‘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.