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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Stop the Witch Hunt - public meeting

A public meeting in North London tonight gave overwhelming support to three members of staff who have been suspended from their posts at London Metropolitan University (where I work as a psychology lecturer). The suspensions began following the election of Jawad Botmeh as the staff governor. Jawad has a conviction (also the subject of a miscarriage of justice campaign) which was declared to the university upon his initial appointment in 2008 and again in 2010 when Jawad applied for a permanent post. Vice-Chancellor Malcolm Gillies was himself made aware of Jawad's conviction in 2010.

Following Jawad's election as a staff governor in February 2013, with over 50% of the vote, the Vice-Chancellor suspended him. He also suspended Max Watson, the Chair of UNISON at London Met, who was involved in Jawad's appointment, and subsequently suspended Steve Jefferys from the Working Lives Research Institute who authorised Jawad's appointment. Steve has been an outspoken critic of the kinds of change that Vice-Chancellor Gillies has been trying to implement (outsourcing of admin services, the appointment of Capita to oversee a review of business processes) and Max Watson has led a very successful UNISON campaign against these changes. As a UNISON nominee for staff governor Jawad Botmeh could have been expected to offer a similarly critical perspective at the Board of Governors. None of these three colleagues appear to have broken any university rules, all are critical of the direction the VC is taking the university, and all find themselves suspended. A full account of the whole saga can be found here.

It is worth noting that a couple of weeks prior to Max Watson's suspension, Vice Chancellor Gillies used an all-staff email to suggest that one of Max's emails had been intimidatory to some staff, and said that henceforth neither Max nor any other member of any union were allowed to represent their members at Business Process Review meetings. No evidence for the allegation was provided. UCU sent an open letter which challenged the Vice Chancellor to provide evidence, and suggested that some people might consider his own action to be bullying. No response has ever been received.

Speakers calling for the reinstatement of Jawad, Max, and Steve included local MP Jeremy Corbyn, Mark Serwotka (General Secretary of the PCS union), Catherine Maguire (London Met UNISON Branch Secretary), Professor Linda Clarke from Westminster University, and Denise Bertuchi (Assistant National Officer for UNISON). Supporters from the floor included Peter Cooper, who is campaigning for presidency of the student union.

At the request of the organisers no photos were taken of the audience.

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS

Michael McNeil (UCU Head of Higher Education)

Professor Linda Clarke, University of Westminster

Denise Bertuchi (Assistant National Officer, UNISON)

One of those suspended: Max Watson, Chair of UNISON at London Metropolitan University

Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington

Also suspended: Professor Steve Jefferys, Director of the Working Lives Research Institute at London Metropolitan University

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