Archaeology headhunting upsets staff

March 31, 1995

Derek Roberts, provost of University College London, has stirred up academic staff resentment by the use of a head-hunting recruitment strategy used more commonly in the corporate world.

The row turns on the appointment of Peter Ucko, professor of archaeology at Southampton University. He has been offered the directorship of UCL's prestigious institute of archaeology, a post once held by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, in succession to David Harris next year.

The institute has strong links with Southampton. Since 1990, it has been possible for students at the institute to take courses at Southampton's archaeology department, and vice versa. But some academics are disappointed that the post was not advertised.

Wendy Davies, dean of social and historical science, who was on the search committee, conceded the action was "most unusual".

Helen Donoghue, UCL's Association of University Teachers representative, said that college recruitment procedures were "lacking in detail". Although nothing had been done which contradicts college procedures, she said, "there is a feeling that the appointment was against the spirit of equal opportunities policy".

She said she had received several complaints from academics, saying that "some people have not minced their words".

Dr Roberts, a former director of engineering giant GEC, denied that Professor Ucko was presented to the search committee as a fait accompli, arguing that 15 names were discussed. He admitted the post was not advertised. He said: "We were in a position to be able to appoint the best person available and so we could not afford to indulge in advertising and all the delay that ensues."

He has met disgruntled staff within the institute but insists the appointment "was the job of the subcommittee, not everybody in the department".

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