Rhetta Moran, a researcher into refugee issues at the University of Salford, is about to face her twenty-fourth day of an industrial tribunal against dismissal.
Dr Moran has, since Spring 2004, been battling to defend herself and her research against her employer, the University of Salford in Greater Manchester. Her colleagues, students and supporters believe that she was targeted for the sack because of the politically charged nature of her research which was the first to expose how the UK’s policy was making asylum seekers destitute. Her research on the impact of rejected Iraqi asylum claims came to national prominence in a Guardian article on 22 March 2003. And, soon after the Observer carried a piece a year later about young asylum-seeking women having to live an underground existence in Salford (18 March 2004) Rhetta was removed from leading the £600,000 Salford-based research project on asylum.
According to her supporters, the university described her research as not ‘compatible’ and said her contract would not be renewed. The university has told the employment tribunal that she was dismissed because she was redundant. But the tribunal has also heard evidence that, two weeks after her sacking, a large research grant from the European Social Fund, which she had helped secure, was handed to another researcher at the university, who ultimately had to return the grant for want of access to the necessary networks and expertise.
The tribunal will reconvene on 17 and 18 August and many more days have been set aside in October to continue hearing the case against her dismissal. Dr Moran is having to defend herself (litigant in person) against the university which usually comes to the tribunal armed with a barrister, one or two solicitors and three or four senior managers. ‘I didn’t know I wouldn’t have legal representation when I took this on, but felt I had to carry on. The principles are too important’, she told IRR News. The AUT (now UCU), having failed to persuade her to settle out of court, is no longer representing her. The NUJ, of which she is also a member, is able to provide her with political support but cannot fund her through the legal process.
The Manchester branch of the NUJ, which is co-ordinating support for Dr Moran, says: ‘This case is about academic freedom and human rights: the rights of researchers to do their research and to communicate their findings about human rights abuses without interference and the responsibilities of universities and governments to protect these rights.’ It urges people to attend the tribunal and / or to send messages of support to firstname.lastname@example.org.