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A professor who was investigated by police and wrongly sacked by Northumbria University over bogus allegations that she had ‘enslaved’ her PhD students has won more than £15,000 in compensation.

Professor Shuang Cang was accused of ‘modern day slavery’ offences by two postgraduate students, an employment tribunal heard. 

They alleged the 59-year-old academic forced them to spend 12 hours cutting trees in her garden, move heavy furniture, dispose of her rubbish, pay for meals and goods, paint rooms and clean her home.

Chinese-born Prof Cang, who has worked in the UK at universities for 30 years, was also accused of demanding they be available to her 12 hours a day, accompanying her on shopping trips and house viewings, and returning purchased items on her behalf.

The students also claimed they were ‘coerced’ to relocate from Bournemouth University to Northumbria in February 2018 with her. A tribunal was told that they feared that they would not be awarded their doctorates if they did not comply with Prof Chang’s demands.

Detectives launched an investigation into alleged slavery after the professor was reported by Northumbria University. During a lengthy investigation, she denied the allegations, claiming they were ‘exaggerated’ and part of a ‘collaborated’ attack against her.

Though police dropped their probe, the ‘excellent’ and ‘impressive’ academic was sacked for gross misconduct.

A tribunal has now ruled Prof Cang was wrongfully dismissed, with a judge saying the panel couldn’t be sure the accusations were true. 

Professor Shuang Cang was accused of ‘modern day slavery’ offences by two postgraduate students, an employment tribunal heard

Professor Shuang Cang was accused of ‘modern day slavery’ offences by two postgraduate students, an employment tribunal heard

Professor Shuang Cang was accused of ‘modern day slavery’ offences by two postgraduate students, an employment tribunal heard 

It emerged there are ‘serious concerns’ ZW committed plagiarism and cannot now be found, and DC may have had a ‘motive to lie or exaggerate’ to obtain an extension of time granted to study in the UK.  

One student, named only as ‘ZW’, was a 34 year old male from Shanghai, while the other, ‘DC’, was a married female in her 30s.

In November 2018, university bosses were notified of serious allegations and reported them to police.

Allegations listed in a tribunal report included: ‘Oppression and exploitation of students by forcing them to carry our physical work in her house such as furniture moving, garbage disposal, garden clearance, cleaning and painting rooms.

The PhD students alleged the 59-year-old academic forced them to spend 12 hours cutting trees in her garden, move heavy furniture, dispose of her rubbish, pay for meals and goods, paint rooms and clean her home

The PhD students alleged the 59-year-old academic forced them to spend 12 hours cutting trees in her garden, move heavy furniture, dispose of her rubbish, pay for meals and goods, paint rooms and clean her home

The PhD students alleged the 59-year-old academic forced them to spend 12 hours cutting trees in her garden, move heavy furniture, dispose of her rubbish, pay for meals and goods, paint rooms and clean her home

‘Prof Cang would not support the students to graduate unless they completed the tasks for her forcing the students to handle her private affairs such as returning or exchanging purchased items, house rental activities, accompanying her on shopping trips, carrying items, accompanying her on house viewings, office cleaning and installing office furniture.

‘Prof Cang shouts and yells at (DC) in public and, despite DC saying she felt uncomfortable, had made her go on a shopping trip to buy underwear including helping Prof Cang to undress and expressing an opinion on the underwear she was trying on.’

ZW, who said it is Chinese culture to ‘do what teachers say’, claimed he ‘spent 12 hours cutting trees to make the CCTV clearer and move heavy furniture’ for his professor.

He alleged he was ‘threatened, screamed at and treated as a servant’, while DC said: ‘She always wants to be in control’.

They claimed they were never paid back for meals or items purchased, had to go on multiple house viewings, and be available from 10am to 10pm.

Prof Cang’s alleged treatment was described as a ‘consistent pattern of controlling and dominating behaviour’, the tribunal heard.

The professor, who was ‘visibly shocked’ when she was arrested, said the allegations were unfounded and that she enjoyed good relationships with the pair and considered them ‘like her own children’.

She said the only chores she could remember them doing was the washing up and half an hour’s worth of ironing. 

Prof Cang said it is Chinese culture to offer help and reciprocal favours, but the tribunal heard university bosses sided with her students. 

Her PhD students both claimed they were ‘coerced’ to relocate from Bournemouth University (pictured) with her, with the threat of them failing their studies

Her PhD students both claimed they were ‘coerced’ to relocate from Bournemouth University (pictured) with her, with the threat of them failing their studies

Her PhD students both claimed they were ‘coerced’ to relocate from Bournemouth University (pictured) with her, with the threat of them failing their studies

Employment Judge Tudor Garnon, sitting at Newcastle, said he can’t be sure the allegations were true and criticised university academics Professor John Wilson for his investigation and Professor John Woodward for the disciplinary hearing he chaired.

‘There are huge gaps in the questioning of the students and areas of their evidence which needed to be investigated further to look for real corroboration or the lack of it,’ Judge Garnon said.

‘But, Prof Wilson and, in reliance on him Prof Woodward too, formed their views on impressions of their credibility and the upset the students appeared to have felt.

‘Based on what we know now and with the obvious gaps in the questioning of ZW and DC, we are not satisfied the university has shown the serious allegations of Prof Cang taking advantage of them to be more likely than not to have happened.’

He added: ‘What Prof Cang accepted she had done was no different to the way she had behaved at Bournemouth for years and in accordance with a culture she and the students adopted and practised without complaint, not only in China but in the UK.

‘While we respect Prof Woodward’s view she should have known better, she did not see herself as having done anything fundamentally wrong.

‘Neither do we. For example, allowing a student to incur an Uber fare and later paying her back, in cash or by a returned favour, may not be wise, but is not gross misconduct.’

Prof Cang won £14,884 for wrongful dismissal, £2,234 for un-taken annual leave, and £30.34 for unpaid expenses.

She lost claims of discrimination and harassment based on race and must pay a £1,000 deposit to the university.

Source: Daily Mail UK

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