Saturday, May 12, 2012

Hang up and try again

Gentle readers will doubtless groan to read that I am still going on about Auckland University and Wot it Done to Me but the University has yet to admit it did wrong. Worse still, it continues to break its own rules in order to try to avoid taking responsibility. I shall now make public the details of these acts of avoidance, on this very blog. As a primer for younger readers who have not heard this sorry tale, here is a letter I have just written to Mr T Greville, Secretary to the University Council, which includes a long description of what has been going on, a description with which longer-suffering readers will be familiar. Having posted this, I shall in further posts try to amuse you all with tales of the absurdities of Auckland University. In doing so, I shall try to make good on my promise to the estimable Mr Steve Braunias that I would tell all.

If you do not want to read this again or ever, I quite understand. You can, if you wish, scroll to the bottom of this post where you will find a new song from Guided By Voices.

Dear Mr Greville,

I wish to make a complaint to the University Council about the abuse I have suffered, as a PhD candidate, at the hands of senior University staff. The basis of my complaint is in the attached document, which the University has chosen to ignore. Could you tell me how I go about making such a complaint? 
Yours sincerely,

Paul Litterick

A complaint about unresolved issues

1. Admission

I applied to the University of Auckland for admission as a Doctoral candidate in late 2007, with the intention of studying in the Art History Department. It was my first application to the University. More than twenty years earlier, I had achieved a Class 2.1 BA (Hons) from Nottingham University and an MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art at London University. I had also been accepted as a PhD candidate at Cambridge University to study under David Watkin, one of the world's leading architectural historians - an offer I did not accept. I had been awarded a three-year British Academy Scholarship. Added to these qualifications, I had seven years experience as the founder and Registrar of the Ministry of Defence Art Collection in London, among other career achievements. I had also established a growing reputation as a writer in New Zealand. In short, I was a high-calibre applicant.

I was treated like dirt by the admissions office. Admissions had not heard of the Courtauld Institute and was not prepared to find out about it. Art History had to obtain a letter from my former supervisor at the Courtauld, who had since retired. I was humiliated.  My application took from late November 2007 to the beginning of March 2008. I lost money because of the University's stupidity: I could not take a job during that time because I did not know if or when I would be admitted to the University.

One of the issues by which Admissions delayed my enrollment was its staff's inability to understand the Courtauld MA grades. These were only two - Pass and Distinction; Professor Rankin instructed the Admissions Office of this difference from most universities. I had obtained a Pass: no bad thing when it comes from the best school of its kind in the world. Yet Admissions was incapable of understanding that and so decided to invent a Grade Point Equivalent for me. They decided on a GPE of 6 points. At the request of Art History, a single point was added to that score to acknowledge the quality of the school where I had obtained my MA. Since the University website said that a GPA of 7 was the minimum requirement for a scholarship, I did not complain.

2. Scholarships

I had thought I was eligible for a scholarship, but then my Supervisor, Dr Don Bassett, told me that only graduates of New Zealand universities - those with a Grade Point Average were eligible. I believed him. So I did not apply for any scholarship during most of my first year: I missed out on several opportunities for University or Faculty of Arts scholarships. Then I discussed the matter with Professor Elizabeth Rankin, my co-Supervisor and HOD. She spoke to Dr Jennifer Curtin. Associate Dean (Postgraduate), who revealed that my GPE was the same as a GPA, so I could apply. I was encouraged to apply for scholarships by Elizabeth Rankin and Dr Curtin. Since the University website said that the minimum GPA was less than my GPE, I applied for scholarships. I was unsuccessful each time.

I was never told why I was unsuccessful. In 2010, I asked this question of Associate Dean Postgraduate Lee Wallace, Dr Curtin's successor. She gave me a reply that was curt to the point of rudeness and did not answer my question; she also refused to tell me the criteria by which applications were judged and closed the correspondence. Later, I asked the same question of  Caroline Daley, the Dean of Graduate Studies. She told me, on 27th September 2010, that my scholarship applications would be judged on the two most recent full-time equivalent years of study prior to commencing the PhD; she also told me that my GPE was unlikely to be enough. So, after almost three years at the University, I was finally told what everyone else knew all along: that the scholarship was rigged in such a way that I could not obtain one. Not once did anyone say that my GPE would not be enough. Had I known that, I would have gone elsewhere - to the Courtauld, to Cambridge or one of many universities worldwide that could have provided proper funding and much better treatment than I received at Auckland.

The fact of the matter is that I was deceived. I had a high-enough GPE and other qualities to meet the requirements mentioned on the University website. I was not told that a higher standard was applied, which would be the main criterion for selection. Elizabeth Rankin, Jennifer Curtin and Lee Wallace all deceived me, as did the University website. 

3. Supervision

My Supervisor, Don Bassett, turned out to be lazy, incompetent and bullying. I made several complaints about him to Professor Elizabeth Rankin, HOD and my co-Supervisor, who did nothing. I described my experiences in my Annual Report for 2009, which consequently was rejected by various parties, none of whom had the right to be involved. I suffered a year without any supervision because of those people interfering in the reporting process.

I had been granted about ten supervision meetings in three years in the Art History Department. Meetings were infrequent and always prompted by me. I had no supervision during University vacations. In the second semester of 2009, when Dr Bassett was on sabbatical and Dr Rankin was my main supervisor, I had one meeting. I have described my experiences in my 2009 report, which I shall include with this statement. 

I had a lengthy meeting with Professor Rankin about Dr Bassett's shortcomings. She promised to speak to the School of Architecture about the possibility of having a co-supervisor from the School to make up for Dr Bassett. Nothing came of this. Later A/P Len Bell made a similar promise: again nothing came of it. I could have had suitable supervision during 2010, but clearly the Art History Department did not want me to have it. Of course, they would have lost money if my supervision had changed, so they had every incentive to do nothing.

4. Supervisor's retirement  

I learned that Dr Bassett was to retire from one of my peers, at a gathering for graduate students in December 2009. Subsequently, an undergraduate told me that in -March 2009 - Dr Bassett had told students of his plans to retire. Dr Bassett did not bother to tell me. It seems also that his retirement plans were known to other members of the Department, including Professor Rankin. She told me, eventually, in late December 2009. Had I known that he was retiring earlier I would have gone elsewhere. The information, it seems, was deliberately withheld from me. I suffered a further year in that awful Department, with little supervision because Dr Bassett, Professor Rankin and others chose not to tell me.

5. Application for GTA position

I applied for a GTA position for two courses Dr Bassett was teaching in 2010. Dr Bassett made his hostility to my application quite clear.  

However, I needed the money and the teaching experience. I was clearly the best-qualified candidate for the job and had already marked papers for one of the courses. I faced a hostile interview panel. Dr Bassett said very little throughout the interview, which ended with the three members of the panel - Drs Bassett, Vercoe and Woodward - laughing at me for having asked a question that was quite reasonable.

I didn't get the job. Caroline Vercoe's letter said that I was turned down because I lacked tutoring experience - although I had such and had said so during the interview. Another candidate for another GTA position had no tutoring experience and an overseas academic history like mine, yet she was given a GTA job in a course that was quite unrelated to her PhD research. But then, she was Dr Vercoe's student. She told me she had approached Dr Vercoe before the interviews about tutoring Dr Vercoe's course but Dr Vercoe had already decided on a GTA. So the other post was probably her consolation prize. The GTA process is rigged.

Later Dr Bassett told me that I was not selected because I am a middle-aged man and the panel wanted young women to do the jobs.  Elizabeth Rankin had said much the same when I spoke to her about my rejection. The Art History Department is riddled with cronyism and outright discrimination. 

I complained to the Dean of Arts.  She and the staff she appointed to investigate my case chose to ignore the evidence I presented about the other GTA candidate. They also gave Drs Vercoe and Bassett the opportunity to make some new and abusive comments about me, my imaginary lack of tutoring experience having been forgotten.

I took my case to the Human Rights Commission but I could not prove it - Dr Bassett had lied about his original statement - so I was obliged to drop my complaint. I asked the Dean of Arts to help me obtain another supervisor - I had gone months without any supervision - but she did nothing.

The GTA post was not just a part-time job (as the Dean of Arts so condescendingly claimed at the meeting with the Human Rights Commission). It was an opportunity for teaching experience. By discriminating against me the Department has damaged, if not ruined, my future academic career prospects.

6. Annual Report

After Dr Bassett told me why I had failed in my GTA application, I dropped him as my supervisor.  So he used the Annual Report as an opportunity for revenge. His report is a pack of lies. I could have proved he was lying but was prevented from doing so by Dr Vercoe and A/P Lee Wallace. They did not wait for me to complete my part of the report but demanded I write a 10,000-word chapter for them. I refused, since they had no authority to make such a demand, they had no right to interfere in my research and doing such a task would amount to admitting that Dr Bassett was right. 

So Vercoe and Wallace denied me supervision. Dr Vercoe appointed A/P Len Bell to deal with the matter, as she was then under investigation for my GTA complaint. A/P Bell pretended to be an impartial mediator. I later discovered from A/P Caroline Daley that he chaired the Art History Department's Post Graduate Studies Committee, and that other members were Dr Robin Woodward, Dr Erin Griffey, Dr Gregory Minissale and Dr Caroline Vercoe.  This committee, of which A/P Bell had said nothing, was preventing my report going to the Board of Graduate Studies. It is notable that Dr Vercoe was a member of the committee. 

The Art History committee had no authority to be involved in my report. Further, my privacy was violated by the members seeing the report. Almost every member of the Department had seen my report, most without any entitlement to do so. None of those involved had any right to interfere with my report, yet nobody prevented them. I believe they wanted to conceal Dr Bassett's shortcomings. I have still not received a report: A/P Caroline Daley prevented it from being approved.

I had thought that the annual report was to be used supervisor and candidate to discuss differences. Yet Dr Bassett used it to make demonstrably untruthful allegations against me. 

It is also noteworthy that, on separate occasions, both Dr Vercoe and A/P Bell asked to see the work I had been doing - the compilation of the most comprehensive annotated bibliography on New Zealand architecture; yet when I asked each in what format I should supply the material - as a database or a document - neither replied. I think both Dr Vercoe and A/P Bell were trying to catch me out, to find grounds for failing me. 

I also believe they were trying to delay taking any action to provide me with supervision because that would deprive the Department of income.  I endured four pointless meetings over an extended period with A/P Bell, in which he made promises - such as speaking to the School of Architecture - he did not keep. At the last meeting, which Professor Rankin also attended, he told me the Department had decided that Dr Rankin - who knows nothing of my subject and has never troubled herself to learn anything of it - should be my sole supervisor. 

I went without supervision for the entire 2010 academic year. It was only when the new Acting Head of Graduate Studies- A/P Caroline Daley - became involved that I was able to get out of Art History and go to the School of Architecture. She promised to investigate the matter but then, seemingly having found out what was going on, refused to tell me the result of her investigation. She also put the blame on me, for "resisting" the demands of Dr Vercoe and A/P Wallace. Further, A/P Daley insulted my intelligence by claiming that the vetting of my Annual Report by the Art History Postgraduate Studies Committee was in line with international best practice. 

7. Environment

The Art History Department is a thoroughly unpleasant place. Most PhD candidates stay away; most have nothing good to say of their supervisors. Cronyism is rife. So is malice: certain members of the academic staff never miss an opportunity to say something nasty about their colleagues or, far worse, their students.

Here are some examples. At one of the rare social events in the Department, a rather dismal party to celebrate Professor Rankin's departure from the post of HOD and Dr Vercoe's accession to that post, another member of the academic staff told me that Dr Vercoe would be just as bad in the job as Professor Rankin had been. At the Department's postgraduate conference in 2010, one academic staff member told me that one of the PhD students, my colleague and friend, was "strange." After a departmental seminar presented by a student, one academic staff member took the opportunity to mock that student once she was out of earshot. I too have been the subject of gossip by members of academic staff, who have spoken to students about me.

This sort of vicious and juvenile behaviour is astonishing. Not surprisingly, the Art History Department has a very poor reputation within the Arts Faculty and in the art world. Often I have met former graduate students who have had unpleasant experiences in Art History. Often I meet academic staff who express their contempt for the Art History Department and their pity for its students: one senior Faculty member described Art History to me as a "basket case."  In three years I have never met anyone with anything good to say about Art History. The Department is toxic. I was subjected to three years of abuse there. 


Maria Brown said...

Dear Paul,

I'm a graduate of the Art History Dept, the University of Auckland and I only have good things to say. The formation they provided has been recognised world wide. I have no problems getting scholarships and I publish world wide on the basis of their reputation.
Maria Brown

Paul said...

Dear Maria,

then you have been fortunate to have an experience very different from mine, and of others.