A top economist is suing Cambridge University because he claims he was turned down for a job due to his belief that big banks are “a cancer on society.”
Professor Richard Werner, 54, is best known for coining the phrase “quantitative easing.”
He was given a conditional offer for the Director of the Cambridge Centre of Housing and Planning Research (CCHPR), based at the University, but it was rescinded when employers dug deeper into his career.
Prof. Werner alleges that his anti-big bank view is a philosophical belief, based not only somewhat on his Christian beliefs but as a form of academic freedom, and denying him a job amounts to direct discrimination.
The law states that for a view to be a philosophical belief it must be genuinely held and be worthy of respect in a democratic society.
The German Professor, who worked for the University of Southampton until 2018, is well known for coining the phrase “quantitative easing” and later saying it had “failed” in the UK.
The tribunal was told Prof Werner was interviewed by six professors in May 2018 for the role at the University of Cambridge, and in June, was made a conditional offer for the agreed start date of 1 October that year.
Professor Colin Lizieri, who met with Prof Werner after the interview, later raised concerns about the direction the economist may take the department.
One email reads: “There are other reputational issues as it has emerged that he has some unorthodox views (these did not emerge in the CV or in academic searches, nor in his references) that, had we known about them, we would probably not have made the offer – given that it was a somewhat leftfield appointment, albeit the consensus of the interview panel.”
While the claimant had accepted the offer, Prof Lizieri wrote to say he was “not satisfied that we have reached agreement on a number of issues”.
Prof Werner then was told the CCHPR was “no longer in a position to proceed with the appointment and are therefore withdrawing the offer of employment”.
Employment Judge Isabel Manley was told a summary of the facts in the preliminary ruling to determine whether Prof Werner’s views on big banks amount to a philosophical belief.
The tribunal was told the claimant had been informed the CCHPR was considering its finances when it rescinded the job offer, but still an ex-gratia sum was offered.
She said: “In the claimant’s witness statement for this hearing, he provided me with some background about his beliefs and his academic background.
“He says that he became a practising, believing and active Christian’ in June 1991. He gave details about how that came about and, in his view, its connection to the work he was carrying out at that time in Japan as a graduate student.
“He was carrying out research on large Japanese capital flows of the 1980s and had been looking for a link between those and high land prices.
“In summary, the claimant explained how, through prayer, he was led to a revelation that… bank lending was new ‘money creation’.
“He does believe that big banks and concentrated banking systems are a cancer on society.”
The judge added: “He links many of his beliefs and academic research to Christianity and to the Bible. He also points out that, for many people who share his view about banks, there is no link to Christianity.
“He has been undertaking academic work on banking and its role in society and, in particular, the concentration of power in the large and bigger banks.
“He set out details of a number of events where he has been asked to speak, some of them linking Christianity to matters such as capitalism, finance, money and banking.
“He argues that his belief that ‘big banks are a cancer on society’ amounts to a philosophical belief.”
In her conclusions, Judge Manley said: “I am satisfied that the belief that ‘big banks are a cancer on society’ can amount to a philosophical belief and a tribunal can now consider whether the claimant can show facts from which they could conclude that the action taken was because of that philosophical belief (and, separately, his religion).
“I accept that the comment about ‘unorthodox views’ does need to be explained and it is possible that other comments made in the course of the decision to withdraw the offer need to have some context attached to them.”
This suit against the University of Cambridge follows his £3.5 million award from the University of Southampton where a tribunal found he was harassed and discriminated against for being German and a Christian.
The unusually high sum was awarded after the university failed to turn up to the tribunal.
The University of Southampton is appealing the decision.