Angry staff governors allege chair misled them over v-c suspension

UEL open letter claims 'two-tier' governance system left them in dark, writes Melanie Newman

October 30, 2008

Staff governors at the University of East London (UEL) have accused the chairman of the board of misleading them about events surrounding the suspension of the university's vice-chancellor.

In an open letter to the rest of the UEL governing body, staff governors Haim Bresheeth, Rae Beaver and Toby Grainger claim that they were "presented with a different version of the facts" from that given to lay members of the board.

"There is clearly a two-tier system of governance in which the one group (of governors) ... has fewer rights and can be locked out from a process," they say in the letter.

Times Higher Education reported in July that UEL vice-chancellor Martin Everett had gone on "indefinite leave", but it was publicly confirmed several weeks later that he had been suspended while "serious concerns" about his leadership were investigated.

In their letter to the board, the three staff governors say it is "unacceptable" that they were wrongly informed by chairman Jim McKenna, after an 8 July governors' meeting, that Professor Everett was on leave, when in fact he had been suspended on 3 July.

They also claim that they were misled about the resignation of governor Gillian Slater.

Professor Slater resigned as a governor in an email to Mr McKenna on 13 June, saying that she disagreed with planned action against Professor Everett "because of the damage it will do to UEL".

"I wish to disassociate myself from it and so am resigning from the board," she said.

In their open letter, the three staff governors say that Mr McKenna had told the board on 8 July that Professor Slater had come to the end of her tenure and "did not wish to continue". They say that, when pressed, Mr McKenna said he did not know why Professor Slater had resigned.

"We now know, as the lay governors knew at the time, that Professor Slater had already resigned in protest at the procedures adopted by the chair and sanctioned by (the lay governors) as far back as June."

The staff governors also questioned the reasons for Professor Everett's suspension, given that UEL appeared to be performing well.

In a memo to staff sent on 10 October, acting vice-chancellor Susan Price said UEL was set to exceed recruitment targets and was on course for a 2007-08 surplus of more than £6 million. The university also has cash reserves of about £40 million.

Times Higher Education understands that all but two of the UEL's eight deans are backing Professor Everett. The majority of UEL's professors and readers have signed a petition calling for his reinstatement.

The lay governors say that, under UEL's articles of government, staff governors are excluded from considering matters affecting named employees or students. "In choosing not to involve students and staff in our consideration of matters affecting (Professor Everett) we have been following all known precedents in how Article 7.7 has been interpreted at UEL over many years, and this is we believe common and reasonable practice across the sector," they say.

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