Home News University “forced” academic into early retirement following royal criticism

University “forced” academic into early retirement following royal criticism


An ex-Exeter academic who claims he was forced into early retirement by the University after Prince Charles tried to “silence” him has spoken to Exeposé about the ill-treatment he suffered while under investigation by Vice Chancellor, Sir Steve Smith.

Professor Edzard Ernst, who set up the UK’s first chair in complementary medicine at Exeter in 1993, sparked controversy after he publicly condemned a draft of a report on alternative medicine commissioned by Prince Charles. This prompted the royal’s First Private Secretary at the time to write to Exeter’s Vice Chancellor in September 2005 alleging that the academic had broken confidence over the report which was yet to be reviewed and published. What followed was what Ernst describes as a “full and truly unpleasant investigation which lasted 13 months and during which I felt like I was being treated as guilty until proven innocent.”

During the investigation, Ernst claims he was subjected to an intensive cross-examination process and that his team “was very badly treated indeed.” According to the professor, his Dean offended his academic freedom after he expressed concern that Ernst’s unit attracted too much media attention and instructed him that all major press interaction had, in future, to be seen by him before it was released. Ernst ignored the instruction. Speaking to journalists in London recently, he also alleges that his line manager told him “I know we’re treating you like sh**.”

Ernst claims that the University signed a contract that committed them to raise 1.5 million pounds towards his research, yet never fulfilled the pledge. He said “This allowed them to discontinue contracts, dissolve my unit and force me into early retirement.”

At the conclusion of the investigation the Vice Chancellor informed Ernst, in what he describes “a most arrogant tone,” that no disciplinary action was warranted. In Ernst’s latest book, A Scientist in Wonderland, he alleges “Even while acknowledging that I had not been guilty of any misdemeanour, my Vice Chancellor had issued an unambiguous warning to me: if I even thought of applying my personal ethical standards in any similar situation in the future, I would not be so lucky as to get away with it again.”

Asked why he thought the Vice Chancellor had issued such a warning, Ernst said “I have no idea whether the VC felt he needed to earn his knighthood, whether I had annoyed my peers more generally because I had repeatedly insisted that they meet their commitment towards raising research funds for my team, or whether the VC even thought that with his odd behaviour he was merely following proper procedure.”

Ernst describes his first ten years at Exeter as “all I and my team could have wished for” but adds that “it all seemed to change after HRH had taken the unprecedented step to interfere in British academia in the way he did.”

Both the University and Clarence House have declined to comment on Ernst’s allegations.

Clarence House added only that “The Prince of Wales believes in combining the best of evidence-based, conventional medicine with an holistic approach to healthcare – treating the whole person rather than just the symptoms of disease and taking into account the effects on health of factors such as lifestyle, the environment and emotional well-being. His Royal Highness is Patron of over 30 healthcare organisations.”

Gemma Joyce, Editor

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