Letter to the Board of Governors

Dear Governor,

l have worked at Londonmet since 2000 as a research professor. In 2002 I
jointly founded and then led the Working Lives Research Institute as its
Director. In August 2012 I was appointed Director of the new Faculty
Advanced Institute for Research within FSSH, now the largest faculty in the
university. In its first 10 years the WLRI brought £7m revenue to the
university from externally funded projects. In that time we won 6 ESRC
grants, 7 EU DG Research Framework grants, 3 Leverhulme Trust, 2 Nuffield
Trust, 2 Joseph Rowntree Foundation and 2 British Library grants. During
this time we secured 34 grants carrying out research of trade unions in the
UK and Europe, and carried out 13 studies for UK Government departments, 2
for Norwegian government agencies and one for the French ministry of
labour. My most recent appraisal (January 2013) states

He has also played an important role in supporting senior managers in the
Faculty both through his invaluable contribution at management and
executive groups but also in his wider role in the University. I’m indebted
to Steve for his support and contribution throughout this period.

Yesterday, however, after a preliminary investigation lasting 45 minutes,
and just four weeks after Jawad Botmeh, one of the WLRI admin staff, was
elected staff governor,  l was suspended with instant effect by the HR
Director  for “potential gross misconduct” five years ago by not referring
Jawad’s original application in 2008 for a part-time three-month casual
secretarial appointment as a maternity cover to the Deputy Vice Chancellor,
my then line manager. I had recommended the appointments of 15 casual staff
before Jawad without referring any of them to the DVC, and had not been
informed by the university that anyone who declared a criminal conviction
should be referred upwards. If I had been informed that this was the
policy, as I told the investigation today, I would have adhered to it. But
I was not told this was the case, and no-one at the hearing today could
refer me to a policy suggesting we should discriminate against people who
had served prison sentences, or against people with particular kinds of
convictions. Neither, during the first decade of the WLRI when a total of
50 staff were recruited was I ever given or offered any training in
recruitment procedures. So when I was asked by one of my admin staff, Max
Watson, whether or not I considered that Jawad’s application should be
treated in the normal way, I looked at his CV, covering letter and
reference, which included the fact that he had an OU degree and Coventry
University MA and had been a prisoner’s representative for equalities, and
replied yes. That is then what happened. Three other colleagues interviewed
him for this casual post, and decided to recommend to me that I appoint
him, which is what I did. The WLRI mission to undertake ‘academic, applied
and socially-committed research and teaching emphasising equality and
social justice into all aspects of working lives’ includes both appointing
a highly diverse workforce and offering people a second chance.

Jawad worked effectively, diligently and was an excellent colleague, and
when in 2010 an 18-month post was advertised, he applied for it – and
declared his conviction on a form which this time procedure meant went to
HR, who then organised the interview and upon his being recommended by a
three-strong interview panel wrote to him offering him the post. HR
approved the post, and in so doing endorsed my earlier decision not to make
his lengthy prison experience a reason for not employing him. A month
later, the University dismissed him because of a Home Office letter saying
incorrectly he did not have the right to work; but a week later when they
revised this advice the University reinstated him. Again it is not credible
that no-one in HR opened his file at this crisis point. Back at work he
continued to work effectively in his new role – as indeed he has done up to
two weeks ago when he and Max Watson were both suspended. At no point prior
to his election as staff governor was my initial decision not to
discriminate against him in 2008 questioned. He worked for nearly five
years and was praised by all who worked with him.

I sincerely do not believe I have done anything wrong. With the advantage
of hindsight I might have approached the then vice chancellor or the DVC
informally for their opinions. What they would have suggested can only be a
matter of conjecture (I believe they actually would have said, ‘give him a
chance’). But to suggest that not making that approach can – five years
later – be termed ‘gross misconduct’ worthy of instant suspension is
clearly unfair. Unfair on me and on the WLRI’s record in social justice
research. It is also clearly unfair that Max Watson should be suspended for
his involvement in the appointment. He met Jawad once and drew his
attention to the vacancy we had at the WLRI, and then properly asked me
whether I considered in the light of all the facts it was appropriate for
consideration. Jawad, too, is being treated unfairly. He served time for a
serious offence, he declared his conviction, and then worked as an
excellent colleague for five years. Should ex-prisoners not be given a
second chance?

Finally, I believe these suspensions are unfair on the whole university. We
have come through so many problems in the last four years – some externally
and some internally driven. This is not the moment to jeopardise student
recruitment and our reputation again. I do hope you will exercise your
influence now to secure rapid and meaningful negotiations to resolve what
is a totally unnecessary conflict.

yours truly

Professor Steve Jefferys

Director, Faculty Advanced Institute for Research,

Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities

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