Sunday, December 18, 2011

Edinburgh U's 'Gay Damascus Girl'
Hoax Investigations: Results When?

After Tom MacMaster (pictured), a straight American scholar studying at the University of Edinburgh was revealed in June to be the creator of the hoax Gay Girl in Damascus blog, the press office for the university promised not one, but two investigations would be conducted. In November, unable to find a shred of evidence that the investigations actually happened and produced transparent results, I submitted a request for information to the press office:

Readers of my blog have asked me what ever happened to the University of Edinburgh's investigations into Tom MacMaster potentially misusing university computer equipment or violating equality and diversity policies. The answer, of course, is I don't know and that is why I write to you today.

I have followed your institution's online paper trail on these serious matters of international importance related to MacMaster and his Gay Girl in Damascus blog hoax, and found this scrap of information from June 24 on your site:

The University of Edinburgh is very concerned about recent reports relating to the activities of postgraduate student Tom MacMaster.

His use of University computing facilities has been suspended while Vice Principal Knowledge Management and Chief Information Officer Professor Jeff Haywood conducts an investigation into possible misuse.

The Vice Principal for Equality and Diversity, Professor Lorraine Waterhouse has also been asked to investigate the matter in the context of the University's Dignity and Respect Policy and list of Disciplinary Offences.

Let's get to the questions. Have the investigations concluded? If they have, how has the university conveyed the findings to the general public? Where on the web is your paper explaining if MacMaster violated your rules and regulations? Should the investigations be ongoing, why are they taking five-months to conduct and when do you expect them to conclude?

Please provide me with the status of the university's accountability to the global human rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights communities and the date of when you will publicly produce the results of the MacMaster investigations.

When Rob Tomlinson, the head of media and communications for the university, replied with a terse and vague note, I got pushy for specifics about when substantive results would be released. Tomlinson wrote:

Rest assured, we will be in touch just as soon as we possibly can. The University is a large, complex and diverse organisation with almost 30,000 students and around 8,000 staff and there are a number of individuals who have to be consulted on such matters. I'm sure you understand that within a university community, the people that one sometimes needs to consult with are not always immediately available, particularly those senior members of academic staff who are sometimes on long periods of sabbatical leave, often overseas, for research purposes etc. As I said, we will be in touch once we are satisfied that we have all the information with which it is possible to supply you.

Not sure what the heck the high numbers of students and faculty have to do with producing accountability from Haywood and Waterhouse, the investigators, taking so many months to examine the evidence and issue a report. I nudged the university in a followup note for a details about the investigation, which I believe should have already conclude. Tomlinson sent this reply last week:

The University is treating all your requests for information as Freedom of Information requests which means that you will receive a response within the statutory 20 working days of your initial request.

Never one to take a single route when searching for answers, on top of contacting the press officials, I also filed a separate Freedom of Information request with the university's records management office, which sent me this reply signed by Sara Cranston:

Thank you for your email of 29 November requesting information about MacMaster investigations. I am writing to let you know that we have received your request and will process it as soon as possible, and certainly within 20 working days of the day we received the request. You will hear back from us by 29 December at the latest.

The University of Edinburgh should be ashamed for not acting responsibly and informing the global public about the end results of its two investigations, within a reasonable amount of time and six-months should be sufficient to conduct a responsible inquiry. Sad to imagine that this institution announced the investigations at the height of the hoax's controversy, to better appease the wide calls for Macmaster to be held to account, and was all too happy to let everyone's attention go on to other international LGBT and Syrian concerns.

In my latest email to Tomlinson and other press officials, I thanked them for preparing to release files responsive to my requests, and also wanted to know where on the university web site they would post the investigations' full results. It's not enough to provide me with the files and accountability. The university must be transparent with the results and prominently share them on their extensive site, while also issuing a news release once the results are finalized and ready for public inspection.

I hope the university delivers the public accountability they promised regarding MacMaster, his phoney blog and the international firestorms he ignited.

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