Prof Burrell’s correspondence with the VC

Prof Burrell’s letter to the VC in regards to the future of the university 17 March 2021

Dear Vice Chancellor, 

Last week I received a letter from Henrietta O’Connor regarding my future in the University of Leicester. My name was misspelt – yet one of many indications of the abysmal lack of care exhibited by senior managers throughout this process, who have had no human respect in their dealings with peoples’ lives and livelihoods. It concludes “Professor Burrell’s research is primarily in CMS and PE and is not in areas aligned with School strategic priorities”. In the first individual consultation I chose not to defend my work over a 47 year career to someone (the Acting Dean) who showed no knowledge nor interest in my research nor any inclination to learn something of it in the meeting. What he did show was a great deal of discomfort, being forced to make academic judgments in areas of which he had no knowledge. Clearly, he was the monkey not the organ grinder, pressurised into demeaning and excruciating embarrassment by the need to reduce University expenditure by July 31st and the dawning of a new but terrifying financial year. However, here I refute the lies and spurious categories which have been levelled against my work. I am an Organisation Theorist and internationally known as this, and have been from well before ‘critical management studies’ was ever thought of, and I continue to be widely respected and known for my contribution to Organization Theory across the world.  

The Dean of the School of Business expresses his wish for staff to become more ‘mainstream’. It is difficult to imagine someone being more ‘mainstream’ than me. I have had a long commitment to the School and the University of Leicester starting in 2002 as Head of School and in unbroken form thereafter. When I was HOS, our NSS scores across Business and Management centres in all the UK were 1st 5th and 6th. These are results of which only to dream today. I understand how to run a School which the current incumbent Lilliputians do not. The Wikipedia page against my name in September 2018 says “According to the Carter/Mueller index, Burrell ranks as the best Dean in the UK over the last two decades”. In the June 2007 issue of Long Range Planning, a piece by Don Antunes and Howard Thomas entitled ‘The Competitive (Dis)Advantages of European Business Schools” (pp 382-404), made positive reference to Leicester three times. The authors opined (pp 397-8) that “An example of an innovatory learning style is Professor Gibson Burrell’s attempt to develop a ‘critical’ management school at the University of Leicester in the UK and encourage the development of innovation and creativity through dialogue, criticism and integrative learning”. Try finding a positive reference to Leicester anywhere in the world at this moment in time – because dialogue and criticism are being stifled and it offers a management style that one can only critique as dire and incompetent! 

From October 2014 to December 2016 I held a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship, the funds for which were located in the University of Leicester, despite my other professorial position in Manchester Business School. The tenure of this Fellowship is not recorded in the documentation with which I was provided as part of the case against me. In 2016 I published a book with my then departmental colleague, Professor Martin Parker, entitled For Robert Cooper: Collected Work Routledge, New York. The work of collecting material behind this book was funded by a grant from within Leicester’s College of Social Sciences. This fact of College support is missed out from the outright condemnation which the edited book receives in the documentation. The case seeks to find the devil’s work everywhere and like that of most witch-hunters, it but glances anywhere and finds it. 

Overall, my devilish work is so mainstream that it has achieved over 27,000 citations, of which 2808 were recorded in the last calendar year, which is an average 54 citations per week. This does not demonstrate a slowing down of academic influence and is one which is somewhat uncommon. I was one of the first members of Leicester staff to be elected to the Academy of Social Sciences in 2005. I was a Founding Editor of the journal Organization, developed by the publisher Sage, whose lawyers will be interested to know that publishing in it is now deemed to be an issue for redundancy within the University of Leicester. Today I am a section editor for the Journal of Business Ethics which is a top 50 journal so far as the Financial Times is concerned. I was awarded a prestigious biennial prize at the 74th Meeting of the American Academy of Management, Philadelphia, USA in August 2014. Candace Jones (October 11th 2014) of the Organization and Management Theory Division of the Academy of Management – and not the CMS division – for I am an Organization Theorist first and foremost – said: 

‘Our 2014 Joanne Martin Trailblazer award went to Gibson Burrell and Gareth Morgan for their collective and individual work on organization theory, paradigms, images, power and space with books such as Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis and Images of the Organization as well as numerous thought provoking and stimulating articles—all of which has forged new paths for, sparked animated dialog about and shaped our thinking on organization theory’.   

The ‘mainstream’ is what people like me thought about yesterday – but in a different way and a bit earlier than most Deans. It’s obviously all too frightening for the anti-intellectuals that are running the School and the College today. My recent CV was available to the Dean and Deputy Dean of the School of Business but they chose in their ‘method’ of data collection to ignore it, as it does not fit their purposes. Or they never read it, for genuine scholarship is not really their thing. 

I am truly sorry that the University of Leicester has come to this; where even mediocrity is a dream to aspire to, where lies and half truths masquerade as knowledge, where academics seek to frighten other academics about what they research and how they can research it, where the closing of ears is the chosen way by senior managers to solve problems, where being critical of management is not acceptable. I wish the Institution well, since I was both an undergraduate and postgraduate in Leicester and have worked hard on its behalf, but on this evidence, it is in line to be the first British University to fail in centuries. And that will be your legacy. 

Professor Gibson Burrell  

Response from Prof Nishan Canagarajah 25 March 2021

Prof Burrell’s Reply 29 March 2021

Dear Vice Chancellor,

Thank you for your response to my letter. I had decided not to engage with your comment because it was unlikely to be edifying, but this morning it became clear that the Head of College had yet again demonstrated an amazing lack of professional competence on Friday by sending out confidential material not only to those of us who are threatened but to a much wider group of staff in the School of Business. Her recall of the email only widened the distribution of this material. This demonstrates, only too well, the lack of respect and care for proper administrative operations that your senior staff exhibit towards us on a regular basis.

So then, suitably motivated, I will respond to your message of last week. The theme of your email is a lack of respect shown to the Deputy Dean of the School of Business. First, could you please note that my name is Gibson Burrell, not Gibson-Burrell and that my first name is Gibson. So, my accusation that Professor O’Connor could not even be bothered to check that my name was correct in a letter to me, has been further compounded by yourself. I have been a member of the University since 2002 so somewhere in the files will be the correct name against my record. Thus, I am Professor Burrell, not Professor Gibson, nor Professor Burrel, nor Professor Burell. It was spelled clearly at the bottom of the letter to you.

Second, you choose not to answer any of my specific points about the running of the School, the College and the University. Save one comment, you choose not to respond to any of my many allusions, some drawn from literature, relating to your University officers and your management of the institution. This neglect is somewhat surprising.

Third, should there be any temptation of any kind to misunderstand my rhetoric for some other purpose, what you do focus upon is one word in a dual phrase of historical origin which is ‘the organ grinder and not the monkey’. This is an allusion to the powerful – and both their cruelty to those they have entrapped into their service and to the hiding of their superordinate role in this duality. There is a long record in the UK of enchained animals being tortured into ‘performing’ in front of audiences for the enrichment of the person holding the leash. Bears and semi-domesticated creatures as well as apes and monkeys fulfilled this role. The phrase offers some sympathy to the captured being, and sees coercive power as laying literally in the hands of the owner. The Deputy Dean is the tortured being and the University Executive Board is the organ grinder calling a tune to which he must, perforce, dance. Had you seen a similar lack of respect in the other serious expressions of critique against your senior staff I would have understood. However, your singular and particular emphasis on the hapless creature and not upon the organ grinder in my dual reference needs rebuttal, for it fails to point the finger at the organ grinder and his/her controlling cruelty that are constantly present in this dualism. But maybe you knew that.

We in the School who are threatened with redundancy are now becoming used to seeing the tremendous strain that senior management exert in the selectivity of what single words we have used throughout our academic lives. Context stands for nothing. Understanding, scholarship and awareness count for nothing. A single word like ‘critical’ ripped from surrounding text and not understood in any meaningful way, nor sought to be understood, has become the marker by which we are known- and by which we lose our jobs. I see from your message that you are also of that ilk, ignoring all the history of learning, the meaning of other terms and concepts drawn from literature, and the rules of rhetorical emplacement that we, the poor scholars, take for granted, or of which at least we are aware. Your message is not that of someone showing leadership of a University; it does not seek to engage with my critique of ‘your’ Institution and your role within it. It is nothing but a terse statement from a witch hunter motivated by the need to go spotting stigmata.

And, finally, I presume from your very specific point in response to my long letter to you that you must agree entirely with all the other elements of my somewhat critical characterisation of senior management in the college and in the School of Business at Leicester at the present time.

Gibson Burrell