The British Psychological Society has expelled its president-elect amid “persistent bullying” allegations, which he described as “baseless and without merit”.
Nigel MacLennan was due to become the president of the BPS later this year at the charity’s annual general meeting, after a period as president-elect.
The BPS is the charity that acts as the representative body for psychology and psychologists in the UK. It is responsible for the promotion of excellence and ethical practice in the science, education, and application of the discipline.
The president acts as the chair of the charity’s trustee board. When a new candidate is elected, they act as president-elect for one year before becoming president for a year, followed by a further year as vice-president.
In a nearly six-minute video published on the charity’s YouTube channel yesterday, Carol McGuinness, interim chair of the BPS, said the decision had been reached after a number of grievances had been raised about MacLennan’s behaviour over the past year.
She said she was unable to discuss the allegations at the time due to confidentiality concerns and in the interest of fairness regarding the charity’s procedures.
McGuinness said that two independent investigations and a member conduct panel made the decision free of any input from the BPS’ senior leadership or trustees.
An email sent to BPS members said: “We are writing to tell you today that following a detailed process under our member conduct rules, the president-elect, Professor Nigel MacLennan, has been expelled from the society for repeatedly breaching our member conduct rules."
It went on to say: "Last year, the society received grievances against Professor MacLennan from several individuals. Following two independent, external investigations, which together upheld allegations of persistent bullying, a member conduct process was initiated.”
It said the process was led by “some of our most senior, experienced members” and was independent of the board of trustees.
”The outcome of the member conduct process means that as Professor MacLennan is no longer a member of the BPS, he also ceases to be a trustee and will now not become BPS president.”
MacLennan said the decision to go public prejudiced his right to appeal the decision within 21 days.
He said: “I am saddened and disappointed, but not surprised, given what I have already endured, that after uncovering and reporting the scale of the systemic, structural and cultural issues, matters have unfolded as they have.
“The accusations that have been made about me are baseless and without merit, and I am confident that once the evidence is examined, by impartial parties, that my name will be cleared.
“I was elected by members to address their legitimate concerns about what is going on in the BPS and have done so in good faith, and while in regular communication with the Charity Commission and other charity governance experts.”
A spokesperson for the BPS said because the findings against MacLennan were serious the charity had a duty to inform members straight away. This did not remove MacLennan’s right to appeal against the decision, they added.
The Charity Commission previously said it was looking into concerns raised by members of the BPS and it was something McGuinness appeared to address in her video statement.
She said the BPS was at a crossroads after a turbulent year and promised to listen to “all voices” while developing policies that are sensitive to the view of others.
McGuinness also said that the BPS would become more transparent and update its governance practices.
Just last month the charity’s previous president stood down, citing family commitments.
Prior to that, longstanding trustee and former president David Murphy stood down in February, after nearly 20 years at the charity, because of concerns about governance, spending and transparency.
Murphy, who was president of the charity in 2019/20, shared an email on Twitter confirming the charity's decision to expel MacLennan.
To say that @BPS is in crisis is an understatement; today, for the 1st time in its 120-year history, there is no President, President-Elect or Vice-President. However, whilst I share some of Nigel's concerns, persistent bullying, esp by a leader, can not be justified or ignored. pic.twitter.com/L77ZfM09pR— David Murphy, 2019-20 BPS President (@ClinPsychDavid) May 4, 2021
Murphy’s resignation followed the revelation that the charity’s chief executive, Sarb Bajwa, is on “extended leave”, and Leicestershire Police was carrying out an investigation into an allegation of fraud at the charity involving a former female staff member.