Ketland Reinstated at Oxford


Jeffrey Ketland, who had been dismissed from his position as a philosophy fellow and tutor at Oxford’s Pembroke College following accusations that he had harassed a BPhil student who committed suicide (previously), was successful in his appeal of that decision and has been reinstated, according to this article in The Sunday Times.

Ketland, 50, a philosophy lecturer at Pembroke College, said he was “scapegoated” by the university over the death of Charlotte Coursier, 25, and added that the case had affected his health and caused huge problems for his family. He had suffered severe trauma and an internet campaign of intimidation, he said. The philosopher now fears he will face a backlash from supporters of Coursier, who took her life in June last year.

Much of the rest of the article is currently behind a paywall.

UPDATE (8/3/14): In an email, Jeffrey Ketland writes: “The University of Oxford has reversed my ‘termination’, reported back in March 2014. I shall now be reinstated. This comes after an external appeal, upheld by a judge. A brief account of the saga is published in The Sunday Times. I’m disinclined to add much to that account since I’m mindful of any upset to others, despite the critical necessity for some of the correct facts to be reported. I do want to say thank you, for their kindness and help, to Catarina [Dutilh Novaes] and Heidi [Howkins Lockwood].”

UPDATE 2 (8/3/14): In case you cannot get past the paywall, the entire text of the article is reprinted below the fold. 

AN OXFORD University philosopher who was suspended after the suicide of a female student with whom he had an affair has won his job back. The university confirmed this weekend that Jeffrey Ketland’s appeal against his suspension in March had been upheld. Ketland, 50, a philosophy lecturer at Pembroke College, said he was “scapegoated” by the university over the death of Charlotte Coursier, 25, and added that the case had affected his health and caused huge problems for his family. He had suffered severe trauma and an internet campaign of intimidation, he said. The philosopher now fears he will face a backlash from supporters of Coursier, who took her life in June last year.

Ketland claims that evidence given at her inquest in February by Coursier’s boyfriend, Ben Fardell, was used to implicate him unfairly. Fardell said Ketland sent Coursier “crazy and rambling accusations” and that when the academic had met her some years earlier at Edinburgh University he acted unprofessionally “and made an already fragile and vulnerable girl 100 times worse”. Ketland said he and his wife were “very frightened by what happened at the inquest” and were advised to stay away from the hearing for their own safety. They left Oxford and headed to Edinburgh. Before the drive north he received anonymous messages saying “Jeffrey Ketland — murderer”.

In June Darren Salter, Oxfordshire’s senior coroner, wrote to Ketland that it was “regrettable” that the press had focused on witness statements by Fardell and one of Coursier’s friends alleging that Ketland had harassed her. Salter said it was “clear from the evidence that Miss Coursier had previous mental health problems and had suffered from depression, [including] suicide attempts by overdose. She also had suicidal thoughts in 2012, according to her GP.”

Ketland first met Coursier in 2008 when he was working at Edinburgh University and she was an undergraduate. They developed an intense, platonic relationship. In February 2009 she overdosed on paracetamol and he took her to A&E. The next month she sent him a birthday card saying: “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you. You have been a wonderful friend.” In a written statement Ketland’s wife, Blanca Fuentes, said family life was disrupted by Coursier’s “uncountable number of suicide threats, virtually on a daily basis”. She added in a letter sent last week to the master of Pembroke College: “The memories I have from 2009 and 2010 have the quality of nightmares.” In autumn 2010 Ketland moved out of the family home and started an affair with Coursier. It ended after a few weeks when he called police, saying she had assaulted him.

In November 2011 he applied for a job at Oxford University; Coursier subsequently applied to study there. He said he was so concerned she was stalking him that he became ill and needed treatment for stress. In the last 11 months of her life Coursier went out with Fardell who told the inquest that the “relationship suffered numerous crises”. She fell pregnant and never got over her decision to abort the child, describing it as “murder”. On June 10 Fardell told her he was leaving her and she threatened to kill herself. She texted and phoned him repeatedly but by the time he rang her back at 3.21pm it was too late. Salter stated in the letter to Ketland: “The main factor in Miss Coursier’s death appeared to be her break-up with Mr Fardell.” He confirmed that police gave Ketland a harassment warning on May 22 but said there was no further contact between them and “ Miss Coursier believed the situation with [Ketland] had been remedied”. He also confirmed that Ketland tried to alert the police to his fears for her wellbeing.

The university confirmed that Ketland’s appeal had been upheld and said it had acted with care and in good faith throughout.

by Nicholas Hellen, The Sunday Times

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hlinde
hlinde
7 years ago

Any professor-student relationship that’s described as “intense” oversteps the boundaries. It cultivates a kind of intimacy that leaves the student vulnerable to the professor because the professor is in a position of power over the student.Report

Drongo Hobbes
Reply to  hlinde
7 years ago

Nonsense. We are talking about a grown woman here. Women are responsible for their own actions. Instead you seem to think women incapable of handling differences in power. Just for a start this is historically ignorant. Consider the abliity of Roman women to get the senate to do what they wanted despite having no offical power whatsoever.

I hadn’t realized the patriarchal conspiracy was so sneakily effective. It’s got you spouting ‘keep the women under wraps’ whilst thinking you’re defending women over men. I bet you think you should be into the lifeboats before the men as well.Report

Julia
Julia
Reply to  Drongo Hobbes
7 years ago

hlinde did not say anything like this and does not even bring in gender considerations. The point, as I understand it, is quite general: a professor of either gender oversteps his/her boundaries when s/he has an “intense” relationship with an undergraduate student.Report

David
David
Reply to  Drongo Hobbes
7 years ago

A lecturer “overstepped boundaries” and exercised “power” over a student by receiving suicide threats from her and being assaulted by her? For this he should later be fired from another university?Report

David
David
7 years ago

Congratulations, Jeff.Report

Anon
Anon
7 years ago

The Sunday Times article starts and ends with comments about the University’s case against Dr Ketland, so it is easy to read the middle section as relating to the content of the original investigation by the University and to its judge-led decision to overturn this. But if read carefully, the comments here by Ketland and the Sunday Times’ reporting of the events do not bear any firm relationship to any case the University might or might not have had against him. The nature of such disciplinary cases is that these are always dealt with under a firm cloak of anonymity and the University never comments on them, thus allowing the Sunday Times report to stand unchallenged. It makes it sound at first glance as if the suspension was overturned because the judge agreed that Ketland had been ‘scapegoated’ by the University. On careful reading though, this is on reflection unlikely. For the unpleasant events to which Ketland then refers appear to have nothing to do with any official actions of ‘The University’ as a body, unless we are to believe that the central administration of Oxford University have been sending anonymous ‘murder’ messages and campaigning on the internet in order to intimidate him. In my experience, an institution such as Oxford can perfectly well wield its considerable power without recourse to such tactics. Some details are also curious – Ketland and his wife were ‘very frightened by events which happened at the inquest’, an inquest they did not attend, and which they only seem to know about from admittedly biased media reporting. It would have been useful had the reporter told us who it was who advised Ketland to stay away for their own safety; were the police informed of an implied physical threat? And from whom was this threat emanating? Will there be any action taken against this seemingly criminal behaviour? This would be a terrible situation to be in, but sandwiched between reports of the University’s case against Ketland, the picture the Sunday Times is giving us is muddled and full of innuendo. The reporting concerning Dr Salter’s comments is also odd, since it concerns a comment from the senior coroner that it is regrettable that the media reports of the inquest focused upon the witness statement regarding harassment. Indeed, this is very regrettable indeed, since by dwelling on these witness statements to the exclusion of other evidence about Ms Coursier’s state of mind, there is suggestion there of Dr Ketland’s role in Ms Coursier’s actions, an implication which the full inquest evidence does not at all support. But although this must have been truly distressing to Ketland, it is unclear what this is doing sandwiched in an article which purports to be in the main discussing the University’s case against Ketland. Woefully inadequate media reports are one thing, a carefully considered case by the University another. I agree with the previous commentator that an intense relationship between a student and a lecturer can be very inappropriate, ‘platonic’ or not. Ketland is reported here as being 50; Ms Coursier would have been 26 this year, and so when this intense relationship was happening, Ketland was well over twice her age. Moreover, such relationships can be sexually charged even if physical sex is not actually happening, and this is a more important factor than whether or not a couple are actually ‘doing it’ for the psychological problems of such lopsided relationships to emerge. However, we only have Dr Ketland’s account of their relationship to go on. That aside, the article as a whole does give Dr Ketland a mouthpiece to put his side of the whole affair; but we are left none the wiser as to the original case the University had against him, nor the reasons for overturning the decision and reinstating him. One can only assume that this is yet another example of poor journalism, where surmise and innuendo win the day.Report

Drongo Hobbes
Reply to  Anon
7 years ago

The judge overturned his sacking. That pretty much tells you what to make of the university case.Report

Anon
Anon
Reply to  Drongo Hobbes
7 years ago

Well, a serious case like this would have been originally heard with a board of senior members of the university plus an external legal expert, usually a barrister. So although The Sunday Times report made it look as if firstly, the University on its own suspended him, and then, an external judge came along and said the University was wrong, this would not be an accurate account of how such a case would have been heard. The fact that his suspension was overturned pretty much tells us nothing, because these cases are heard behind closed doors. Nobody who was not present knows the basis of the original case, nor the basis for the successful appeal. Maybe there was new evidence, maybe there were legal questions, who knows. It is pointless to speculate. As a matter of principle though, we cannot however conclude that just because a case was overturned on appeal, the original decision was flawed, given what evidence might have been presented at the time. Just because a case is overturned on appeal, does not in itself mean that there was any scullduggery the first time. We have no idea what evidence or case the University presented, and never will have this. Ketland can however present his side of the matter. The University cannot present their side of the matter, because of confidentiality.Report

Crimlaw
Crimlaw
Reply to  Drongo Hobbes
7 years ago

Anon 11:02am — You say “We have no idea what evidence or case the University presented, and never will have this. Ketland can however present his side of the matter. The University cannot present their side of the matter, because of confidentiality.”

Do you think confidentiality requirements are never violated in such matters? Or do you think that when they are one still can’t have any idea what evidence was presented?Report

Totally Appalled
Totally Appalled
7 years ago

Whatever the merits of Ketland’s case for reinstatement, the facts related by his own wife are completely outrageous. The student made an “uncountable” number of suicide threats, “virtually on a daily basis,” for several years, and (despite knowing all that) Ketland left his wife to have an affair with her–-a student roughly half his age. I can only imagine this grossly irresponsible behavior towards a suicidal student didn’t cost him his job at Oxford only because it took place before he got there.Report

David
David
Reply to  Totally Appalled
7 years ago

After he got to Oxford and then Coursier did too, “Ketland tried to alert the police to his fears for her wellbeing”.Report

Drongo Hobbes
Reply to  Totally Appalled
7 years ago

In Edinburgh, Ketland saved Coursier – she says so herself, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you” in March 2009, and then two years later, “you are still the person that saved my life and my degree”, as Ketland mentioned in his Leiter statement. Coursier then followed him to Oxford, and Ketland “was so concerned she was stalking him that he became ill and needed treatment for stress”. In Oxford, it looks like her welfare was not protected, for in his Leiter statement, Ketland says, “during her time in Oxford, concerns about her welfare were reported to the Faculty, but, as far I as know, were ignored”. If this is so, then ignoring her welfare does seem “grossly irresponsible behaviour.Report

David
David
7 years ago

The content of the allegedly “harassing” emails is described in the news of the inquest from Cherwell previously linked at Daily Nous (with a similar account in the Daily Mail, which has been called “the most accurate report” by a philosopher in attendance):

According to the inquest, Dr Ketland reminded Coursier that he saved her life when she overdosed on paracetamol in Edinburgh. Fardell said in a statement, “He thought he saved her life in Edinburgh and in doing so, he managed to destroy his own.”Report

Michael Ezra
7 years ago

I was delighted to read this report in the Sunday Times. However wise or unwise it is for a lecturer to have an affair with a student, if that student is in her twenties and herself a bright student at a leading academic institution, then it does not seem to be something, in itself, for which a lecturer should lose their job.

If, subsequent to ending the relationship, that student has a relationship with someone else and then, when that new relationship ends, the student commits suicide, however sad a story it is, it still does not seem to me something for which the lecturer should lose their job.

Indeed, my concern is why was the University involved at all? What business is it of theirs which students are sleeping with which other students or, even, lecturers? The only way I can see such a concern is if there is an allegation that the student cheated in assessed work by having the lecturer do it for her. There is no suggestion that anything like that occurred in this instance.

Ms. Coursier is dead. Nothing can bring her back. It seemed to me that a great wrong was being done to Dr. Ketland. The news of this reversal must have brought him relief. I hope that he can now get on with the job of researching and teaching philosophy at Oxford and put this sad story behind him.Report

mlr
mlr
Reply to  Michael Ezra
7 years ago

Assuming that Oxford doesn’t have policies against faculty-student dating, then I agree that that isn’t a reason for a faculty member to lose their job. But news reports spoke of allegations that Ketland harassed Coursier. I’ve assumed that the dismissal was because Oxford believed that these allegations were true, and that the decision was reversed because they were shown to be untrue. That, to me, seems reasonable on both counts. (Perhap I’m wrong, though, and it was the dating that Oxford cited as the reason for dismissal. I’ve not followed this really closely). Even if one wants to allow for faculty to date students, I doubt anyone wants to allow for faculty to harass them.Report