Belfast Telegraph

Professor at Presbyterian College sacked over remarks on radio vows to fight his dismissal

Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick
Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick
Union College
David Ford
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

A professor who was sacked by Union Theological College (UTC) after comments he made in the media has said he will fight against the ruling.

Rev Laurence Kirkpatrick, who worked for the Presbyterian-run institution in Belfast for 22 years, is understood to be the first theological professor to be sacked by the Church.

He has also signalled his intention to launch an unfair dismissal claim with the Employment Tribunal.

Professor Kirkpatrick was "summarily dismissed" from his post at UTC which runs all undergraduate degree courses in theology for Queen's University.

But when contacted by the Belfast Telegraph, Prof Kirkpatrick said he will appeal the decision after a Church disciplinary panel found him guilty of "gross misconduct".

"Ironically, on the day I received my dismissal letter I spent the afternoon with a PhD student at her oral examination and she was awarded the degree, subject to some corrections," he said.

"I will appeal this dismissal within five working days and I also intend to launch an unfair dismissal claim with the Employment Tribunal."

The Presbyterian Church told this newspaper it would not be appropriate to comment on an individual's employment.

Former Alliance Party leader David Ford - who was ousted as a Presbyterian Church elder after supporting same-sex marriage - said he understood Prof Kirkpatrick's decision because "it seems to me that he has not be treated particularly well so far".

Meanwhile, retired Presbyterian minister Roy Simpson said he admired Prof Kirkpatrick's courage, adding that he hoped "that in due course justice will prevail in his case".

Prof Kirkpatrick was suspended following comments he made about the ages of his employer's staff while he was a guest on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme last June.

When asked if there were any female lecturers at Union College, he replied that there were "some part-time".

He added: "I am, personally, totally conscious that at graduation we must look like escapees from an old people's home - getting on, (an) exclusively male full-time faculty."

It's understood the remarks angered some faculty members and led to the suspension on June 25 of Prof Kirkpatrick.

In a letter of dismissal, Prof Kirkpatrick was told six charges against him were upheld but only the two relating to his appearance on Talkback were adjudged to constitute "gross misconduct".

The letter added that Prof Kirkpatrick's comments had "contributed significantly to a fracturing of the relationship between your employer and Queen's University Belfast".

The disciplinary panel decided his participation in the programme and what he said on it amounted to gross misconduct and left them with no alternative but to dismiss him.

The other four charges upheld by the panel related to offences including entering UTC and attending a Queen's graduation ceremony after he had been suspended, as well as unauthorised access to the Presbyterian Church's IT systems on a specified date.

According to the panel these constituted degrees of misconduct, short of gross misconduct and would have led to one first and three final written warnings.

Queen's suspended recruitment of new students to UTC in December 2018.

The university said it has "no role in the staffing arrangements at Union Theological College and is not in a position to comment on specific cases".

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