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Petition against MMU Prof suspension gets international support

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”.

  • Dave the Rave

    These are the emails the fuss is all about: how this can be “gross misconduct” is a mystery!

    Sent 21 May 2012 to psychology dept list.

    Dear All, I sent out a confidential email at the end of last week to many colleagues which drew attention to the danger of our workload being arranged on a one-by-one basis in the PDR, and suggested that we together draw up as full a list as possible of the different tasks we are being asked to carry out. I have heard senior members of the department refer to itemisation of the tasks as ‘commodification’, and there is thus the real prospect that much of what we do will slip through and will be ‘invisible work’. The responses I have had so far are indicative of a situation that is worse than I suspected. No one disagreed that such work should be clearly and openly taken into account, but people talked about their own coping strategies. Some were so stressed already that they said they could not reply (though they indicated agreement when they contacted me to talk about it), some said they would be sick with stress if they got involved with this, some said they had already given up and wanted to keep their heads down until they could get out. I guess that some disagreed strongly with this way of encouraging people to have the confidence to bring this into the open and told the head of department, and so I am having a meeting with XXXX next week about this matter. It was a ‘confidential’ email but since we have a blind copy option in the email system that we all (quite rightly) make use of, I have to respect that leaking of the email as a coping strategy in itself as people try and protect their own position. The level of fear and demoralisation I have encountered is unprecedented in the department (and this is also a point that was directly made in the last few days by more than one colleague responding to the email). If I have put you under more pressure, I apologise, but perhaps the outcome will be that people will voice publicly their thoughts about ‘workload’ that they have expressed to me privately. I think I was right to send the email, but whether colleagues will speak out themselves is an open question. An opportunity would be the next departmental meeting. Since XXX XX already knows about this email, it only makes sense that XXXXX and everyone else in the department sees what it said. The first step was to alert people to the possibility of doing something to avoid there being ‘invisible work’, and the next step is now for us to have a little courage to demand a way of organising our workload so there is no invisible work. Here is the message I sent:

    We have all done a lot of extra work this year, and it looks as if this will not in the short-term settle into a predictable manageable routine again. One thing is for sure is that we will be asked to do more and more course ‘development’, rewriting of documents, and taking on administrative tasks. I think we urgently need to get ourselves an open transparent workload schedule so that it is clear who is doing what, and (crucially) how much they are ending up doing. We need one or more colleagues to take this on (and have that work counted in their workload). At the moment it seems to me that we are in great danger of finding ourselves being harassed or otherwise inveigled in individual PDR meetings into agreeing to do things. This would turn our department into a secretive and divisive place where we are not only set against others (because it is not clear how much work is being done by them) but also each doing more than we should be. Would you, as a start, tally up tasks and estimate the time it takes? As a first list (and this is something we will need to agree on as a department) I would suggest this includes: teaching time (of course, and including extra teaching sessions); course preparation; marking (and double-marking, and marking and double-marking of presentations); unit leadership and course leadership roles; any extra ‘formative’ assessments that require extra time; office hours; supervision hours; work on moodle; inputting of marks into QLS; course development and rewriting of documents; meetings (departmental, unit, team, exam boards); exam invigilation; open days; some allowance for the escalating email to and from students; and (for those teaching on other sites) some estimate of travel time backwards and forwards. I also think we need a small allowance for someone who keeps track of the extra work that occurs each time there is a system failure due to institutional mismanagement (including such things as photocopier breakdown). There is, of course, no way there could be an exhaustive complete list of the things we do to keep the department going, and one reason we need a clearly set out schedule of tasks and acknowledgement of time taken to do them is precisely so that we can free up a bit of time for all the extra necessary good-will labour we put in. I am sending this message to you specifically because I trust that you will not alert management to this initiative. (Things are being unfortunately rolled through by way of pressure on individuals one by one, and this will be blocked in that way if we do not have the confidence together to speak out for what we want.) We might get ourselves into a stronger position if we then argue for agreement about workload that operates on the principle of ‘no invisible work!’ What do you think? Are you willing to start agreeing a list of tasks as a first step that we insist is counted?
    All best. Ian

    XXXXX has just announced the appointment of a new Senior Lecturer in Psychology, XXX who is a XXX, currently at XXX, previously at XXX.
    XXX supervised XXX PhD, and they have joint publications. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that prior connection, and I assume that the selection process was scrupulously fair. This is not the issue. My concern is that the process was not transparent to other members of the department, and this raises serious questions about the way the department is now being managed. The practice under the previous head of department was that applications for lectureship posts were available for viewing by all staff in the department and we were invited to give views on the candidates, be involved in short-listing and, of course, to attend presentations. Even the last lecturer post under the current regime (in XXX, for which there was eventually no appointment) was discussed among the relevant staff, we were encouraged to circulate the link advertising the post, and the whole department, even those not involved in teaching XXX, was told by XXX that we should attend the presentations. In contrast, for this current appointment, even though I taught on the XXX undergraduate course (which this appointment is designed to cover) I was not consulted about the post, the department was simply informed that the job had been advertised (there are even rumours in the department, which I find difficult to credit, that there was no newspaper advertisement for this post) and then that a shortlist had been drawn up, and then we were discouraged from attending the presentations, not even notified when and where they were being held (for which, very unusually, the interview panel were the only audience). This is an extraordinary state of affairs, and may give rise to unfortunate (no doubt mistaken) perceptions about how open and fair this process was. I am sorry to say that I have no confidence in the ability of the XXX to address this issue satisfactorily, so I am sending this message to the head of HR and to the Vice-Chancellor. I urge you to review the processes by which appointments and other managerial decisions are made in this department.

    Ian Parker
    Professor of Psychology

  • Darrell Mlynarz

    The emails show that Ian Parker has concerns for the well-being of students, colleagues and the institution. He should be applauded.

    It is 2012. We live in a democracy. MMU boasts an anti-bullying policy. Someone has cocked-up bigtime.

  • John

    These are I imagine highlights and clearly show that he has been behaving in a disgraceful manner. I bet there are other things going on here.

    I am dissappointed – this is not about academic freedom. This is about someone who believes they can abuse and discredit at will. I am just glad he does not work with me.

  • Evan

    Is this what we signed a petition for. I want my name removing!!! You can’t behave like this is a professional environment.