Popular Posts

Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Witch Hunt at London Met

This is important. Professor Steven Jefferys Director of the Working Lives Research Institute at London Metropolitan University  and two of his staff, Jawad Botmeh and Max Watson have been summarily suspended, Jefferys for "potential gross misconduct" in connection with the appointment of Botmeh. Part of the background to the story is presented in this BBC article and a slightly fuller account here. And here is what Professor Jefferys has to say:

Dear Colleague and Friend,
I am writing to you looking for support. I was suspended on Wednesday 20 February by the HR Director at Londonmet because 'there appeared to be a prima facie case against you that as a senior officer of the University, you failed to discharge your responsibility in that you should have referred the appointment of Jawad Botmeh to senior management in 2008'. My Londonmet email account has been suspended and my computer taken from my office and I am not allowed in any university building. Hence I am writing to you from my private email account.
You may have seen the Times Higher Education Supplement this week -London Met suspends convicted bomber and union activist. This misleading headline does concern the story that two of my staff were suspended two weeks after the election of one of them as a staff governor. This governor, Jawad Botmeh, who was actually convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions in 1996 in a major case of miscarriage of justice highlighted by Paul Foot and Robert Fisk served nearly 14 years imprisonment out of a 20 year sentence. He consistently refusing to be paroled early in exchange for admitting his alleged guilt. During his prison sentence he studied for a BA in sociology at the OU and an MA at Coventry. He also served as prisoner's representative for equality issues.
Shortly after his release he bumped into one of my admin staff at a party, who told him that we were advertising for a temporary maternity cover. When Jawad sent in his CV and a covering letter explaining he has served a lengthy prison sentence this other admin staff member, Max Watson, who two years later became the UNISON Chair, asked me whether we could treat his application like any other. As head of department at London Met I had the authority to make casual appointments. There was no way I would discriminate against someone merely because they had served time, and I thought Jawad looked like a very strong candidate. In the end an interview panel recommended he should be appointed and I filled in the appropriate form for HR. There was no policy at the time (or now) that three-month casual appointments should be referred to senior managers (in my case the Deputy Vice Chancellor Research was my line manager); there was no policy then (or now) that said that people with convictions should be referred to more senior managers; and no policy saying we did not give ex-prisoners the possibility of rehabilitation. His initial appointment, to a three months casual part-time contract five years ago, was therefore my responsibility. In fact, because he was an excellent addition to the staff his contract was extended several times until 2010 when a permanent post became available. Jawad applied for it and made a full disclosure of his conviction that went to HR, who then approved his appointment after interview. He then continued in post until two weeks ago and remains a highly valued member of staff.
Jawad became a problem for the university only when he was elected Staff Governor. As a result, the Chair of the union that had nominated him as staff governor was targeted even more strongly - Max Watson has organised the union from below in an amazing way (20 shop stewards attended the last branch committee meeting) and has vigorously opposed Londonmet management's privatisation and out-sourcing strategies. I had even joked with my current Dean three weeks ago that Jawad's election would cause even more problems for the WLRI within a university where we provided informed criticism of its often mishandling of personnel and strategic issues. My own papers opposing the management's out-sourcing and blanket redundancy strategies are well documented, as is my support for union rights and social justice...
[Paragraph  which is irrelevant to the facts of the matter redacted by me]
Both unions involved, UCU and UNISON, are pressing for negotiations while preparing for a major dispute if Londonmet does take that course of action. But I am hoping that the hundreds of emails they have received from academics around the world will play a part in making them rethink.  Below there is a rather lengthy letter I wrote last night to the London Met Board of Governors, and one I wrote two days earlier to my Dean. I don't expect you to read much longer, but what would be really great is if you could email the VC, Professor Malcolm Gillies, copying the governors listed at the head of my letter and impress on them your view that considering my actions of five years ago as 'gross misconduct' is a travesty, and that the suspensions of myself, Jawad and Max should be lifted immediately.
thanks lots
On the face of it the treatment of Jefferys, Botmeh and Watson looks completely unjust and stupid. On the basis of the facts that are in the public domain it is difficult to imagine how, should a case end up at an Employment Tribunal, the University could possibly win. All of which makes me wonder whether there is more to it than meets the eye. 
For instance, have the men in  grey suits from Vauxhall tapped someone in the senior management team on the shoulder and told him/her that raison d'etat demands they  get rid of Botmeh and anyone else who refuses to cooperate? Far fetched? Maybe, but then again London Met is in dire financial straits and still in the soft and smelly with the UK Border Agency. That must make a bit of you scratch our back and we'll scratch yours an attractive option given the sword of Damocles that hangs over the whole institution.
Whatever the real motivation is, it stinks, looks unjust and amounts to an attack on worker's rights and individual liberty.

No comments: