Aberystwyth v-c faces chorus of digital disapproval

Petition to oust head follows Twitter hoax set up in her name

May 22, 2014

Source: Alamy

Petition: vice-chancellor April McMahon is facing calls for her resignation

Aberystwyth University’s vice-chancellor has been the subject of an online campaign to oust her from her post and an apparent hoax Twitter account set up in her name.

An online petition calling for April McMahon to leave her position had attracted 761 signatures at the time of going to press, amid concerns over falling student numbers and the institution’s league table position.

The petition cites big drops in Aberystwyth’s domestic rankings since she was appointed vice-chancellor in 2011, as well as fewer applications and an alleged “culture of fear” among staff.

It follows a similar petition also calling for Professor McMahon’s resignation, set up by Aberystwyth undergraduate Keiron O’Shea, which attracted 550 signatures before it was closed in mid April.

Mr O’Shea told Times Higher Education that he had decided to close the petition to new signatories after a meeting with the vice-chancellor and senior managers, who had provided “strong and concise” answers to his questions. He said he now believed Professor McMahon was “the right person for the job”.

A university spokeswoman said Aberystwyth “did not request for the petition to be withdrawn” and had an “open door policy” to discuss concerns. She said the university could not respond to the latest petition as it was posted anonymously.

Professor McMahon also appears to have been the victim of a bizarre hoax on Twitter, according to the university. At the beginning of April, a profile purporting to be from the vice-chancellor appeared on the social networking site and began tweeting about a desire to communicate with staff and students, and to restart learning Welsh, without any apparent hint that the account was a parody.

The Twitter account appears to have immediately attracted close to 1,000 followers, of whom many had Spanish language accounts – suggesting that whoever created the account may have bought followers.

But shortly after it was activated, the account was suspended.

A spokeswoman said it had not been set up by the vice-chancellor or the university and that Aberystwyth had “serious concerns regarding the potential for misinformation to be provided”.

This is not the first time Professor McMahon has come under fire on Twitter: last year an Aberystwyth man reportedly admitted setting up a parody account mocking the vice-chancellor.

And the University and College Union last year complained that Aberystwyth was being run like a “dictatorship” after the suspension of two senior staff members at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, a department of the university. The decision prompted a petition that attracted more than 2,000 signatories demanding the pair’s reinstatement.

Ucas figures show that the number of students accepted at Aberystwyth had fallen by nearly a quarter between 2011 and 2013.

The most recent council minutes, from 21 March, show that applications from UK and EU students were down by 15.2 per cent compared with the same time last year, although applications from international students were up 28.3 per cent. The minutes outline plans to “refresh” courses, boost student employability skills and open a branch campus in London.

They also show that the university is anticipating a budget deficit in 2014-15 and is currently running enhanced packages for staff taking voluntary severance, although a spokeswoman said the university was expecting a “small” surplus this year.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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