To Frances Corner, Warden of Goldsmiths
We are academics from around the world writing to express our shock and outrage at the news that Prof. Des Freedman and Dr Gholam Khiabany, Head of Department and Deputy Head of Department of the department of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths University of London have been removed from their roles. This action by the management of Goldsmiths is an aggressive and entirely inappropriate response to staff carrying out standard duty of care to students; one that purposefully antagonises the already difficult situation of an industrial dispute and risks further jeopardising student wellbeing. We, the community of Goldsmiths and the national and international academic community, demand the immediate reinstatement of these two highly-esteemed academics.
We understand that Goldsmiths staff have been taking industrial action over the past year in protest against a large number of academic and professional staff redundancies planned by management. As part of this industrial action staff have been taking 'action short of a strike', including a delay to marking submitted student work. This has meant that some students will, this year, have a delay to their graduation. Des Freedman and Gholam Khiabany sent students in their department a letter giving them clear and up to date facts on this matter. The letter was aimed at clarifying the position of students who had not been kept adequately informed by the university. The following day Prof Freedman and Dr Khiabany were summarily notified of being withdrawn from their roles.
This event is a failure of management to guide the university, staff and students in an appropriate manner. Prof Freedman and Dr Khiabany are highly-respected members of the national and international academic community and leaders in their fields. The effective suspension of academic staff occupying key leadership positions in a department is a step that removes responsibility from the senior management of a University for their failings and instead scapegoats staff operating in students' best interests. It is a measure that risks the very fabric of relations in a University.
As an international academic community we believe that Prof Freedman and Dr Khiabany should be reinstated in their roles with immediate effect and provided with an appropriate apology. Indeed, not to do so will bring Goldsmiths University of London into international disrepute.
Thank you for signing the Open Letter 'Reinstate Des Freedman and Gholam Khiabany'! (https://openletter.earth/reinstate-des-freedman-and-gholam-khiabany-bb8e52b9) We are very pleased to report that both Des and Gholam have now been fully reinstated by Goldsmiths with the verdict that there was "no case to answer"! The strong support that Des and Gholam received from the academic community has been a crucial part in supporting them through this time of wholly unnecessary stress and in maintaining pressure on university management.
A full statement on their reinstatement has now been made public by the Goldsmiths branch of the Universities and Colleges Union (https://goldsmithsucu.org/2022/11/07/gucu-statement-on-the-reinstatement-of-des-and-gholam/) which we reproduce below. These demands include an apology to those affected, explanations of procedure and costs of the process, publication of the investigation report, and the establishment of a review of the process and management's failings.
Goldsmiths UCU statement on the reinstatement of Des and Gholam
On Friday 28 October, 115 days after the Head and Deputy Head of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies (MCCS), Des Freedman and Gholam Khiabany, were suspended for emailing students about the possible impact of ongoing industrial action on their graduation, an independent investigation carried out by a leading barrister concluded that “there is no case to answer”. Both colleagues have been fully reinstated in their roles with immediate effect.
Despite the massive relief that this news brings to the Goldsmiths community, it nevertheless remains an outrage that the Warden and senior management team have engaged in such a vindictive process. It is shameful that Goldsmiths can treat two highly respected members of staff in this way and then think that they can avoid scrutiny by keeping the investigation report confidential.
Goldsmiths’ Disciplinary Policy clearly states that suspension of staff is justified when “there is evidence that the allegation itself may constitute gross misconduct”. The emphatic verdict that there was “no case to answer” raises serious concerns about the existence of the evidence of gross misconduct which prompted the Warden to sanction the suspension of Des and Gholam in the first place. As Professor Barbie Zelizer, a leading media scholar, put it in her letter to the Warden: “To punish them [Des and Gholam] for what appears to be no more than two scholars doing the administrative job they were tasked with doing has many names in repressive regimes. It has no place in academe, British or otherwise.”
We have witnessed an attack on some fundamental principles of democratic governance including:
· An attack on academic freedom that undermines the right of staff to communicate without facing sanction.
· The requirement to act “openly, honestly, accountably and with integrity”.
· To protect freedom of speech.
· To ensure that there is “fit and proper” management of the institution.
There is an additional dimension concerning trade union victimisation. Both Des and Gholam are long-standing activists in the branch: Des is a past President and Gholam a past Secretary of Goldsmiths UCU. We believe that a central objective of the suspension of Des and Gholam was to send a message, following the targeting of union activists in Tranche 1 of the Recovery Programme, that union activism is somehow incompatible with the professional roles of staff within the College.
This four-month suspension and investigation on completely spurious charges has had an immensely damaging effect on the running and reputation of the College. The wellbeing of staff and students, both in MCCS and across Goldsmiths as a whole, has been seriously undermined during what was already one of the most difficult times for all of us thanks to the disastrous effects of the ongoing restructure.
We demand that Goldsmiths:
• Issues a full apology to affected staff and students.
• Explains in detail how the suspension and investigation were sanctioned by management.
• Discloses the full costs (legal, administrative and academic) of the suspension and subsequent investigation.
• Publishes the report of the investigation.
• Sets up an independent review/committee of enquiry that examines a) the College’s failings in relation to student communication; and b) how the allegations against Des and Gholam were allowed to proceed.