Caution on Pimlott ignored

August 16, 2002

The governing council at Goldsmiths College awarded Ben Pimlott a second five-year term as warden against the recommendation of its own reappointment committee, it emerged this week.

The THES has learnt that the committee, set up by the council to review Professor Pimlott's future, recommended that he should be reappointed for just one year. This was to allow for a further review of his position amid concerns about his management voiced by academics.

It is understood that the committee's recommendation was a compromise between four members who said that Professor Pimlott should not be reappointed and five members who thought he should be given another chance. Deputy chair of council Sir Robert Balchin was understood to be among those who said he should not be reappointed.

But in a private session last month, the full council reappointed Professor Pimlott for a full five-year term.

Staff are angry that the council, dominated by lay members with little direct experience of the college, ignored the advice of a committee comprising three senior academics elected by staff. The council's decision came just weeks after a vote of no confidence in Professor Pimlott by members of Goldsmiths' Association of University Teachers.

Staff representatives said Professor Pimlott, a royal biographer and high-profile historian, had "failed to provide the leadership that Goldsmiths needs". They accused him of failing to engage in meaningful consultation and of bypassing the appropriate bodies over reforms. They alleged that he had refused to follow equal opportunities procedures, which he denies.

The AUT has since drawn up a list of demands for greater transparency and consultation at the college, which is part of London University.

Professor Pimlott is also understood to have clashed with the academic board earlier this year when minutes of a board meeting wrongly reported that the board had "accepted" his plan to reform the college's administration, which gave increased powers to the warden and two senior officers. The board had only reluctantly agreed to "receive" the plan, and had declined to endorse it. The minutes were changed after protests from the board.

The governing council set up the committee to review Professor Pimlott's position in June - he ends his first five-year term of office in September next year.

It is understood that council chairman Sir William Utting, a former member of the Nolan committee on standards in public life, supported Professor Pimlott's reappointment for one year at the committee stage.

But when the committee's recommendation went to the full council meeting, Sir William spoke in favour of rejecting the committee's advice and reappointing Professor Pimlott for five years.

Sir William declined to comment, as did Sir Robert and the academic members of the reappointment committee.

But one member of the council said: "I would have thought and hoped that the council would have taken the advice of the committee much more seriously than it did. Those on the committee who said Professor Pimlott should not be reappointed were not a bunch of madmen attempting a coup, they considered the position carefully and were prepared to bravely speak out."

A college spokeswoman said internal discussions involving individuals were confidential.

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