Academics from around the world warn that Professor Ian Parker’s suspension could damage MMU’s international reputation
Manchester Metropolitan University has been criticised by academics from around the world after an internationally renowned psychology Professor was suspended earlier this month.
Professor Ian Parker, a leading Professor of Psychology linked to the editorial boards of over a dozen journal and book series, was suspended on 3rd October “pending an investigation into allegations of gross misconduct”.
At the time of writing a petition calling for him to be reinstated has attracted more than 2,300 signatures from people across the globe. Signatories also sent messages to MMU’s Vice Chancellor John Brooks warning that the institution’s international reputation will be damaged by the decision to suspend Prof Parker.
Dr Matthew Jacobson in Barcelona, Spain urged the University to “reconsider this suspension as it reflects very badly on how MMU looks to the international community.”
Dr Thomas Teo from York University in Toronto, Canada said that he would not be recommending MMU to his American and Canadian students until the University’s “decision is reversed”.
Students and staff were not told of Prof Parker’s suspension and many only found out days later when the news was made public through an online campaign and the petition to reinstate him.
China Mills, a PhD student linked to Prof Parker’s Discourse Unit and the initiator of the campaign said: “No-one has officially told [the students] anything, and the same for the staff. He’s just disappeared overnight.”
Mills explained that students who had Prof Parker as a supervisor were simply told “that some supervisory replacements will be arranged” but that no timescale was given.
She said: “Because of his reputation, not MMU’s reputation, people have come from all over the world to study just specifically with Ian, so it’s not possible to replace him.
“They’ve really changed their lives to come over here, and it’s been a massive upheaval for them so it’s incredibly stressful. There were students in tears; it really affects lots of people.
“Some students have said that if this isn’t put right they will withhold their fees and demand a refund because what they paid for has not been provided.”
A spokesperson for MMU denied that students had been left without support due to Prof Parker’s absence and said that it was natural for students to “get no advanced warning of a suspension.”
“Clearly students will get no advance warning of a suspension but it is not true that students have been left without support in our colleague’s absence,” he said.
“His PhD students have been offered alternative supervisors while undergraduate teaching is being covered by a team of academic colleagues.”
But Mills said that the PhD students have “had to initiate it [supervision] themselves because technically they don’t even know that he’s been suspended.”
“They’ve not actually been told officially,” she continued, “but I can think of one or two who have actually emailed administration to ask what is going to happen and those people have been offered alternative supervision.”
When asked whether MMU was worried that the suspension of Prof Parker would damage the University’s reputation abroad a spokesman was dismissive of such talk.
“As regards reputation, this is a complete red herring,” he said in a statement. “All organisations have contractual agreements with their employees, codes of conduct and the like. Procedures are set down in legislation and all organisations must follow these procedures. That is what has rightly and properly happened in this instance. If we were found not to have followed these procedures, now THAT might affect reputation.”
A spokesperson for the University and College Union (UCU) said: “Ian Parker is a UCU rep and internationally-renowned academic. We believe the university’s decision to suspend him was heavy-handed and disproportionate and a misuse of the suspension procedure. He has not been charged with anything and UCU is offering him our support.”
A spokesperson for MMU had earlier told the Times Higher Education supplement (THE) that the institution “can obviously not comment on the exact nature or content of the allegations while they are being investigated”.
The spokesperson also told THE that “external speculation” about the reasons for the suspension was “wholly inaccurate”.