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Head suspended after theology school protest

The head of a theology school at a Catholic university college has been suspended after he criticised plans to close his department.

Anthony Towey, head of the School of Theology, Philosophy and History at St Mary's University College, Twickenham, was suspended last week "pending investigations into a very serious disciplinary matter", the college has confirmed.

The action follows protests over plans to merge Dr Towey's department with the School of Communication, Culture and Creative Arts.

Academics at St Mary's, which hopes to become Britain's first Catholic university by 2013, fear the lack of a dedicated theology department may harm teaching and research as well as undermine the college's commitment to its Catholic mission.

Students told Times Higher Education that Dr Towey was interrupted while giving a Christology lecture on 17 September and escorted off the premises of the institution by a member of security.

His suspension comes after he sent an email to staff and students informing them about the proposed merger, saying he was "completely in the dark" about how it might affect students.

The email, seen by THE, criticises the "sudden decision" to merge the schools which he says "runs contrary to St Mary's procedures".

Dr Towey also mentions the "overwhelming and reasoned opposition to the proposal across some 60 academic and administrative staff" members and suggests students could complain to their union or the college's chair of governors.

"It is a tremendous sadness that this sense of community is being dismantled," he adds.

Dr Towey has distributed a document making detailed criticisms of the merger plans, which were put forward by the college's principal Philip Esler, a Bible scholar and former chief executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Lance Pettitt, head of the School of Communication, Culture and Creative Arts, has also said "the proposal to merge is ill-conceived, poorly researched and presents no coherent business case" in a draft response to the proposals.

However, St Mary's believes the merger will not only save money but will improve interdisciplinary research in religious studies.

A spokesman added that Dr Towey had been suspended following "a grave breach of his professional duties" and that his teaching programmes would be fully covered.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Regarding the treatment of Anthoney Towey, HoD has commented above: If he wants to be employed in this organisation then he has to accept its values, bite the bullet and work in a more diplomatic, and let's face it, effective way to lobby for the status quo. HoD does not know what is going on here. The much vaunted values of the College ( generosity of spirit, fairness, trust, respect and all that kind of thing) have been completely abandoned by the new Senior Management Team and replaced with intimidation and fear. It is dreadful to see how many staff are now afraid of getting the same summary treatment as Dr. Towey (and at least nine other suspended colleagues) merely because the Management think they can do whatever they like. Carefully reasoned and thoughtful arguments against the merger of two schools were met with absolutel intransigence . There is no due process here. You can be accused, found guilty and suspended in the blink of an eye and for nothing at all. You just have to hope that SMUC coffers are deep enough to pay all the compensation that will eventually have to be shelled out.... Comments are being deleted here for some reason. But staff and students will not be silenced. This is OUR college and we are going to get it back

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  • Unfortunately, we sometimes have to remove posts that potentially could contravene our terms and conditions. However, we do not want to stifle debate and encourage people to make comments on most stories we publish.

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