THE SUPREME Court has upheld a challenge by a professor in University College Cork (UCC) against an investigation by the university into allegations that he assaulted a female member of staff. Head of Economics in UCC, Prof. Connell Fanning, was accused of grabbing Joan Buckley, a member of the university’s language department, by the throat before squeezing and shaking her.
The court rejected UCC’s appeal against a High Court decision that the disciplinary actions taken against Prof Fanning were out of their administrative power.
The court found that Prof. Fanning was employed prior to the Universities Act 1997 and therefore, was subject only to a limited disciplinary hearing. As he was appointed under an 1951 NUI Statute, he could only be removed from office by the NUI Senate.
The right of tenure which Prof. Fanning was entitled to was ‘security of office’. This meant that he would remain in office unless the UCC governing body asked the NUI Senate to remove him. While the 1997 Act did apply to Prof Fanning, the disciplinary actions taken by UCC did not.
UCC felt it was obliged to investigate an incident which was reported to them about an alleged assault. On its findings, the university suspended Prof. Fanning on full pay until the a full investigation had taken place.
The High Court declared that Prof. Fanning’s suspension was unlawful under the statute, and ordered that he be allowed return to work pending the outcome of his court challenge against UCC.
In 2005, the High Court found in Prof. Fanning’s favour and UCC then appealed that decision. The Supreme Court’s decision means that Prof. Fanning will no longer face the suspension by UCC pending the findings of the investigation.
The original incident occurred in 2001 when Prof. Fanning was walking his dog in the carpark when Ms Buckley was leaving in her car. Prof. Fanning signalled her to stop as he was concerned that she might injure his dog. This led to a argument between the two and Ms Buckley alleged that Prof. Fanning reached his hand into the window of her car and grabbed her by the neck.
Ms Buckley then reported the incident to the relevant authorities in the university but had made it clear she was not making a complaint. Prof. Fanning admitted that an incident did occur but denied that he had assaulted Ms Buckley.