V-cs come and go but staff keep discipline

November 21, 2013

While acknowledging that the chair of a university board of governors must always formally support the record of an outgoing vice-chancellor, the statement by Clive Jones, London Metropolitan University’s chair, that Malcolm Gillies (the institution’s retiring leader) has brought “much needed administrative and academic discipline” to London Met invites response (“Malcolm Gillies to retire as London Met v-c”, 15 November).

Putting to one side the academic disciplines no longer offered at London Met (history, philosophy, the performing arts, etc) as a result of Gillies’ personally conducted “review” of undergraduate education, it is the discipline of the university’s administrators and academics that has been responsible for sustaining London Met during the vice-chancellor’s period in office.

Those professional staff have not benefited from an unfolding strategy that has led to a more “fit for purpose” institution. What they have endured since 2010 is arbitrary and undisciplined top-down executive comment (for example, on the social habits of Islamic students), decisions (such as the partnership with the London School of Business and Finance, dissolved within a year) and actions (valued and viable academic courses being cut and cut again). That London Met is not insolvent is down to the staff, not the indiscipline of those at the top. The institution has had three leaders since January 2009 – another record unique to London Met that few other universities would wish to share.

However, we applaud Jones’ reported intention to start the search for Gillies’ replacement as soon as possible. But this time, the appointee must listen and act on the basis of the wisdom of staff, students and their representatives. Given that professional and academic accountability is so obviously a priority at London Met, it would alleviate a lot of difficulties later if we were consulted before the appointment is made.

With justification, at London Met we can say that although an “expense” of vice-chancellors may come and go, the professionalism of administrative and academic staff allows the institution to survive.

Cliff Snaith, secretary, University and College Union’s London Met branch
Mark Campbell, chair, UCU London Met

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