Monday, May 14, 2012

Board on the run

Gentle reader, you may be thinking of undertaking a course of postgraduate study at the University of Auckland.  If so, I suggest you read this recent correspondence between this author and the University of Auckland's Dean of Graduate Studies, Associate Professor Caroline Daley. Since this is a complicated matter, I suggest you keep beside you this link to a PDF of the University's Statute and Guidelines for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Another Art History PhD once thrust a copy of the Statute and Guidelines into my hand and told me to keep it with me at all times; it was the best advice I have received at this university.

 Dear Professor Daley,

I am writing to you in your role as Chair of the Board of Graduate Studies. This email is an appeal, Under Clause 10a(ii) of the Statute and Guidelines of the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, against a decision of the Board. I did not make this complaint within the usual three month period since I feared further victimisation by the University if I made a complaint.

I am now appealing against the Board's decision,  described in the attached email by you of 19th December 2010, to note my 2010 annual report but neither to approve it nor reject it. Correct me if I am wrong, but I do not see any place in the Statute and Guidelines that allows the Board to merely note my report.

I object most strongly to the Department of Art History Postgraduate Studies Committee rejecting my report. That committee has no authority under the Statute and Guidelines or in any other capacity to approve, reject or even see my report. It is the Head of Department and the main supervisor who should consider the report. The Board was failing in its duty under the Statute. The Board also allowed my right to confidentiality to be breached.

I further object to the false reporting of my academic record. I discovered, some time after the Board had decided not to make a decision, that my record said my report had been accepted. This was a deliberate perversion of the truth. If the Board cannot make a decision, it should have the courage to say so.

Finally, I wish to object to the Board's failure to ensure that my report was properly managed. My Head of Department  and the Associate Dean  deliberately prevented me completing my section of the  report - of responding to the fabrications made by my former supervisor. I was also denied supervision for a full academic year. The Board, which should have been prompting the HoD to provide my report, did nothing. Again, the Board failed in its duty. I suffered a year of harassment and a year without supervision because of the Board's inaction.

I provided detailed, written evidence to refute the claims made by my former supervisor. The Board should have considered this evidence and made a decision.

I wish my appeal and my objection to be made known to the Board and for my appeal to be considered. If you refuse to properly consider my appeal, I shall be taking legal action against the University.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Litterick

Professor Daley's reply:

Mr Paul Litterick
Department [sic] of Architecture and Planning
Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries

10 May 2012

Dear Mr Litterick

Re: Appeal made under Clause 10a(ii) of the 2011 PhD Statute

In response to your email of 21 April 2012 I have considered your appeal as to registration (Clause 10a(ii) of the PhD Statute).

You state that you did  not make your complaint within the usual three month period because you feared further victimisation by the University. However, I note that in your 2011 annual report, received by the Graduate Centre on 20 June 2011 (but signed off by you on 28 April 2011), both you and your supervisor state that your doctoral studies are progressing well.  In your extension request, received by the Graduate Centre on 2 February 2012 (signed off by you on 24 January 2012) it is noted by your supervisor that you are making good progress. The extension request was approved. In your 2012 doctoral annual report, received by the Graduate Centre on 14 March 2012 (signed off by you on 6 March 2012) both you and your supervisor state that your doctoral studies are progressing well. The details set out above clearly indicate to me that, since at least April 2011, there has been no reasonable basis to support your claim that you feel that you are suffering or subject to any ‘victimisation’ from the University, yet you are now seeking to appeal a registration matter from 2010.

On the basis that you have not established grounds for your claim of victimisation in the period since April 2011, and over a year past the end of the normal 3 months allowed for an appeal is beyond any reasonable extension of the appeal period,  I must advise that your appeal will not be considered.

Yours truly

Caroline Daley
Dean of Graduate Studies

See what she did there?  Not surprisingly, my appeal has been rejected. Not that there was anything wrong with it; my appeal was rejected because it was too late. But had I appealed earlier, I would have taken the risk that my next Annual Report might be rejected and my PhD terminated.

Because I now have an excellent supervisor and Head of School who has not abused her power, unlike my previous supervisor and my previous Head of Department, Professor Daley insists I have no grounds to fear the University would victimise me had I made a complaint.  Yet the University had victimised me for making a complaint.  As things turned out, I was not victimised again. But how would I know that? Had I made a complaint to the Board of Graduate Studies, it might have victimised me.  After all, the Board does not feel bound by the Statute; it might do anything. But now, I have completed my last Annual Report, so I am relatively safe.

This is what happened when I first made a complaint. I complained to the Dean of Arts about the Head of Department of Art History, Dr Caroline Vercoe. My complaint was one of unlawful discrimination. I made this complaint because Dr Don Bassett, my then PhD supervisor, told me that I had been turned down for a position tutoring his students because of my age and gender - a clear case of discrimination; Dr Vercoe was the chair of the selection panel for that position; Dr Bassett and Dr Robin Woodward were the other two members.

 Not only did I make a complaint to the Dean of Arts, but I told Dr Bassett that I no longer wanted his supervision, which is reasonable, give the circumstances. Dr Bassett accepted my decision.

Dr Bassett then wrote my annual report, despite having been on sabbatical for the second half of the year and thus unavailable to supervise me. His report was not pleasant. Dr Vercoe responded by refusing to allow me to reply to this report, as I was entilted to do - in fact, required to do - by the rules for Annual reports. Not only was I denied the opportunity to respond, I was denied supervision and told I must write a 10,000 word chapter before I would be considered for supervision. I refused. Dr Vercoe had no right to make such a demand, no right under the Statute.

As it turned out, I received no supervision during that entire academic year. Dr Vercoe - with the connivance of Associate Professor Lee Wallace, the Associate Dean (Postgraduate) whose responsibility was to administer the annual reports - victimised me. The Dean of Arts looked on and did nothing; the Board of Graduate Studies did nothing. Caroline Daley knows this: it was only when she took up the post of Dean of Graduate Studies and intervened in this matter that I was given the opportunity to leave Art History and go to Architecture, given the opportunity, that is, to have the supervision to which I was entitled. She has also made enquiries into what the Department of Art History did; she has taken action, although she won't tell me what her enquiries revealed or what action she took.

Not only did Dr Vercoe breach her responsibilities under the Statute, but my fate was put in the hands of the Department of Art History Postgraduate Studies Committee, a body that has absolutely no statutory authority whatsoever. By which I mean,  doctoral supervision and reporting are governed by the Statute and there is no provision in that document for a Postgraduate Studies Committee to interfere in the reporting process. The reporting process is the concern of the candidate, the supervisor, the Head of Department, the Associate Dean (Postgraduate) and the University's Board of Graduate Studies.

Now, as the estimable gentle reader Peter of Dundee has argued, Postgraduate Studies Committees can be a force for good; but my point is that the  Department of Art History Postgraduate Studies Committee has no role, no right to be involved. Despite this, the Department of Art History Postgraduate Studies Committee was allowed to interfere and to prevent me receiving a report, getting a new supervisor and leaving the Art History Department. Eventually, I was allowed to complete my annual report: to comment on the remarks that Dr Bassett had made about me, to make my own comments.  But then, the Department of Art History's Postgraduate Studies Committee rejected my report. Must have been something I said.

Worse still, Caroline Daley supports this involvement. On 13 December 2010, she wrote to me thus:
1. What authority does the Department of Art History's Postgraduate Studies Committee have in this matter? Clause 5 of the PhD Statute (2008) outlines the Annual Review of Registration process (5 d). There is no requirement under the Statute that departmental postgraduate studies committees are involved in this process. However, the practice in Art History is that the departmental Postgraduate and Research Committee considers all doctoral annual reports and provisional reviews. It is common across the University for such committees, or sub-committees, to do so. The intention, supported by international Higher Education research, is that the involvement of people other than the candidate and main supervisor in such processes leads to better educational outcomes.
"There is no requirement under the Statute," she says. No, it is more than that: there is no mention of such committees in the statute; the committee has no statutory existence, no right to exist, let alone be involved, let alone to prevent a PhD candidate receiving supervision. But then, Professor Daley thinks  "the involvement of people other than the candidate and main supervisor in such processes leads to better educational outcomes." Professor Daley talks a lot of flannel like that.

The Committee was not even authorised to see my report, yet it did so and it rejected it.  And, because of this rejection, the Board of Graduate Studies chose to avoid making a decision. Yet the Statute rules that they must make a decision.

To put that last point another way, the Department of Art History Postgraduate Studies Committee had no right to accept or reject my report, yet rejected it; while the Board of Graduate Studies was obliged to accept or reject my report, yet made no decision.

How about that?

Worse still, the Board of Graduate Studies attempted to hide it cowardice -  its unwillingness to stand up to an unauthorised committee and to do its duty - by falsifying my academic record. I found this had been done some time later, when a copy of my record was sent to me by a member of the administrative staff of the Graduate Centre. The record said my report had been accepted.

The Board of Graduate Studies has not apologised for breaching the University Statute and for falsifying an official record. It has done nothing. I was obliged to make an appeal, because that is the only statutory right I have. I am obliged to act within the terms of the Statute, even when the University's statutory body is breaching it.

And the Board, how does it respond? It responds by finding an excuse to avoid responding, a procedural means of avoiding responsibility. These men and women on the Board are some of the University's most senior staff, but they lack the courage and integrity to take responsibility for their inaction.

So, gentle reader, this is my warning to you. Should you chose to undertake postgraduate study at Auckland University, be aware that none of the rules really applies, none of the guidelines will guide you anywhere, none of the many Postgraduate policies, guidelines and forms is worth the downloading. The University will do what it likes. Or it will do nothing. Whatever suits.

Yo La Tengo:


Peter in Dundee said...

I've said this before wrt to your argument with the Rationalist Association (or whatever it was called) that you have a problem with not knowing when to give things a rest. Not all wrongs and slights need to be remedied to the nth degree.

Put your head down and finish your thesis, anything else is an unnecessary distraction. What remedy exactly do you expect a recourse to legal action to achieve? An interim report is not your thesis. You have been allowed to proceed and continue, so what is the problem?

I should have been so lucky as to have a board of graduate studies to supervise my PhD supervisor. I spent 6 months late in my PhD (ie when skilled and knowledgeable) doing a project both myself and my supervisor knew I did not need for my thesis. However what I did need was his good offices to help me find a job when I graduated, so I could only say no up to a point. So I knuckled down and did it and got a paper out of it as well as an unnecessary thesis chapter so no biggie in the end.

Had I a thesis committee or a board I could have appealed to I would have done so, but there was none back then. I was part of a nascent postgrad students union and part of what we argued for was the very structure you are complaining about.

As for spending a year unregistered, I am very grateful the department and the university ignored my presence for a year as it saved me money I didn't have as fees had just been introduced. Again, with greatest respect you don't know you've been born.

jasper said...

Although Auckland Uni management sucks, you give the impassion of being a serial whinger with narcissistic personality disorder. Is that what dandyism is really about? Perhaps you are simply not as good as you think you are, and that is why the department does not wish to waste time on you, much less fund you. They could have handled things better but then again, Auckland Uni is renown for its sociopathic management.

Anyway, I enjoy your blog for the most part, occasional whinging notwithstanding..

Paul said...

Jasper, thanks for the abuse.. My annual reports since leaving Art History have both been excellent - top marks, you know. The problem is not me. Besides, the problem was not that the Department of Art History did not want to waste time on me, as you put it; the problem was that they would not let me leave. They could have handled things better, as you say; they could have followed their own rules.

Paul said...

Peter, I too would have felt lucky had the departmental Postgraduate Committee or the University's Board of Graduate studies supervised my supervisor. Neither did anything to make my life better, to allow me to leave Art History, to find me supervision. The Postgraduate committee obstructed these aims while the Board of Graduate Studies ignored them.

I had no opportunity for appeal. Both Committee and Board acted against my interests and to cover up the maladministration.

That is why I am talking about it now - it needs to be uncovered. Potential graduates need to know what they can expect, especially should they chose Art History.

You were the lucky one: I had to pay fees for the year, despite receiving nothing for them. And we have no recourse to the University's grievance procedures, which specifically exclude Postgrads. Instead there is a separate procedure, with proscribed outcomes. Anyway, as I have found, if you make a complaint an excuse will be found to reject it.

Paul said...

Sorry to go on about this, but my problem was that Art History did not want me to go. They could not provide adequate supervision but they wanted the money I brought them. If they allowed me to go, or if they shared me with Architecture, they would lose a lot of expected income.

As a senior staff member explained to me, it is the Department from which the candidate finally graduates that gets all the money, so Art History would receive nothing and Architecture all. So Art History did everything they could to stop me going.

Tom formerly in Dundee said...

Prescribed or proscribed outcomes? They're rather different.

I agree that the art history department treated you badly.
And it's a bit weird that your university administrators haven't heard of the Courtauld. But Peter is right, there's a time and a place for either just getting on with it, or dropping out. don't be mr inbetween. Legal recourse won't help you or anybody else. Losing one year of study is not the end of the world.

Universities are often staggeringly badly managed places. But some people find the compensations of the work worth the shittiness. I don't - I resigned a permanent lectureship at (by odd coincidence) Peter's institution. But that's just me.

I have seen several people develop a fixation for a fantasy ideal of academia, but fall badly foul of the messy and badly managed reality. Either it's for you or it isn't. Suing them isn't going to change that in the slightest.

Paul said...

Sorry, slip of keyboard: prescribed

I have lost a lot more than a year. I have lost thousands of dollars. My reputation has been damaged. Some people think, like Jasper, that the problem is me.

The fact is the Dean of Graduate Studies investigated this matter told me she had taken action with Art History. However, now the University will not admit anything is wrong. Their only concern is legal liability.

I realise I probably will get nothing from these pricks, but I need to warn other students of what might happen to them.

Peter in Dundee said...

Paul, you still haven't answered my question as to what remedy you expect from all this complaining and especially the legal threat in your email. It is not a good idea to threaten something you are not fully prepared to carry out and by that expect a fruitful result and not just some form of revenge.

Be aware that many lawyers will take your money regardless of the actual merits or chances of real remedy.

Threatening legal action in a situation like that without chance of actual remedy just makes you look silly and rather petty.

I'm also afraid that when it comes to postrgrad supervisors, caveat emptor tends to operate. I had something of an advantage having done my honours thesis project in the lab. That our supervisor was absent overseas for the middle 6 months of that year did not put me off as I thrive best without someone peering over my shoulder. However one freezer in the lab was full of the untouched basis of a Masters project where the student had run away in horror. Turned out she was married to our GP who thought I was some sort of superman when he discovered I was happily doing a PhD with the man. IOW the student/supervisor relationship is like all relationships, some work, some founder so some groundwork before committing is always advisable. It is not like employment and it is also not a customer/vendor relationship and you seem to be varying between regarding it both ways.

I would take the Dean's obviously well meant advice, you are thriving now, be content, make hay and move on. Save the angst for when you are in your cups and amongst tolerant friends.

Paul said...

Peter, I want my money back and I want compensation.

If it were just the Department at fault and the University had done something about it, I would not have a problem. But it is the continued clumsy attempts to cover everything up that I cannot stand. Bad supervisors and HoDs get away with murder because they are not held to account. The University gets away with worse.

Peter in Dundee said...

You won't get compensation or your money back. The problem is you seem to think that a PhD is about tuition and that therefore lack of a supervisor means you have been short changed. Were you prevented from working? denied library access? If not then your studies were not impeded. A PhD is about learning to be an independent researcher. You went into this as a mature student with a defined project you wished to do, and the lack of a nominated person to hold your hand stopped you? please.

You need to decide if you want to achieve this thing or become someone who will end up like that guy who has been declared a vexatious litigant.

Eyes on the prize, put your pride on hold or you will either not achieve it or will do so so damaged in reputation that your achievement will be hollow.

@Tom, I'm still here in Dundee, but I am no longer employed by the university either. I expect our attitudes to it are not dissimilar.

Paul said...

Peter, I have never asked for anyone to hold my hand. I have done over four years of groundbreaking research, all of my own initiative. I am though entitled to supervision; it is part of the Student Charter for this university and I pay for it. Not only that, but I was denied the opportunity to go elsewhere, because those pricks in the Art History Department wanted to hang on to the money I brought them.

So yes, I will keep fighting for repayment and compensation. And I will warn others of what they can expect.