There is such a thing as bad publicity

July 17, 2014

On the morning of the publication of last week’s Times Higher Education issue containing an article about the allegedly overly aggressive style of management at Swansea University’s School of Management (“Academic staff are accused of enjoying ‘lovely cosy lifestyle’ ”, News, 10 July), Nigel Piercy, the dean, emailed staff: “We’re in the Times Higher again!…but these things all let the outside world know that things are changing quickly here and that we are becoming a real player on the business school scene, by upping performance across the board. Never underestimate the importance of being noticed.”

What planet is he on? It is all very well to be noticed for the right reasons. What is actually being noticed is the significant number of staff resignations and the significant deterioration in staff morale.

Since the Piercys arrived en famille in 2013, nearly 20 members of staff have left, including a number of senior members of staff with proven track records of research. Most have left to join Russell Group universities. Attracting new members of staff has, unsurprisingly, proved somewhat of a challenge.

Hard questions need to be asked of the university’s senior management team on two counts. First, what were the circumstances surrounding Nigel Piercy’s appointment? He was recruited as dean of the school in May 2013 shortly after his son, Niall, took up the role of deputy dean for operations and at the same time that his partner was made reader. Most independent observers would, I suspect, believe that such appointments would lead to questionable management practices.

Second, the question arises as to the part being played by the senior management team in appearing to condone the alleged aggressive style of management.

The member of the senior management team with responsibility for the oversight of the school should surely consider their position. And if there is a situation in which the external and independent principal members of the university’s council should take a close interest, this must surely be it, if only to ensure that the issues affecting the School of Management do not affect the reputation of the university as a whole.

The university has aspirations to be one of the world’s top 200 universities. The key issue is whether the School of Management, with the current management in place, will be able to retain and attract staff to fulfil the school’s teaching and research commitments in the coming years.

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