photo: Warwick Media Library

Suspended professor prevented from attending conference on campus

Suspended Literature professor Thomas Docherty was allegedly prevented by the University from attending a conference about the “authoritarian” nature of universities early in June.

Professor Docherty, a nationally recognised critic of higher education leadership and policy, was suspended last term in March. The Warwick branch of the University and College Union (UCU) had called for the reinstatement of Professor Docherty.

UPDATE: charge against Docherty

It has been revealed that professor Thomas Docherty is being charged for undermining the authority of the head of the Literature department, according to a Times Higher Education report.

It is understood that it was professor Catherine Bates, head of the department at the time, who had first brought the complaint against Prof. Docherty, also once a head of the department.

The case against Prof. Docherty cites that he showed ‘disrespect’ to candidates for a position in the department by projecting negative body language, making ‘ironic’ comments and sighing during the interviews.

It also cites disagreements between him and professor Bates over colleague submissions to the Research Excellence Framework and a ‘heated discussion’ over whether to create a new position in the department.

The University denied that the suspension was connected to his political views. The disciplinary processes for Professor Docherty’s suspension is still ongoing and the University was unable to provide further comment on his suspension.

Professor Docherty had been scheduled to speak at a UCU conference which took place at Warwick Arts Centre on June 6.

Though he was known to be under suspension, it was thought that the disciplinary process against him might have been concluded by the date of the conference.

The UCU asked university senior management if Professor Docherty could attend the conference and if not, whether he could contribute by Skype or be allowed to have a script read out on his behalf.

The UCU said that they did not get a reply from the University but was informed by Professor Docherty himself that he was denied participation in every form.

There was however a “last minute change of heart”, according to Warwick UCU, and Professor Docherty was allowed to have a written statement read out at the conference.

As a condition of Professor Docherty’s suspension, it is understood that he is not allowed any contact with his students or colleagues, nor is he allowed on to the University campus.

The conference was organised by two of the student activists involved in a sit-in in 1970 that revealed that the University was colluding with private companies to spy on students and staff and that the University was keeping secret files.

Peter Dunn, head of Communications at the University, emphasised that their view of the conference was “separate from anything about that particular member of staff. In short we have no opinion about that particular event per se.”

The University also told Times Higher Education: “it was an externally organised event that booked some of our facilities, which we understand was looking at a point in history.”

Dennis Leech, president of Warwick UCU, commented: “The UCU has a good relationship with the university management – as the recognised union for academic and academic-related staff we have frequent meetings with them about terms and conditions and also personal cases – and we have been informed of the nature of the case being brought against Thomas.

“We have agreed that while the case is proceeding through the university’s disciplinary processes we will not divulge any details of it. We have however previously (in March) criticised the length of time the process is taking and passed a motion calling for Thomas’s immediate return to work.”

Mr Dunn clarified that as Professor Docherty’s suspension was an ongoing case, the University was unable to add or comment further on their previous statement.

Previously, the University said: “A member of academic staff has been suspended pending formal disciplinary process. Contrary to those inaccurate reports elsewhere, the disciplinary allegations in no way relate to the content of the individual’s academic views, or their views on HE policy.”

The Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU) have also taken up the case of Thomas Docherty’s suspension. In an email circulated to members of CDBU, it stated: “We view the silencing of a prominent critic of our sector with deep concern. We cannot comment on the suspension until it is concluded, but we believe that at that point the University of Warwick will have many questions to answer.”

The conference focused on the events of 1970 and the University’s links with businesses, discussing the “curbs on academic freedom on behalf of business interests, surveillance of staff and students, [and] secret files”, according to Warwick UCU.


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