Annus horribilis

June 13, 2013

Not many vice-chancellors own up to their universities being “too aggressive” on job cuts, or lament the “tragedy” of closing languages courses when their institution is doing just that.

But given the University of Salford’s disastrous start to the month of June, it appears that Martin Hall, its vice-chancellor, has decided to think outside the box.

Last week, Salford disclosed that several courses, including modern languages, linguistics and areas of politics and contemporary history, would be closed; it announced yet another round of job cuts; and news emerged that its deputy vice-chancellor, Adrian Graves, had been sacked for gross misconduct after a “furious bust-up” with a student at the university’s swimming pool.

Add in continuing controversy over the cost of Salford’s new building at MediaCityUK and the university’s failed libel action against a former lecturer, and it might appear that Professor Hall’s cup is overflowing with a toxic and possibly overpowering brew.

Is it fair for the University and College Union to say that there have been 13 rounds of job cuts at Salford in less than two years?

“Yes, it is,” Professor Hall told Times Higher Education. Salford had “too aggressive an industrial-relations stance in previous years. We’ve got new leadership now in that area within the university.”

Was Dr Graves sacked over the swimming pool incident alone, or was the decision linked to a power struggle at the top of the institution?

“The charge was one of gross misconduct,” said Professor Hall, stating that the decision had been taken by a special council committee.

“That was the charge…on which he was dismissed. It was unaccept-able behaviour [towards a student].”

On the course closures, Professor Hall said that applications on the programmes were “a third of what we need for viability”. He added that Salford had lobbied government and sector officials to extend support for modern languages, “but that’s not forthcoming”.

The vice-chancellor described the closure of modern languages courses at universities around the country as a “tragedy”, but added: “I can’t shore up a national policy failure from one small university. What I’m doing is what everybody else has done.”

On MediaCityUK, Professor Hall said that the building was “worth every penny”. It has cost a reported £2 million a year in rent and £30 million in fitting-out costs.

“Without it we would have very little distinctiveness as a way forward,” he added.

The failed libel action against former Salford lecturer Gary Duke, who criticised Professor Hall and Dr Graves, is reported to have cost more than £100,000 after a judge ruled that the university could not take action as the matter centred on individuals.

Professor Hall countered that it was “never about me” but “was primarily about students and the university”. Pursuing the action was “a judgement call” and he “understands” the criticism, the vice-chancellor added.

Does he feel positive about the future at Salford and his ability to lead it? “I’m positive about being here, because otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I’ve got other places I could be,” Professor Hall said.

And he argued that in the context of recession, fluctuating student demand in a turbulent sector and previous job cuts, Salford was “doing well”.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

celebrate, cheer, tef results

Emilie Murphy calls on those who challenged the teaching excellence framework methodology in the past to stop sharing their university ratings with pride

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry

But the highest value UK spin-off companies mainly come from research-intensive universities, latest figures show