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St Mary's University College - why a professor was suspended

  • Jo Siedlecka

St Mary's, Strawberry Hill, Twickenham

St Mary's, Strawberry Hill, Twickenham

Tensions have been growing at St Mary's University College, Twickenham this week following the suspension of Dr Anthony Towey, Head of the School of Theology, Philosophy and History. Students report that Dr Towey was half way through a Christology lecture on the Resurrection when security men came to escort him out of the building on Monday.

In a statement a college spokesperson said yesterday: "We can confirm that Dr Anthony Towey, Head of the School of Theology, Philosophy and History, was suspended yesterday (17th September 2012) pending investigations into a very serious disciplinary matter and a grave breach of his professional duties at the University College.

"This action was taken fully in accordance with our internal human resource procedures and with written, external legal advice. Arrangements are being put in place to ensure that all programmes and teaching will be fully covered."

The reason for the suspension is an e-mail sent by Dr Towey to students in his department.

One student told ICN: "Students and staff were starting to ask questions about what was happening as we had not been consulted or informed in any way. All we knew was that suddenly our department was closing."

The text of the letter follows:

Dear TPH Student,

As some of you will have heard either through announcements on the SMUC portal, rumours or in the latest edition of the Tablet (out today), a sudden decision by the Principal in July, ratified in a private meeting by a sub-set of Governors, has authorized the closure of the School of Theology, Philosophy and History. The future proposed structure is for TPH programmes to run from within an amalgamated Arts and Humanities School with over 1700 students on roll.

Despite overwhelming and reasoned opposition to the proposal across some 60 academic and administrative staff (see documents attached) the Principal has decided to press ahead with his idea. Although the process by which this decision has both been taken and progressed runs clean contrary to normal St. Mary's procedures, the direct result is that one of the Heads of Schools will no longer be in post from September 4th, (Tuesday of next week).

Indeed though clarification has also been sought from the Human Resources department as to what repercussions this might have for the many and varied obligations that Professor Pettitt and myself have over the forthcoming months (such as lecturing, programme direction, doctoral supervision etc.) no advice has been given. We are completely in the dark. And while the most direct impact is likely to be on Theology programmes, there remains residual uncertainty in relation to staffing in Philosophy.

As a result, and without wanting to raise needless alarm, I would ask your forbearance over the coming weeks should there be delays and confusion in regard to your dealings with St. Mary's in general, and any obligations related to myself in particular. All TPH staff are keenly aware that students have not been consulted in this process - a matter that you might appropriately raise with your Student Union ( ) or your Programme leader. Indeed since the Principal specifically invites comment in his graduation letter (see attached), it may be appropriate to raise any concerns with him or with Bishop Richard Moth, the Chair of Governors. As an inter-disciplinary team, no School has worked harder to create a sense of learning camaraderie where staff and students 'know each other by name.' It is a tremendous sadness that this sense of community is being dismantled.

One staff member said there is now "an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty" at St Mary's, and appealed for prayers. "This is particularly difficult for students who have just begun their first year with us."

See also:


Apostleship of the Sea

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