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Introducing the soon-to-be-Dr Tim Ferner

Monday, 1 May 2017 10:02am

Image of Tim FernerTim Ferner stumbled upon a fascinating PhD topic whilst on active duty with the United States Air Force. “I uncovered some very significant contract fraud and the only way to end the fraud was for me to become a whistle-blower” he says. “The process was extremely difficult for me both professionally and personally. Based upon my personal experience I became interested in what if any role whistle-blowers play in maintaining good governance and accountability. My PhD looks at the important role that whistle-blowers play in maintaining good governance and accountability in the US Department of Defence.

There were a variety of things that I found shocking during my research – the main one being how poorly the US Department of Defense legally defined the act of whistle-blowing. “It uses a definition that is so rigid and outdated that it is virtually impossible to measure and track the actual occurrence of whistle-blowing” he says. “Consequently, individuals who engage in whistle-blowing behaviour are not provided any protection. The system is broken and nobody really seems to care.”

Tim was supervised by Professor Robert Patman, Dr Chris Rudd and Professor Philip Nel. “I’ve learned a lot from their guidance and wisdom throughout the process. I really appreciate all the time they took away from their busy schedules to help me. I don’t think most students here at the University of Otago realize how lucky they are to have access to instructors of this calibre. I feel really privileged.”

At the same time, Prof. Patman hailed Tim’s exemplary approach to his PhD project.
“Like the other members of the academic supervisory team, I have been enormously impressed by Tim’s organizational skills, dedication, and sense of intellectual and moral commitment, which has enabled him to complete a PhD thesis of major significance well within a three-year time span. A truly distinctive feature of Tim’s research is that it combines a mastery of the scholarly literature on whistleblowing with a clear professional understanding of how the US Defense Department handles this process in practice.”

At 55 years old, Tim has discovered that there isn’t a huge need for middle aged PhD graduates in the workforce. Unfortunately has found that experience and qualifications do not compete with youth, and as he and his wife are keen to stay in NZ, he is considering all options. One option is retraining as a vet so he can keep body and mind active whilst caring for animals on their lifestyle block.

Tim offers some words of advice to younger students – “I often look back to my undergraduate years of study thinking how nice it would be to be retired. Now that I have retired from the US Air Force I am wondering what I was thinking? I wouldn’t wish retirement on anybody! Equally, I’ve seen so many students worrying about the stresses of being a student. I’ve flown in three wars, had 2 children who recently moved out, survived cancer…there are things far more stressful than being a student.”