(Featured image: Professor Andrew Dawson (left) and Professor Angus Laing (right), who are both facing accusations of bullying.)

Lancaster University has been rocked by accusations of bullying in academic departments and a cover-up culture in University House.

A statement released today by Lancaster UCU has revealed that Professor Andrew Dawson, head of the Politics, Philosophy and Religion (PPR) department, is the alleged perpetrator in the collective grievance brought by 14 members of his department. Spineless has also obtained an email that accuses Professor Angus Laing, Dean of the Management School, of 'ongoing hostility, lack of respect, and bullying behaviour.'

This follows the news that Lancaster's former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Andrew Atherton, was suspended over allegations of bullying after just nine months as head of Dundee University.

Lancaster UCU claimed that 'The collective grievance produced an investigation report detailing the manager’s bullying and harassment, and yet the conclusion was that the problem could be sorted out with mere mediation, rather than removal of the offender.' One result of the collective grievance has been the Employment Tribunal case of Dr Julie Hearn, Lancaster UCU branch president, who is a union rep in the PPR department. Confronted about her case by students in Alexandra Square, the interim vice-chancellor Steve Bradley said it had 'been through two rounds: the initial grievance, and then the appeal... I think we’ve kind of gone through due process as much as we can.'

Most egregiously, UCU claim: 'HR and senior management stand firmly behind the bully. They have suggested mediation between bully and bullied, they have interfered with occupational health advice, they have proposed to buy her out with an extended research leave – putting the victim on gardening leave, rather than the villain. And they have tried to gag the union from talking not just about this case of victimisation, but about bullying in general, in a blatant attempt to protect their bullying managers.'

The situation is not dissimilar to that of Professor Gail Whiteman, who resigned as a member of staff in the Management School (initiating a six month notice period) in January. In her resignation email, she described a bullying culture under the Deanship of Angus Laing, and said that she had 'worked to try and resolve this in many different ways, including discussing the issues with Deputy VC Bradley and others on "D" floor.' She continued, 'Lancaster University has an obligation to ensure a collegial working environment, and despite my efforts, the university has declined to make any interventions whatsoever.'

An open letter was previously organised by students that decried the bullying culture of Lancaster University and called for interim vice-chancellor Steve Bradley to take action. The letter received over 400 signatures from across the UK, but, tellingly, included dozens of Lancaster academics.

The case of Dr Julie Hearn is at a preliminary hearing of the Employment Tribunal today. In Lancaster UCU's statement, they reveal that Dr Hearn 'supported members in the department bringing the grievances', and was victimised herself by Dawson in retaliation for 'organising the resistance against bullying and harassment.' University management 'proposed to buy her out with an extended research leave – putting the victim on gardening leave, rather than the villain.' UCU also alleges that University management 'interfered with occupational health advice'. Dr Hearn is currently on workplace stress-related sick leave.

Questions are being raised across the higher education sector about the extent of bullying and the use of tools like non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to buy the silence of staff. Last year, a BBC investigation revealed that over the previous two years universities had spent £87 million on settlements with NDAs. Spineless sent a Freedom of Information request to ask how many settlements with NDAs Lancaster had signed in the last five years, to which the answer was 'The University has not made any settlements that included gagging clauses, or other non-disclosure clauses, since 1 January 2015.' Spineless understands from those familiar with the situation that this is untrue and a blatant cover-up. The University is currently conducting an internal review of its response.

Editor's Note: Lancaster University previously provided us with a statement pertaining to the collective grievance. It was pointed out to us that this statement contained inaccuracies and so it was unpublished on 29/2/20. A revised statement was published on 3/3/20.

A University spokesperson said: 'There was a collective grievance that has been fully investigated and re-examined a second time following an appeal with a new panel of staff not previously involved.

'The University is satisfied that all processes have been conducted fairly and have suggested mediation as a way forward.

'Lancaster University refutes any allegation that a trade union representative has been victimised and has submitted evidence to the external Tribunal Service in the hope that the matter can be resolved to reach the best outcome for all involved. The University received an application for research leave from the UCU president. The Faculty welcomed the application and considered it favourably.

'Lancaster University takes the health and wellbeing of its staff very seriously and uses occupational health as appropriate as a support for staff. We are very disappointed that internal talks to date have broken down and hope that UCU will engage in mediation to resolve matters.'