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Gerard Wrixon: A legacy of bullying, destruction and bitterness at University College Cork

category national | worker & community struggles and protests | news report author Monday October 02, 2006 13:23author by Miriam Cotton Report this post to the editors

An academic Enron waiting to happen

Professor Gerry Wrixon is entering his last term at University College Cork, having inexplicably tendered his resignation after winning a bitterly divisive contest to extend his tenure. He has presided over one of the most acrimonious and difficult periods of UCC’s history. Persistent allegations of financial and other impropriety at the university have dogged him, not least of which are those referred to in an article in the Irish Examiner last week and echoed by the former President Michael Mortell this week. They claim:

* Appointments were made corruptly
* Breaches of the law, of university statutes and regulations
* Intimidation and bullying of staff
* A general failure of governance
* Concerns about the use of public monies
* Unsustainable levels of debt were being accumulated under Prof Wrixon’s tenure

But the Examiner reports are only the half of it.

More: - Original article
President Gerard Wrixon
President Gerard Wrixon - Examiner, Prof Desmond Clarke - Examiner, Prof Michael Mortell - Open letter to Wrixon - Stuart Neilson's website - FUCC, the UCC Forum

As I wrote my original article I knew that UCC were likely to repeat their history of legally hounding any critic of the administration. However, only three weeks after Dr Stuart Neilson, a respected academic who was a victim of UCC's culture of bullying was threatened with legal action for making UCC's own investigation into his complaint public, an unprecedented open letter to all staff has blown open the institutionalised mismanagement, lies, bullying and harassment in one of Ireland's biggest colleges.

I should declare an interest immediately. A close member of my family attempted a so far unsuccessful challenge to UCC as a consequence of a refusal to cooperate with what he believes were inappropriate and possibly corrupt practices within the Department of Applied Social Studies at UCC. That issue is not the subject of this article.

Given the newly public material that has been appended as comments to the original Indymedia article and the volume of correspondence on UCC's own discussion forum FUCC this article will concentrate on the core, unaddressed issues in this long-running dispute. No media organisation and no public body has to date taken the issues raised to conclusion, referring only to non-specific allegations, innuendo and UCC's character assassination of its critics. - Comments - FUCC, the UCC Forum

Bullying at UCC

Stuart Neilson's case is illustrative of UCC's methods of handling complaints. He alleged bullying and unethical conduct which UCC purported to have addressed in an internal investigation. Despite the plain fact that most of his allegations were ignored by the investigators, they deemed that no further action was necessary and proceeded to terminate his employment - having had the foresight to advertise the availability of his post before his complaint was heard. Dr Neilson was denied any appeal to what he believed to be an extremely unfair outcome and UCC have refused to enter into any discussion, negotiation or mediation process since, although he has been invited to sue. When he publicly divulged the details of his complaint and treatment he received a threat of legal action if he did not immediately cease making public statements. - legal thrat

Neilson's experience at UCC is by no means unique, other than in the public exposure. Most employees who are bullied leave the university or are driven into acrimonious departures. Long-term stress-related sickness due to anxiety and depression are widespread and some targets of bullying take their own lives. UCC's own Employee Assistance Programme provider, Dovedale Counselling Services, conducted a survey of staff attitudes which revealed widespread concerns about exploitation, intimidation, bullying and "a culture of fear" promoted by a sick administration. From the most junior temporary lecturer to the tenured professorial governor, people have been afraid to express their concerns during Wrixon's term as President. The atmosphere has prevented many people from reporting their experiences, although they may begin to do so once they feel it is safe. - UCC staff survey

Why is bullying endemic at UCC? Put simply, almost every case of bullying has at its core a shortage of resources and clash of ethical standards over how to achieve within tight constraints. Within each case of alleged bullying at UCC there are strongly related issues of impropriety and misconduct. There is nothing wrong with the will to succeed and UCC under Wrixon's tenure has achieved a great many notable successes, but the consequences of enforcing outcomes without adequate resources and without regard to quality, standards or ethical conduct are coming to the fore.

A systematic abuse of process

President Wrixon, Vice-President Noel Keeley and other officers of the university have repeatedly claimed that any staff member with a valid grievance can take legal action through the courts - indeed Noel Keeley expressed this view to Neilson even before agreeing to investigate his complaint of bullying and harassment, boasting that he was "no stranger to the inside of a courtroom". They have manipulated internal policies and procedures to their own ends whilst encouraging litigation, safe in the knowledge that they will not have to bear any cost themselves. They have also felt safe that many litigants will not proceed to court due to the intense psychological pressure such proceedings create, the immense cost of High Court appearances and the tedious consumption of time required to pursue a case. Not least of these is the implied threat that past life experiences will be dredged up and examined by all and sundry as potential causative factors for depression or other psychiatric illness resulting from workplace bullying.

According to Professor Clarke, the acknowledged legal costs of actions that involved UCC between 2000 and 2005 amounted to 3.338 million euro. It is hard to reconcile this with Professor Wrixon's testimony to the Public Accounts Committee that legal costs were 125 thousand euro per year, or with the fact that the Irish Public Bodies Mutual Insurance Ltd has withdrawn insurance cover from UCC. It has been suggested that the settlement of legal actions initiated by Professor Mary Howard alone were in excess of 1 million euro, the ongoing appeals to an original Rights Commissioner hearing upholding equal pay for some SIPTU employees are also projected to cost well over 1 million euro and the multiple legal cases involving Professor Connell Fanning are far in excess of either of these. UCC is a frequent visitor to the courts: - PAC hearing

Court judgements - Fanning v. University College Cork [2005] IEHC 264 (24 June 2005) - National University of Ireland Cork -v- Ahern & Ors [2005] IESC 40 (10 June2005) - Fanning v. University College Cork [2003] IEHC 70 (22 October 2003) - X and University College Cork [2003] IEIC 7 (4 March 2003) - Barlow v. Fanning [2002] IESC 53 (02 July 2002) - Fanning v. University College Cork [2002] IEHC 85 (25 July 2002) - Sweeney v. National University of Ireland Cork t/a Cork University Press [2000] IEHC 70; [2001] 2 IR 6; [2001] 1 ILRM 310 (9th October, 2000) - Howard v. University College Cork [2000] IEHC 138 (25th July, 2000) - Fanning v. University College Cork [1999] IEHC 236 (7th July, 1999)

Scheduled cases
Bannon -V- University College Cork
Bannon -V- University College Cork (Supreme Court)
Barlow, Kenneally and O'Suilleabhain -V- University College Cork and Fanning
Corcoran -V- University College Cork
Fanning -V- University College Cork (231)
Fanning -V- University College Cork (260)
Fanning -V- University College Cork (2003)
Fanning -V- University College Cork (3114)
Fanning -V- University College Cork (5115)
Fanning -V- University College Cork (12971)
Fanning -V- University College Cork (15653)
Fanning -V- University College Cork (Supreme Court)
Fernando -V- National University of Ireland Cork
Hayes -V- University College Cork
Howard -V- University College Cork
Linehan -V- University College Cork & Ors
McCarthy -V- University College Cork
McDermott -V- University College Cork
NUI Cork -v- Ahern & Ors
NUI Cork -v- Ahern & Ors (Supreme Court)
O'Brien -V- University College Cork
O'Hanrahan -V- NUI Cork
O' Higgins -V- University College Cork
O' Higgins -V- University College Cork (Supreme Court)
O'Mahony -V- University College Cork
O'Neill -V- University College Cork
Schewe -V- University College Cork
Sweeney -V- National University of Ireland Cork t/a Cork University Press
University College Cork -V- Commissioner of Valuations
University College Cork -V- Cross Refrigeration Ltd
University College Cork -V- Revenue Commissioners
University College Cork -V- Revenue Commissioners (Supreme Court)

Labour court - University College Cork -and- Services International Professional Technical Union - University College Cork -and- Services International Professional Technical Union - University College Cork -and- Mary Keohane - University College Cork -and- JH - it is worth noting that the alleged bully in this case, settled in confidence, is one of UCC's leading investigators of bullying complaints

Editor (Dec 2013): The above links do not seem to work any longer
(and 24 other cases brought by UCC against employees)

A culture of "corruption"

Concerns about the climate of corruption at UCC were most notably expressed by Professor Des Clarke in an extraordinary open letter to all staff at UCC, this week. Covering some 32 separate points of concern, Clarke’s letter provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of the issues that have arisen within UCC in respect of Wrixon’s management of the college. Despite the breadth of issues discussed in the letter, Professor Clarke also says that the list is ‘merely a sample list’ of the issues. He also slates the UCC tactic of spinning inaccurately and anonymously to the press and of questioning the credibility of any or all of the critics who bring urgent matters to press attention. The burning question for concerned academics, students and governors alike now is whether or not Wrixon is attempting to secure the rushed appointment before he leaves, and outside of the proper process, of a successor in his own image and likeness – possibly thereby ensuring continued influence over events within UCC. That would truly be a vista too appalling to contemplate for many people. At this stage, onlookers must surely be wondering how Professor Wrixon can have created the debacle that is unfolding daily in front of their eyes. Something has surely gone very wrong at UCC and Professor Clarke’s letter.

Following on from this letter, UCC fired back its own salvo in the Wrixon-friendly Irish Times yesterday but were unable to shed any meaningful light on the issues raised by Clarke. Other than to reiterate the same tired old points (Professor Clarke is not personally credible - yawn), we have looked into these issues and found nothing wanting (UCC/Wrixon are their own judge and jury) and there is no evidence for any of what is said (when patently there is tons of it) – nothing helpful came of the IT article. From this current position, it seems clear that UCC and President Wrixon have a lot of questions to answer.

University College Cork
University College Cork

Professor Aine Hyland
Professor Aine Hyland

Mr Noel Keeley
Mr Noel Keeley

 #   Title   Author   Date 
   Desmond M. Clarke     Jerry Cornelius    Mon Oct 02, 2006 16:25 
   UCC Discussion Forum Silenced     Miriam Cotton    Tue Oct 03, 2006 13:56 
   Another Letter From Clarke To Wrixon     Jerry Cornelius    Tue Oct 03, 2006 15:36 
   Prof Clarkes open letter to the Minister for Education     Jerry Cornelius    Tue Oct 03, 2006 15:39 
   Pensions provision for fixed-term staff     PRSA holder    Tue Oct 03, 2006 22:53 
   The Irish Times - UCC publicity machine     Stuart    Tue Oct 03, 2006 23:03 
   Wrixon's response     UCC observer    Wed Oct 04, 2006 11:44 
   Ex UCC Pres. Backs Calls For An Enquiry     eeekkkkk    Wed Oct 04, 2006 15:33 
   UCC news coverage and discussion     Stuart    Wed Oct 04, 2006 20:55 
 10   The real reason Neilson was dismissed     Dope Gen    Wed Oct 04, 2006 21:25 
 11   Read, think, write     Stuart    Wed Oct 04, 2006 23:27 
 12   Opinion     UCC observer    Thu Oct 05, 2006 12:02 
 13   The Irish Times: UCC's public relations outfit     Stuart    Thu Oct 05, 2006 13:35 
 14   These allegations must be investigated     Stuart    Tue Oct 10, 2006 11:32 
 15   The Band Played On     Jerry Cornelius    Tue Oct 10, 2006 11:37 
 16   Independent investigation of UCC to proceed     Stuart    Sat Oct 14, 2006 13:42 
 17   No set standard for university investigation     Stuart    Wed Oct 18, 2006 10:25 
 18   University College Cork's lies, damned lies and academics     Stuart    Sat Oct 21, 2006 18:45 
 19   University College Cork's lies, damned lies and academics     Stuart    Sun Oct 22, 2006 18:04 
 20   UCC to appoint its own investigator     Stuart    Thu Nov 02, 2006 20:23 
 21   Partisan Irish Times     Stuart    Sun Nov 12, 2006 15:46 
 22   Irish Times not so partisan at DIT     Cynic    Wed Dec 20, 2006 10:33 
 23   A most unsatisfactory settlement     Cynic    Mon May 21, 2007 15:20 
 24   Where Irish education is going and why bullying in third level is here to stay     Sascha Harris    Wed Jun 20, 2007 16:54 
 25   Re Link     Miriam Cotton    Wed Jun 20, 2007 18:15 
 26   AIU Website     Sascha Harris    Wed Jun 20, 2007 18:46 
 27   !!!!     Miriam    Wed Jun 20, 2007 20:47 

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