Sussex v-c urged to quit in wake of chemistry axe row

五月 19, 2006

The vice-chancellor of Sussex University faced a rebellion from his council and calls for his resignation this week as he confirmed that he would abandon his controversial plan to axe chemistry, writes Anna Fazackerley.

Alasdair Smith sparked an international outcry in March when it emerged that he was planning to close his high-ranking chemistry department, which has produced three Nobel laureates.

In an "explosive" meeting on Monday, Sussex's council endorsed a reversal of this decision. Sussex will now create a new merged department of chemistry and biochemistry.

A Sussex insider said: "The vice-chancellor got a hell of a roasting from the council for his management of the issue. People are saying this is plank-walking time."

Roger Hylton, president of the university's student union, which has issued two motions of no confidence in Professor Smith, said: "It was an extremely explosive council meeting. The vice-chancellor was attacked in a way I didn't ever expect to see. The initial proposal has been totally ripped to shreds. This marks a sea change."

Mr Hylton said the council had raised concerns about Professor Smith's attempts to avoid media attention and the process of internal consultation.

Council members also slammed the vice-chancellor for issuing a press release about the new chemistry department on Friday, before his council had been given the opportunity to discuss or endorse the decision.

Mr Hylton said that at both the senate meeting on Friday and at the council meeting on Monday there were calls for a review of the governance structure at Sussex.

He said: "Members raised concerns about a system that meant they had been put in such a horrible situation. None of them wanted to close chemistry."

The Association of University Teachers has had two votes of no confidence in Professor Smith in the past two years. The union confirmed this week that it would consider calling for him to resign.

Other university heads have been watching the drama at Sussex with interest. Many are also struggling to maintain expensive science departments. One said: "Smith didn't do it right. There should have been a major consultation exercise. The governing body should decide to close such a major department, not the vice-chancellor."

But Professor Smith said: "Since the beginning of March there has been a long period of very open consultation."

Commenting on a potential attack by the AUT, he said: "The proposal that I made about chemistry was overwhelmingly endorsed by the senate. From my perspective, that is the legitimate voice of the academic community and the voice that I listen to."

He added: "The council recognised that the decision-making process was difficult."



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