Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Letter of 3 April 2009 from Professor J S Brooks, Vice-Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, to Mr Phil Willis MP, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your correspondence regarding Mr Walter Cairns and for the opportunity to engage with the Committee in respect of this matter.

In this letter I would like to deal with the rationale for the actions of the University's Academic Board on 18 March 2009. 1 will also be providing you with a brief report of the University's position in respect of the submissions made by Mr Cairns.

  As Chair of the Academic Board, I would like to express regret for the fact that our actions may have been perceived as punishing Mr Cairns who, we now appreciate, enjoys certain privileges as a result of acceptance by the House of Commons Select Committee of the evidence he submitted, albeit after the Committee's deadline. It was by no means my intention, nor that of the Academic Board, to act in contempt of the House.

  On 18 March 2009 Academic Board took a vote of no confidence in Mr Cairns and decided that his Academic Board membership should be discontinued. There were various motivations for this decision:

    1. Mr Cairns had failed to engage with the Academic Board who had been thoroughly and correctly investigating and deliberating this matter long before the date of the submission to the Select Committee;

    2. Mr Cairns failed to engage in the Academic Board processes (or other University processes, which include a whistle-blowing procedure) and to accept their outcomes; and

    3. Mr Cairns chose to conduct a press campaign in which it appears that he provided additional quotes and information to various media outlets, particularly newspapers, as they have reported information and quotations that go beyond that which the Select Committee has published as evidence which it has accepted. This has caused serious damage to the Academic reputation of the University.

  I can assure you that no molestations or threats have been made to Mr Cairns, (or indeed to Ms Sue Evans who also provided evidence to the Committee), because of the submissions that they made. No action has been taken or is proposed by the University against either individual, in relation to their contracts of employment or disciplinary action, arising from those submissions.

  The Academic Board members were not provided with a copy of the submission to the Select Committee. However, Board members were aware of the issues and of the views expressed in numerous press articles by Mr Cairns.

  It was the publication of these views that caused serious concern to members of Academic Board as only one side of a complex story was being presented, in a way that courted negative publicity. Academic Board members, including the Programme Leader for the course taught by Mr Cairns, discussed at length the academic issues raised. The strong feeling of the Board was that Academic Board routinely, through its normal processes and systems, as well as specific investigations into issues and concerns, takes appropriate actions to protect and maintain Academic Standards. The Board felt strongly that this had been ignored and by-passed by Mr Cairns, himself a member of the Board, by taking the story to the press. In so doing Mr Cairns had demonstrated that he had no regard for the processes of Academic Board and was not acting in the best interest of the University—a condition which is a requirement of all members of Academic Board.

  It was on this basis that a vote of no confidence was taken. At that time we did not believe Mr Cairns' privilege to extend to what appears to us to be the additional material placed in the public domain prior to the Board's meeting on 18 March 2009.

  If the Committee consider that the Academic Board has violated the privilege enjoyed by Mr Cairns, and you consider that we may be at risk of being in contempt of the House as a consequence of the Academic Board decision, I am willing to reconvene the Board to reconsider this issue.

  I would be grateful for your view as to the appropriateness and efficacy of this course of action and would be pleased to meet with you to discuss any of these issues in far greater detail, should that be considered appropriate and helpful.

April 2009

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