The University of Sussex has finally expelled Erich Kofmel this summer following a disciplinary hearing. Mr Kofmel, a former Dphil student at the University, is wanted internationally for his alleged role in a number of fraud scams since 2006.
Science Po University in Paris has similarly expelled Mr Kofmel after learning of the allegations against him. He is currently believed to be Switzerland.
Mr Kofmel was absent for the hearing which was chaired by pro-Vice Chancellor, Joanne Wright, in July. He had attempted to withdraw from the University via email a week before the hearing. A statement released by the committee explains, in light of his actions, the decision to allow him “to withdraw of his own volition” would itself “bring the University’s own processes into disrepute.”
In an emailed response to his dismissal, Mr Kofmel lambasted the University as a “cesspool of mediocrity”, accusing it of double standards and for staining his reputation. He claimed to wear his expulsion from “the society of non-entities such as yourselves” as a badge of honour, despite his attempts to withdraw from Sussex preceding the hearing.
Kofmel is the founding member of the controversial Sussex Centre for the Individual and Society (SCIS), which he ran from his house bordering the University grounds. Several high profile academics have publicly distanced themselves from the centre. One contributor to his latest book, Tuula Vaarakaillo, said: “If only I knew about these issues I would have withdrawn my contribution to the volume.” The centre is not affiliated with the University and the University is “actively seeking correction” of any impressions to the contrary given on Kofmel’s website, a spokesman told The Badger. It is thought proceeds from his property scams helped fund the book’s publication.
Over 100 people have joined a group for the victims of Mr Kofmel’s frauds, “For and on Behalf of the Victims of Erich Kofmel”. They have lost thousands of pounds between them.
The group has accused the University of reacting too late in expelling Mr Kofmel, and for acting merely in response to a BBC documentary which airs on Monday 12th October. In an open letter to the Registrar, they wrote: “Whilst we are pleased that the University have taken finally taken (sic) decisive action, their failure to take timely action in this matter has in no small part contributed to continuation of the frauds [perpetrated by Mr Kofmel].”
The University has said that the decision to dismiss Mr Kofmel was taken following national HE guidelines. The guidelines advise institutions not to instigate proceedings against students while they are being investigated by the police. A statement issued by the committee following Mr Kofmel’s disciplinary hearing said it had judged it right to begin proceedings at this time. “The University judged that the prospects of legal action against Mr Kofmel being completed in the foreseeable future had diminished and it was now right to consider the disciplinary case”, it said.
At the beginning of the year, a spokesman for Sussex police told the Times Higher Education (THE), “We are not actively pursuing this case at this time as it is not believed the man is in this country. However, we are staying in close contact with colleagues in Switzerland and Germany who are also keen to speak to him.” (THE, 05/03/09).
Nonetheless, members of the “Victims of Erich Kofmel” group have suggested that the University’s reaction has been unnecessarily delayed. Kofmel has been out of the country since 2008 when he left for the Science Po University in Paris where he was to spend his sabbatical year. Their accusations that the University’s actions were prompted by the BBC documentary have been unanswered by the University at this stage, according to the group.
In April the University came under fire again for allegedly reporting to The Argus that: “It would not expel Mr Kofmel unless allegations against him were proved” (The Argus, 06/04/09). The University later refuted this, saying the reporter was mistaken.
Brian Gee of the “Victims of Erich Kofmel” group has labelled the University’s efforts “shambolic”. Science Po University in Paris expelled Kofmel with immediate effect after learning of the criminal proceedings against him.
Basel police have confirmed that they have begun investigations on further property frauds committed by Mr. Kofmel.
In a statement released by the University, Ms Wright said: “We have conducted these matters entirely in accordance with the proper procedures for considering student disciplinary cases, since we have a duty of care to all of our students. The reputation of the University is a matter which concerns the whole University community, and actions which blemish the good name of the University are damaging to us all.”
At the time of printing, Mr Kofmel declined to comment to The Badger.