‘Mr Bates and the Post Office’ has been a harrowing TV series on the abuse of power, as hundreds of innocent sub-postmasters were wrongly sent to prison for theft. This is despite the Post Office middle and senior management knowing of systematic flaws in the computerised accounting system.

The substance may be different, but the misbehaviours by the powerful in Universities are so very similar — the secrecy and excessive confidentiality; the refusal to listen; the lying and the cover-ups; the stingy and cruel approach to apologies and compensation; the refusal to say sorry; the avoidance of accountability or blame; the passing of responsibility.

Like the Post Office, many universities have their own semi-corrupt or dirigible “investigators” and in-house legal teams. Senior management focuses not on finding the truth, but on protecting the reputation of the organisation — just like Paula Vannells, Moya Green and Adam Crozier.

If you alert senior managers to a problem, they will start investigating you.

There are huge similarities between the treatment of whistleblowers in Universities (or the NHS for that matter) and the fate of the sub-postmasters — the powerful abusing the powerless because they can, because they think they cannot be caught. They protect their own interests, their own turf, untroubled by ethics. They are untrammelled by weak and narcissistic University governance.

We know of many senior managers in Universities that can never admit they were wrong. We know of suicides because of bullying that have been covered up by Universities. We know of Heads of Department who flout employment law and then use public money to defend themselves. We even know of a Director of HR at a Russell Group University who openly boasted that she was untouchable, like a small-town gangster.

Anyone who has power over another must be subject to basic checks and balances. The Post Office scandal is one of the worst examples of this going wrong.

But many Universities are now a ‘sub-postmaster scandal’ waiting to happen with a powerful managerial class subject to insufficient oversight and scrutiny.

Categories: Blog

1 Comment

Anonymous · 12 January 2024 at 17:45

Absolutely, there are some uncanny parallels between the post office scandal and the endemic abuses and cover-ups in many universities across the UK.

I’ve been following the accounts of the post office scandal with great interest, and so much of what I’ve read and listened to—ranging from the chronic lack of accountability in “leadership” to the attempts to intimidate and silence whistleblowers, and the exonerating “investigations”(both of the “official” and the “unofficial” gossip mill and smear campaign types)—sounds eerily similar to the toxic organizational culture at the institution where I studied.

After all, as we all know and are repeatedly told in the wake of such tragedies as suicides, whether they occur on a national scale as happened with the post office scandal or within a single university department, it can never be the fault of an institution, its organizational culture, or its “leadership,” can it?

“Poor thing,” we did some digging through their personal files and made some wild speculations about their private life based on the peer-reviewed findings of our own gossip mill and found they had some underlying mental health issues; they just weren’t a happy bunny, didn’t you know?

Of course, it had nothing to do with any vicious bullying culture endemic within our institution that exacerbated any illness or impeded their ability to progress academically with their studies or research to the point that they saw no way out.

It was all just one big misunderstanding because of rumors spread by vultures in the nasty tabloid gutter press and embittered parents, former students, and staff (who, of course, all have underlying issues that are unrelated to the conduct of our staff, too).

Now, ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention, please… We’ve prepared a very special performance for you: our choir of hand-picked students will soon begin singing on cue a ballad of high falsetto praises of our world-class institution accompanied by an orchestrated dance to represent the sublime joys of the student experience… After the ensemble, there will be vin rouge, finger sandwiches, and a fine assortment of Fromages Affinés served in the foyer…

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