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Wave of corporate bullying sweeps universities

STUART NEILSON’S poignant evocation of the bullying and injustice of disciplinary procedures in Ireland’s universities (Irish Examiner letters, October 18) serves as a timely reminder that no effective action is being taken by heads of universities, their officers and the academic unions to address the problem.

It is a fact that in the universities, grievance investigators are under no official obligation to apply disciplinary procedures with regard for precedent or uniformity. It is therefore not surprising that serious allegations of, for example, physical assault, sexual harassment, censorship of mail and interference with promotion procedures are not dealt with in an even-handed way.

Some colleagues against whom such serious allegations are made will be suspended immediately before they are given the opportunity to defend themselves, while others who are accused of a similarly serious misdemeanour will continue to wield power and position (and even be promoted) during the course of the investigation.

In some cases, complaints are never officially concluded (the complainant is never informed of the outcome), while in others, huge books of evidence are hastily and efficiently compiled.

How do we square these flagrant inconsistencies and injustices with the prevalent trend among heads of universities to persuade us, usually through the medium of an expensive glossy brochure, that we are part of humane communities which respect the dignity of the individual?

It is clear this is mere double-speak and it is one of the most terrible manifestations of the wave of corporate bullying currently sweeping through the universities as heads and their officers instigate radical changes without due consultation and academic consensus.

There is a crisis of totalitarianism in the Irish universities, the very places where freedom of thought and enlightenment are supposed to flourish, and the way in which the disciplinary procedures are implemented is a dreadful symptom of this. To address this situation, the disciplinary procedures should be implemented by a truly independent regulatory body with due regard for precedent and consistency. Such a body should also undertake an independent review of the way in which these procedures have been applied in every Irish university over the last 10-to-15 years.

To choose complacency over active remedy will only make each and every one of us yet more complicit in realising the dark warning articulated by Conor Cruise O’Brien almost 40 years ago that we have become "a society maimed through the systematic corruption of its intelligence".

Dr Sarah Alyn Stacey
French Department
Trinity College
Dublin 2