Getting your teeth stuck into High Performer Misconduct

One for the odorous comparisons department.

I was intrigued to come across (via a Facebook friend) an article comparing “outspoken” and “insubordinate” academics to the Uruguayan footballer Luis Suarez, who was kicked out of the World Cup for biting an opponent.

The article is by one David Browne, who is a Senior Associate on the Employment Team for SGH Martineau, “a full-service UK law firm with global reach.”  “We pride ourselves,” the firm says on its website, “in providing exceptional legal advice which is client-focused—our approach of immersing ourselves in our client’s sectors and businesses ensures we are best placed to provide pragmatic and pro-active solutions to achieve excellent results.”

The core of Browne’s comparison is as follows:

“Universities and colleges may, equally, encounter high performing employees who, although academically brilliant, have the potential to damage their employer’s brand. This could be through outspoken opinion or general insubordination. Irrespective of how potentially valuable these employees may be to their institutions, the reality is that, in consistently accepting unacceptable behaviour, institutions may be setting dangerous precedents to other employees that such conduct will be accommodated. From a risk perspective, it is also much harder to justify a dismissal, or other sanction, if similar conduct has gone unpunished before.

As much as employers may hope that unacceptable behaviour from key employees will be curbed without sanction, in reality the problems will persist, needing to be addressed further down the line. It remains to be seen whether Suarez is right when he says that he will never bite another player again, but he has made similar statements before.”

Never mind that biting an opponent is (a) contrary to the rules of the game of football and (b) an assault under most systems of criminal law.  I am sure university managers will find Mr Browne’s advice a “pragmatic and proactive solution” to the sorts of problems that arise when “academically brilliant” people open their mouths in ways their employers find “unacceptable.”  Once upon a time this was known as academic freedom.

The full article can be found here:

Getting your teeth stuck into High Performer Misconduct.

UPDATE.  Since I posted the above, SGA Martineau have issued a clarification to Browne’s original article.  It reads as follows:

This blog has attracted rather a lot of attention on twitter, and has been interpreted by some as suggesting that the exercise of academic freedom might amount to misconduct. That was never the intention of the piece and we are happy to clarify that the lawful exercise of academic freedom does not amount to misconduct. However there may be circumstances where opinions and/or behaviour fall outside the lawful exercise of academic freedom and in these cases questions of misconduct may arise. Appropriate clarifications have been made to the text below.

So that’s alright, then.

For more on this see John Holmwood’s excellent commentary, which goes to the heart of the matter: http://publicuniversity.org.uk/2014/07/04/academic-freedom-and-the-corporate-university/


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