College Pressures Philosopher to Withdraw Novel

Stephen Grant, until recently a lecturer in philosophy at Richmond upon Thames College, was asked by the school to stop the publication of his novel, A Moment More Sublime. While a lecturer there, he was a union representative and involved in the labor disputes at the school, and the novel is partly based on his experiences working there. He says that the story of the novel is “entirely fictitious” though. The college seems to be taking a different view.

He was asked to stop publication, he says, and that the publisher cease selling the novel, and that all publicity for the title be withdrawn. Grant says he was also investigated under the college’s disciplinary procedure, and facing “a formal disciplinary hearing to consider whether I was guilty of gross misconduct” he resigned with immediate effect from his position “due to reasons of ill-health and because I had no confidence in the fairness of the process”.

That is from the account in The Guardian. At the publicity site for the book, Grant recounts his interrogation by the college’s head of human resources:

I was questioned twice for over an hour by the head of HR, with a union representative also present.  Specific passages from the book were quoted at me and I was asked whether or not I accepted that Richmond was clearly identifiable as the college in the book.  I was asked if I thought I had shown loyalty to the college in publishing the book, and whether I considered my behaviour to have been trustworthy.  It was suggested I had acted against the college’s best interests by entering into an engagement with a publisher without the written consent of the principal.  I was asked if the real reason I had not submitted the manuscript to senior management prior to seeking a publisher was because I knew they would not have granted me permission to publish.  I offered various responses to each of the charges, suggesting for example that anyone who knew the college would know that none of the events depicted in the book actually occurred, so there would be no danger of seeing the criticisms of the fictional management as ones which should reflect on the actual senior managers.  I presented a message from a senior figure from the Society of Authors which confirmed that where an institution employs a published author it is often of benefit, and that it was her view that readers generally did not assume that work of fiction can be seen as a reliable description of an author’s actual institution.   I also asked if the college had taken into account issues concerning freedom of expression, to which the answer was ‘yes’, although I received no further details.

The publisher of the book says in The Guardian article: “a writer of fiction should not have to fear persecution and prosecution from his employer in London in 2014”. The college, apparently, declined to comment.

Horizons Sustainable Financial Services
Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

Is this a cultural difference here that I just don’t understand? I can’t see an HR employee caring and if one started going after faculty for such nebulous things as disloyalty or trustworthiness here their mental health would be questioned.

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
9 years ago

So a faculty member publishes a small-press novel about labor relations at a college. The college, fearing people will take it to reflect poorly on the state of labor relations there, hounds the faculty member to resign… thus confirming the horrid state of labor relations at the college more thoroughly to more people than any small-press novel ever could.

I would say this was counterproductive if I were confident that the management’s goal was to avoid being portrayed in a negative light rather than to intimidate anyone else who might think about speaking up.