Birmingham pro v-c’s remark infuriates staff

Malcolm Press withdraws claim to have ‘managed out’ under-performing staff at university

September 12, 2013

Source: Alamy

‘Open to misinterpretation’: ‘what I described as “managing out” could have been more clearly and sensitively articulated’

Controversy about “aggressive” management at the University of Birmingham has been further stoked after a senior manager sent an email that boasted of having “managed out” underperformers.

The remarks – now withdrawn – were made in a document emailed in June to all academics in Birmingham’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences by its then head, Malcolm Press.

The document, entitled “Strategic Priorities for 2013/14 and beyond”, read: “Since its inception, and taking [research assessment exercise] 2008 as a starting point, the college has worked to advance further the internationally leading Schools of Psychology and Sport and Exercise Sciences. At the same time, we have managed out under-performing staff in [the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences] and Biosciences. We have then refocused around areas of research strength, and made new appointments in these areas.”

Times Higher Education understands that the use of the phrase “managed out” provoked disquiet, with some academics interpreting it as an implication that undue pressure had been put on academics to resign.

The controversy came against a background of unrest at Birmingham about what the University and College Union has previously described as aggressive management tactics. The union claimed that a toughened performance management regime had been introduced without consultation and was being used by some managers to target academics with whom they had clashed or whose research they did not value.

The unrest culminated in a successful strike ballot in February, although industrial action was later called off following negotiations.

Under pressure from the UCU, Professor Press, who recently became Birmingham’s pro vice-chancellor for research and know-ledge transfer, last month sent another email to College of Life and Environmental Sciences academics acknowledging that his original language had been “open to misinterpretation” and that “what I described as ‘managing out’ could have been more clearly and sensitively articulated. I wish therefore to withdraw those words and to explain what I meant by them,” he said. “You will know that our approach to enhancing performance is characterised by a commitment to supporting staff to give of their best.

“My aim is to help [people] get back on track to satisfactory performance, and there are examples of success to point to in this regard. Sometimes, going through this process, the individual may come to realise that his/her best interests might lie in pursuing other opportunities outside the university, and a small number of these staff have agreed to terms of voluntary redundancy…[but] the final decision is rightly theirs.”

He added that in “a very small number of cases”, disciplinary action had been taken “to signal our concern about an individual’s continued and serious underperformance”. But he said that “even in these cases we are continuing to support them through a process of setting reasonable objectives, monitoring and feedback on performance”.

The UCU said it was satisfied with the statement and regarded the matter as closed.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

sitting by statue

Institutions told they have a ‘culture of excluding postgraduates’ in wake of damning study