Wrongly sacked lecturer's career 'ruined' - friend

A university lecturer's career was ruined when he was wrongly sacked over an offensive email to a student, a former student and friend said today.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) yesterday ruled Dr Paul Buchanan was unjustifiably dismissed from Auckland University last July.

It awarded him $51,000 in lost wages and $15,000 for hurt and humiliation.

However, the authority did not reinstate Dr Buchanan to his position in the university's political studies department, saying it would be impractical and that he lacked awareness of the impact his conduct had on others.

Friend and former student Scott Mansell was involved in gathering testimonial evidence in an attempt to get Dr Buchanan reinstated.

Mr Mansell told nzherald.co.nz he had spoken to Dr Buchanan after hearing of ERA's decision.

"He's happy that the authority ruled that the dismissal was unjustified but would have liked to get his job back," he said.

"It ruined his career. The accusations that went around publicly - that he was a racist etcetera - means he's almost unemployable in his discipline."

Mr Mansell said Dr Buchanan was living in Singapore because his wife had a job there, but that he was unsure what the former lecturer's career plans were.

"I think everything has been on hold while this thing plays out - it's only been 24 hours since the decision.

"He was still holding out hope that he could come back to work in Auckland."

Association of University Staff deputy secretary Marty Braithwaite said reinstatement was the primary remedy for unjustified dismissal.

"Given that the dismissal has effectively ended Dr Buchanan's academic career in New Zealand, we will be considering appealing that part of the decision," he said.

Dr Buchanan was sacked over his May 2007 email to a student. The email was subsequently leaked to the media.

The United Arab Emirates student, whose name has been supressed, had requested an extension for an essay, saying her father had died in Dubai.

Dr Buchanan wrote: "I say this reluctantly but not subtly: you are not suitable for a graduate degree. It does not matter if your father died or if you have a medical certificate.

"You are close to failing in any event, so these sort of excuses - culturally driven and preying on some sort of Western liberal guilt - are simply lame."

The Employment Relations Authority said there was no doubt there was misconduct on Dr Buchanan's part but that it was unreasonable for the university to have escalated the matter to one of serious misconduct.

Authority member Vicki Campbell said a fair and reasonable employer would not have dismissed Dr Buchanan.

Mr Mansell said the ruling proved Dr Buchanan's sacking was wrong.

"I think most people felt that the dismissal was over the top. Most people I've spoken to - even through work - think it sounds on the surface ridiculous and I think this decision shows it was ridiculous.

"Clearly the decision to dismiss him was wrong."

The Authority, however, sided with the university on the issue of reinstatement saying Dr Buchanan had "very little understanding of the impact his communication style has".

It said there was no evidence to back up claims Dr Buchanan made to the media about his dismissal being politically motivated

It also noted that Dr Buchanan had publicly criticised the university after his dismissal, alleging it had a "bums on seats mentality coming before quality of education".

In her determination, Ms Campbell said suggestions made by Dr Buchanan which would have gone some way to ensuring that a similar situation did not recur were completely overlooked or ignored by the university.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon said while the university disagreed with some aspects of the authority's determination, the decision not to reinstate Dr Buchanan was an "appropriate outcome".


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