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.
Professor Steve Jefferys
Director, Faculty Advanced Institute for Research,
Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities