Friction at Queen Mary

August 21, 2014

For someone of his seniority, the manner of John Allen’s ejection from Queen Mary University of London was unprecedented (“Queen Mary dismissal”, Letters, 14 August). After notice of dismissal was served, he was given only a few hours to clear his office before the locks were changed.

Allen and Simon Gaskell [Queen Mary’s principal] are outstanding scientists who, in fact (and in my hearing), could agree amicably about how a successful academic community should function, as well as the role of internal disagreement in institutional life. However, it is clear that while both are highly principled, each is affiliated to a quite different doctrine of how to achieve what is essentially the same goal.

Allen, an outspoken purist, advocates development from the grass roots by the encouragement of research without overt direction from overlying managers and with an attendant mitigation of excessive teaching. Gaskell, evidently now a doctrinarian leader with an admirable but ambitious target of raising the university into the top decile of UK universities, subscribes to a rigorous version of the currently fashionable managerialism involving departmental restructures (sic), performance assessments, targets, workload models and highly selective investment in research.

It is the bottom-up versus top-down argument that rages everywhere, but in the particular context of Queen Mary it has proved difficult both to back the policies with the necessary investment and to reduce the teaching and administrative burdens that hamstring those departments most in need of improvement. The result has been stress, with a large staff turnover and an uncertain outcome.

Such disagreements should not lead to public humiliation on one side or the other. However, between Gaskell and Allen is an array of vice-principals, deans and department heads most of whom who are, by now, appointees of the current regime and implement its policies.

Concerning tribunals, I have said previously that they seem to exist to assess due process, not to second-guess management decisions or to resolve academic disputes. Hence resort to courts of law indicates a failure of internal compromises that one always thought were the sine qua non of civilised university life.

David Bignell
Via timeshighereducation.co.uk

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

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 6 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

Reader in Politics and Policy

St Marys University, Twickenham

Engineer

Cern

Professor of Anthropology

Maynooth University

Preceptor in Statistics

Harvard University

Postdoctoral Fellowship in Electrochemistry

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu
See all jobs

Most Commented

Doctoral study can seem like a 24-7 endeavour, but don't ignore these other opportunities, advise Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman

Matthew Brazier illustration (9 February 2017)

How do you defeat Nazis and liars? Focus on the people in earshot, says eminent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Improvement, performance, rankings, success

Phil Baty sets out why the World University Rankings are here to stay – and why that's a good thing

Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft on why his university reluctantly joined the ‘flawed’ teaching excellence framework