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Legal doubts over London University 'gagging' letter

16 December 2008

UCU said today that it was investigating claims of gagging orders at the University of East London (UEL) and warned the institution it risked further damaging its reputation.

In July UEL vice-chancellor, Professor Martin Everett, was suspended by the chair of governors, Jim McKenna, on the grounds of a 'lack of leadership and vision'. UCU members at the university opposed the move and several have now received letters from UEL management in which they are instructed not to discuss with others any meetings they may have with Everett, nor to reveal the contents, or even the existence of, the warning letters.

In November Professor Everett went to the High Court and as a consequence UEL opened up its investigation of his record. He has since nominated a number of UEL staff with whom he wishes to speak and they have received letters from the university's personnel department which some have described as 'little more than a crude gagging order'.

UEL has refused to provide staff with the special rules which govern the investigation of Everett's record and which bear upon his relations with other employees. 

'There was a complete lack of open and accountable governance when Professor Everett was removed and this latest action from the university merely adds to the climate of mistrust.'
Sally Hunt

In September an open meeting of staff at UEL issued a vote of no confidence in the chair of governors, McKenna, and called for his resignation. They also called for the prompt reinstatement of the vice-chancellor.

UCU is now seeking legal advice over whether the University can gag its employees and the union today warned UEL that its actions are doing little to repair an already battered reputation when it comes to staff matters.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'We are seeking advice over the legality of the university's actions. We had little confidence in the decision to suspend the vice-chancellor at the time and we do not believe that gagging orders are the way to regain lost trust among staff.

'There was a complete lack of open and accountable governance when Professor Everett was removed and this latest action from the university merely adds to the climate of mistrust at UEL. The university has much to do if it is to have any chance of reversing the current image of UEL as a university that treats its staff shabbily and conducts its affairs in secrecy.'

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