded Investors in People Gold standard, one of only five universities in the UK to be awarded this. We refute any allegations or accusations of bullying."