The bullying scandal around David Argyle, head of the The Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies (RDSVS) at the University of Edinburgh, has reached its logical conclusion. That conclusion being that the bullying was merely a figment of imagination of a bunch of evil journalists and malicious underperforming losers whom Argyle was perfectly right to have sacked or forced into retirement. This is how the leadership of the University of Edinburgh and its medical and veterinary faculty see it, and they even engaged a corporate consultancy to illustrate it with pictures of doggies and kitties.
This is a follow-up to my earlier article, and I publish that silly consultancy report, the unions’ protest letter against it, as well a letter by the RDSVS senior lecturer Andrew Brown, written shortly before his cancer death, which accuses Argyle and others of bullying and nepotism.
Fact is that the Roslin Institute, which is part of RDSVS and where the legendary Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1996, still has no director. The previous one was bullied out by Argyle, and new candidates are apparently afraid to suffer a similar fate. The Times reported in February 2020:
“Professor Eleanor Riley, who is regarded as a global authority in malaria immunology, informed colleagues of her resignation on Friday and expressed “enormous regret” for leaving after less than three years in the role. She did not expand on her abrupt departure, but a well-placed source said Riley had confided to friends and colleagues, over many months, of feeling marginalised.
The source alleges that Riley felt undermined and ignored, and believed that she was dropped from emails containing information relevant to her. Such behaviour could be seen as a form of emotional cruelty known as “ghosting”.
The source claims that Professor David Argyle, who is in charge of Edinburgh university’s veterinary school and its research arm, the Roslin, could appear “dismissive” of the work carried out at the institute…”
Riley was appointed as head of Roslin Institute in September 2017 and pushed out at the beginning of 2020. At that time, Argyle was about to (not quite voluntarily) resign from his newly acquired position as Junior VP of Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
The Times also reported:
“She was moved to Edinburgh University’s department of biological sciences, but the full details of her dispute remain secret because lawyers for the university insisted on a non- disclosure agreement.”
Now, almost two years later, the institute is still led by an interim leadership. As a reader commented in October 2021:
“After a much heralded and prolonged selection and interview process for the new director of the Roslin Institute, by Argyle and the most senior university management including the vice-chancellor (all who have continued to cover up Argyle’s bullying) the appointee to the position has suddenly withdrawn for “personal reasons”.
Is it that [they] and the other candidates became aware of the facts. Bullying has consequences. When will the penny drop with Edinburgh University Management?“
Uhm, never? They also decided not to investigate the data irregularities in Argyle’s papers, apparently the university’s new “Stop the Blame Game” policy.
Argyle was accused by a number of RDSVS employees of bullying and nepotism (read this article for details). The University and College Union (UCU) organised an investigation by an external agency called Intersol. Its full report remains secret, accessible only to the Edinburg leadership, which until today refuses to share it with the employees. But I obtained a summary of that Intersol report, quote:
“The findings from the interviews show that, in the perception of the participants, there is a culture of bullying and harassment at UoE R(D)SVS. The findings show that when such culture is reported, it is not being dealt with effectively, and with little impact on staff perceptions of the ongoing problem.
The reported behaviour of senior staff and the perceived lack of action on behalf of HR to address the behaviour, has had an adverse impact on the morale of those interviewed. Attempts to report examples of the issues to HR had in some examples been quoted as handled badly by HR, leading to 57% of examples of issue 5 [“Negligible faith in the impartiality of human resources when dealing with complaints.”].
The 38% of reports of issue 3 [“long-term members of staff leaving due to feeling marginalised, harassed and eventually bullied out of their jobs.”] has an immediate effect on the 33% of reports of issue 4, in the feeling of the workload of those remaining increasing to cover those that had left due to the culture of bullying and harassment.
It was reported by 93% of participants that the Head of School, whilst highly skilled in his profession, had very poor people management skills when dealing with staff. In extreme reported incidents this had led to the percentage of issues 1 [“aggressive and abusive language and physical behaviour by, but not limited to, the Head of School.”], 7 [“extreme fear of being labelled as a troublemaker”] and 8 [disciplinary procedures, marginalisation, and unprofessional conduct against those labelled troublemakers”]. In other reported incidents this reported poor people management skills were apparent but did not reach the threshold of the definitions of issue 1, 7 and 8
The Head of School role profile Key Result Area B is in direct contradiction to the reported behaviour of the Head of School.
The Head of School’s reported behaviour in directly intervening in the recruitment panel process was perceived by staff as an unethical attempt to influence staff selection. This perception was compounded by the perception that roles within the college were given to persons related to or connected to senior staff members, without adherence to the University’s recruitment processes.”
Also UCU interviewed RDSVS employees. This is what their investigation found, as described in an email from August 2020:
- “An intolerable breach of basic health and safety standards in aggressive and abusive language and physical behaviour, particularly from a particular staff that we shall not name in this communication.
- Shocking levels of harassment leading to many staff taking leave due to stress.
- Long-term members of staff leaving due to feeling marginalised, harassed and eventually bullied out of their jobs.
- Unacceptably high workloads on remaining staff due in part to long-term staff leaving and absence due to stress.
- Negligible faith in the impartiality of human resources when dealing with complaints.
- Negligible faith in the impartiality of recruitment and promotion processes.
- A culture of extreme fear of being labelled as a troublemaker.
- The use of disciplinary procedures, marginalisation, and unprofessional
- conduct against those labelled troublemakers, or those who question
- inappropriate behaviour of management.“
The bullying and discrimination problems were known as early as 2015, during the Athena SWAN assessment, which focuses of gender equality. The participants complained of bullying, nepotism and another medal for Argyle: “Head of school is also a culprit of fuelling the sexist undercurrent“. Further quotes:
- “The career workshop that he (head of school) introduced last year, he started off by saying how scarey it was to be in a room of 30 or 40 women, and everyone laughed!”
- “I am terrified to bring issues to head of school. I would be terrified to bring issues to HR, or someone higher than head of school. If you put a foot wrong here they will scupper your career.”
- “I’ve never known anything like this before – the degree of bullying, the lack of support and the fact you have nowhere to go.”
- “There have been times this employee is asked to lie about their workload. Their line manager obviously doesn’t see there is an issue…“
- “I have been on interview panels where I’ve spent the whole day interviewing, but the decision was made before we started by one person [Argyle]. So what we thought was totally irrelevant.”
In late 2018, the vet school’s senior lecturer Andrew Brown was dying of cancer. He had nothing to lose, and there was little they could still do to him in revenge now. So on 18 November 2018, he sent this letter to the Head of College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, Moira Whyte:
Dear Professor Whyte,
I am writing to inform you of the years of bullying, intimidation and discrimination that I have experienced from Professors David Argyle and Richard Mellanby since joining the Vet School n 2014.
The first time I became aware of the bullying culture was during my first week, at an introductory meeting with my then line-manager, Richard Mellanby (RM). I had known him (although seen him infrequently) since I was a student at Cambridge back in 2002. He recruited me from a good job in Glasgow, and I was taken in by the vision he had for me building a new Emergency & Critical Care (ECC) service at the vet school. At this early meeting he spoke of having tried to get me to Edinburgh for a long time, but there were other lecturers/SLs in the way who he had to ‘get rid of first’. He spoke of having to “push people off the bus” in order to get the ‘right’ people in, and described [CE] (Head of HR at the time) as “the silent assassin”. I can only look at the sheer number of people who left during the years before my arrival [6 names listed], and I assumed from his comments that they were all pushed out. He spoke of others at the School who still needed to be ‘pushed off the bus’ – namely [NR] – and to look out for any impropriety that could be used to get her out. I had a meeting with David Argyle (DA) several weeks after this, and despite never having met me before other than an interview, he was extremely unprofessional and derogatory against some of my colleagues – again [NR] came up as an example.
My life changed dramatically in November 2014 when I was diagnosed with a malignant paraganglioma which had spread to lymph nodes throughout my body, three vertebrae and a rib. My main signs were related to pain, and I had many months off for treatment including for a pathological fracture. The cancer is incurable, and I am never free of the pain. Throughout the initial months RM and DA were extremely supportive. The point at which the bullying was started against me was in 2015. At a section meeting I had raised concerns (with another colleague, [TH], who was subsequently bullied out in 2016) about RM’s policy of taking ‘extra blood’ from patients for use in his research studies. The owners of the animals were unaware of this – the consent form states that ‘spare blood’ (essentially the last few mL at the end of the syringe) could be kept for research. RM was mandating that we take additional blood to this (up to 10 mL from what I remember, but I would need to check the details), and it was very clear that this was not a policy that could be discussed collegially. I challenged this as seriously unethical, and something that would look very bad if it ever got out into the press. It was made clear to me that this was not for discussion. I felt bullied, and knew that I had no one to speak to about this due to the fear of reprisals. It was the intimidating atmosphere that has prevented any of us from speaking up until now.“
Brown was then ousted as Head of Service and ICU manager, Mellanby told him it was because of his medical condition. The terminal cancer sufferer learned from his colleagues that Mellanby “was essentially trying to harass and bully me out.” He tried to protest against the discrimination, and was summoned to a meeting in “an extremely hostile and intimidating environment“. The letter continues:
“Finally I got them to agree that RM would no longer be my line manager and I would move to the education division under the line management of Susan Rhind. I know now that I should have raised a formal grievance. But my experience from talking to senior colleagues was that it wouldn’t get anywhere, the process would be horrific, and my health would deteriorate even further.
It was galling to receive the email from University Leadership in August, congratulating DA for the school’s NSS scores. The school has received those results as a result of a huge amount of work by Susan Rhind and the team she has around her – several of whom have very recently resigned as a result of the school’s culture of worsening bullying and intimidation. The school achieved these results in spite of, rather than because of DA’s leadership.
Over the last couple of years DA/RM have taken on a large number of lecturers, and appointed their spouses (and even one case, girlfriend) to tailor-made jobs without an appropriate recruitment process. Nor in some cases are they qualified for the job. Given that they have done these ‘favours’ to the lecturers/SLs, their nepotism now means that the lecturers are powerless to raise any concerns about the leadership as they ‘done them a favour’. I have also been in interviews with RM where proper due process was not conducted. For example, interviewing all day with 4 panel members, and the job being offered to the person RM wanted despite the fact that the candidate interviewed poorly and the other 3 panel members chose a different person. They are surrounding themselves by yes-men/women who will not challenge them. There is no space for academic, collegiate discussion. It is an autocratic regime. Please look at the number of people who have left over the past few years from the medicine section. [TH] (bullied out and went to UGA), [JLR, RE, NR]. This degree of turnover is just not normal, especially since they were all brought in to replace those who had been ‘pushed off of the bus’.
I have worked at several universities in my career, and never have I encountered the degree of bullying, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination that I have here. The atmosphere is utterly toxic, and everyone is scared to say anything in case it is heard and reported to DA or RM. It is like working with the East German Stasi.
I would be very happy to meet with you or your colleagues to discuss this further. I can also provide you with the email from RM containing the discrimination, as well as other emails I have kept which could be used as evidence of bullying. And I hope, as I have feared in the past, that this will not be used against me.
Andrew J Brown MA VetMB DACVECC DipECVECC SFHEA MRCVS
Senior Lecturer, Veterinary Clinical Education
Vice-President, European College of Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care“
Brown died just months later, aged only 41.
Neither Argyle nor Mellanby replied to me when asked to comment on Brown’s letter. Whyte confirmed to me its authenticity, and stated:
“You have also asked for our comment in respect of your proposed publication of Dr Brown’s email to me of 19 November 2018. It is, in our view, highly inappropriate to publish the personal correspondence of a deceased colleague, especially one that contains such a detailed account of that individual’s health struggles.
More fundamentally, such publication will cause distress to Dr Brown’s family, and to the other individuals who are mentioned in the email. Given the allegationsmade in the email have been subject to a full investigation by the University, we are unclear what purpose publishing this email could serve, and how this may be justified given the distress it will cause these individuals.
We therefore regard the publication of this email as highly inappropriate. I respectfully suggest that any potential consequences of publishing such material are a matter for you to consider.“
So let me show what Whyte means by “full investigation by the University“. First, Argyle’s own summary of the Intersol report, a round email sent to the RDSVS employees on 9 October 2020, titled “Dick Vet Negative Press Stories“, highlights mine:
I am writing to you as you have a close connection to the Dick Vet or work closely with me as part of another organization. As many of you will have seen over the past two years, the School has been subjected to some very negative press stories directed at bullying and Harassment. This has been driven by a particular Sunday Times reporter and fuelled by 1 or 2 individuals within the school who have a particular agenda. Last Sunday saw a particularly spiteful and vicious attack on me personally in the Scottish Sunday Times which was incredibly hurtful. I would love to say that these things do not bother me, but the day they don’t is the day I retire from the world. The profound effect this has had on me and my family cannot be over stated. Equally, I am saddened that this is also significantly affecting my colleagues who feel under siege.
This all started when I took disciplinary action against a staff member and led to counter claims against me for bullying and harassment. After a full investigation into my conduct, I was completely exonerated. The individuals appealed and the investigation was repeated and still found no case to answer. One of the individuals involved made it clear that they would go to the press and drive a particular agenda. Sadly, we consider that this has what has played out over the past 18 months.
The Veterinary Record has also published negative stories and the University has been alerted to the fact that they intend to run another story next week. I have had huge support from the University leadership and a robust response has gone to the Veterinary Record. Sadly, the I believe journalistic integrity is a long distant memory for the VR, and it is clear they also have an agenda. Being JVP for RCVS is also making me fair game for VR. In a large organisation like the Dick Vet, we will always have people who are unhappy, resent decisions that have been made, or have left under a cloud. This is a fact of life in the work place.
The recent developments have led to an outpouring of support from colleagues within the school and many of you on this email list, and I thank you for everything you have said to me privately and supported. I am incredibly proud to have led the dick vet over the last 10 years and what has been achieved by my exceptional colleagues. The last 8 months of pandemic has been difficult for all of us and I know my own team have managed the herculean task of teaching, research and clinical practice while keeping everyone safe and well. Keeping the show on the road has been exhausting, but the most recent turn of events reminds me of the stark loneliness of leadership and the challenges that brings.
You would all be forgiven for reading these stories in the Times and VR and thinking “there is no smoke without fire”. Many of you know me as a very open person and if any of you have direct concerns or need clarification, then please feel free to contact me.
In the meantime, I hope you are all keeping safe and well
Kindest and best wishes,
At some point, the University of Edinburgh had enough and did a proper investigation, to counter the findings by Athena SWAN, UCU and Intersol. In March 2021, they recruited a team-building company, Culture Builders, to write a report that everything was fine, Argyle was the nicest boss possible, maybe a bit aloof, but those whom he sacked or forced to resign definitely deserved it. The farce was even illustrated with cute fluffy animals to drive home the point.
The Culture Builders (CB) report is written in the language of classic corporate bullshit and contains sentences like:
“In response to how the work was positioned, the people we spoke to were positive about being asked to give their feedback on culture. They saw it as an encouraging sign that they are free to comment on what is working and what is not. Some even described it as ‘brave’ for senior leaders and Head of School (HOS) to open up a cultural dialogue, especially in light of a climate that has included negative press coverage.”
Imagine, Argyle the Bully is described as “brave”, facing off his backstabbing accusers while under massive frontal attack by the evil press. CB deployed “mythbusters” to explain why David The Brave had to sack some losers, layabouts and troublemakers:
“In our recommendations we also use the term ‘mythbusters’ to describe focused campaigns that would aim to dispel any misleading or inaccurate interpretations that could be hampering cultural progression. One example would be to provide a clear explanation of the tools and processes available to all with regard to job vacancies. This would directly counter the perception, in some areas, that people are directed towards roles and given an unfair advantage in selection.”
This bit starts relatively reasonably and ends too deranged even for corporate bullshit-speak:
“At the other end, we heard from people who felt at some point in the institution’s history a switch happened and the culture became increasingly toxic. They cited interpersonal conflicts at the most senior level as the root cause of some of the issues and spoke about lack of transparency, biased decisions around career progression and their concerns about being marginalised if they spoke up.
It is rare to find such a high level of passion in an organisation to the degree that it inspires people to pour their heart and souls into their work and witness their colleagues being equally committed.”
What to think of the whistleblowers:
“For example the small group who abused the anonymised chat function during meetings generated a strong reaction: irrespective of the situation, demeaning or belittling colleagues is a cultural ‘no go’.”
Dave the Brave was right to drown these rats.
There is recognition that progress on challenging issues and driving change, has been due to a resilient and progressive Head of School and key members of the senior leadership group.”
Did David “Resilient and Progressive” Argyle write it himself? Wasn’t CB supposed to investigate his Bold Leadership bullying? Btw, the words “bullying” or “harassment” are never mentioned in the report even once.
Here it is, search for yourself:
Don’t believe the media lies, there is no tyranny at Dick’s!
“Some, we heard from, believe that anything can be achieved at the Vet School if you have drive and a mindset that enables achievement and personal growth. Peer expertise and knowledge featured as a key attribute of on-the-job learning.
We heard comments such as ‘no barriers to moving up’ and ‘100% support if you are ambitious.’”
The new recruitments must fit the Argyle system, psychologically profiled as qualified bullies and arse-kissers:
“Ensure all promotions/new appointments to leadership roles place equal importance on culture fit and attitude towards managing people as well as academic track record. We would recommend competency based interviews and/or use appropriate psychometrics for development”
Advice to the head of school (HOS) Argyle himself:
“Create more awareness in HOS of his impact as a leader ensuring tough conversations can happen and leave all parties feeling valued in the process”
Basically, be aware that people are scared of you, the Leader, so try to play tough but fair with them when you make their lives living hell.
Even the corporate bullshit report mentioned that Argyle might be too powerful:
“Length of tenure in senior roles unclear The normal approach is five years and then five again maximum, so it is unclear how long senior roles are retained: we also heard that three or five year terms are not a great thing – it means people don’t have to live with their actions for long.”
So the RDSVS drew lessons and re-appointed Argyle as its director once again. Some months ago, Argyle sent out another round email:
“Culture Builders recently presented this document to the Oversight group (College and University level), a joint meeting of school and Roslin SMGs and a meeting with theCampus Improving Culture Group (CICG), Steering Group and Union representatives. These meetings were all incredibly positive and the insights and recommendations well received. All parties support the document in full and fully accept all of the recommendations.”
That was not true, actually. The UCU people were not amused and replied to Argyle and other medical and veterinary faculty leaders:
“This statement does not recognise the need to consult with the Unions as part of this collaborative project and, by suggesting that all parties support the document, is misleading. The Joint Unions were indeed sent the report before it was published, but we were not invited to feed back, and did not meet again with Culture Builders or Vet school management / HR to discuss findings and recommendations. The Joint Unions received the published report on 19th July from James Saville but were not invited to comment on its recommendations and express any outstanding concerns. All union officers concerned were on leave when the report was received. […]
We now ask that you send a correction email to Vet School staff, correcting your claim / any impression that unions were consulted on the report and agreed the recommendations. “
This requested correction email was never sent. Meanwhile, employees keep reaching out to the media or comment online to vent their anger. Like here on Reddit:
Now that Argyle’s bullying was declared non-existent, what about the manipulated science he published? Well, as Malcolm McLeod, one of Edinburgh’s research integrity authorities recently stated in Nature, we must “Stop the blame game“:
I asked McLeod if this means that his university will not investigate Argyle, and received no reply.
Thus, here some new evidence in Argyle’s papers, to accompany what I presented in my earlier article.
Gurå T. Bergkvist, David J. Argyle, Lisa Y. Pang , Rhona Muirhead , Donald A. Yool Studies on the inhibition of feline EGFR in squamous cell carcinoma: enhancement of radiosensitivity and rescue of resistance to small molecule inhibitors Cancer Biology & Therapy (2011) doi: 10.4161/cbt.11.11.15525
It is not clear why same EGFR gel was used for different experiments. Maybe the authors didn’t like the result they achieved “normally”.
The other case was detected by ImageTwin software and posted on PubPeer.
Lisa Y. Pang, Alejandro Cervantes-Arias , Rod W. Else , David J. Argyle Canine Mammary Cancer Stem Cells are Radio- and Chemo- Resistant and Exhibit an Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition Phenotype Cancers (2011) doi: 10.3390/cancers3021744
How come the adherent cells and spheres are actually derived from the same image? Well, it can be worse:
H. Wilson , M. Huelsmeyer , R. Chun , K.M. Young , K. Friedrichs , D.J. Argyle Isolation and characterisation of cancer stem cells from canine osteosarcoma Veterinary journal (2008) doi: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2007.07.025
How can a set of gel bands accidentally duplicate itself by honest error which doesn’t affect any conclusions?
We know that Argyle is aware of all those PubPeer comments. He does issue corrections where needed and possible, and very swiftly. This paper was flagged by Cheshire in June 2021 and corrected in October 2021:
L.Y. Pang , T.M. Blacking , R.W. Else , A. Sherman , H.M. Sang , B.A. Whitelaw , T.R. Hupp, D.J. Argyle Feline mammary carcinoma stem cells are tumorigenic, radioresistant, chemoresistant and defective in activation of the ATM/p53 DNA damage pathway Veterinary journal (2013) doi: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2012.10.021
“The authors regret that in the original article there was a mistake in Figure 2G where the beta-actin band was repeated and horizontally flipped. The authors apologise for this error and state that this does not change the scientific conclusions of this article in anyway.“
And Argyle even commented on PubPeer in one case:
Breno C.B. Beirão, Teresa Raposo, Lisa Y. Pang, David J. Argyle Canine mammary cancer cells direct macrophages toward an intermediate activation state between M1/M2 BMC Veterinary Research (2015) doi: 10.1186/s12917-015-0473-y
Here Argyle replied:
“A. Biskrensis, you are right in your comment. This went unnoticed, and we apologize. The correct picture is shown attached here. We will seek for correction with the journal.“
Guess the other comments were all wrong then?
In September, someone from UK commented under my article:
“Sad, sad, sad. Sitting picking faults in others. A failed scientist bitching about a successful one. Your ‘journalism’ merely shows you can copy, paste and replicate bias articles from other ‘journalists’. Sloppy.
Your behaviour is bullying towards David Argyle. Funny how you fail to see that you ganging up on one person, repeatedly, with no chance to reply is anything other than being a bully and smearing your opinions around like the faecal ranting of an incel.
Your writing shows more about how you feel about things that have happened to you in the past. Why not write about your personal gripes and letdowns rather than plagiarising and perpetuating those of others. You may then actually be able to write something of value and improve your career opportunities!“
If anything, it does provide insights into what RDSVS employees have to endure. Moira Whyte informed me:
“Professor Argyle has assured me that he neither wrote the comments you refer to, nor did he request that another individual do so. I am satisfied with this assurance.“
She did not distance herself from the comment which so obviously was posted by someone at Vet Dick 😉
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