As allegations of an institutional culture of bullying and victimisation at Lancaster University grow by the day, Spineless looks at the case of a senior manager who spent years at the heart of Lancaster's University House, but whose behaviour quickly lost him his job the moment he moved to a different university.
Bullying and harassment was the backdrop to the resignation of Professor Andrew Atherton as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Dundee University last year. Andrew Atherton is an experienced senior University manager, serving as Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Lancaster University from 2013 to 2018. At the start of 2019, he made the journey northwards to become the new Principal of Dundee.
But his time at the helm of Dundee came to an abrupt end recently. On 13th September 2019, Professor Atherton was suspended by Dundee University. Local paper The Courier broke the news: he had allegedly not been paying rent for his accommodation at University House on Perth Road in Dundee. This was despite having been paid a sizable £40,000 disruption allowance, and over £72,000 having been spent refurbishing the accommodation. The University launched an independent inquiry.
The Courier then reported that as well as the dispute over rent payments, several members of staff had made complaints of bullying against Professor Atherton. A 'number of staff' had complained, and The Courier noted that it was 'not known if the allegations of bullying are related to the rent issue.' On 8th November, Professor Atherton resigned. The bullying allegations have subsequently been reinforced by The Times, which wrote, 'concerns about his behaviour were raised by university executives. Matters allegedly came to head during heated argument over the tenancy agreement for the principal’s official residence, which culminated in an allegation of bullying.'
It seems very unlikely that Professor Atherton suddenly became a bully in Dundee, after six years in Lancaster. What is peculiar is that it took only 9 months for his bullying to be exposed and him suspended in Dundee, but at Lancaster there was never an official whisper.
One story from the subtext archives, detailing how Lancaster very nearly lost its Criminology degrees in 2017, indicates an experience all too familiar to staff at Lancaster. It apparently occured at the instruction of Andrew Atherton:
The Head of Department, Professor Alisdair Gillespie, held a ‘secret’ strategic review to determine the future of the various Criminology degrees at Lancaster. It is not clear who was in attendance at the review meeting but no staff were involved. Then, lo and behold, a meeting was announced. All staff were to attend including those on annual leave and sabbatical. No agenda was circulated and no details given as to what the meeting was to be about. Staff gathered in the lecture theatre, somewhat perplexed and obviously worried about what this was all about. Professor Gillespie then proceeded to embarrass and humiliate the people who deliver the Criminology programmes in front of the entire staff group. Recruitment is apparently not good enough and if things do not improve he threatens to cease all Criminology teaching in the department, and staff will have to leave. He does concede that he may not have the full facts or the correct data, but apparently he is passing on the thoughts of Andrew Atherton. He also alluded to the fact that HR have known about this proposal for some time.
Professor Atherton was a right-hand-man to former vice-chancellor Mark E. Smith. If he had been a bully at Lancaster, what incentive would fellow senior managers have had to sanction him if it would only expose their own failures?
The extent of bullying and harassment remains unexposed at Lancaster. A freedom of information request, currently under review by the University, asked for the number of settlements they had made in the last five years that included gagging clauses. The answer they gave was 'none', although Spineless has seen evidence that this is a blatant lie, and hence, a cover-up. We await the truth with bated breath.
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