Concerns about Plymouth University chairman predate current crisis

Board member made aware of claims related to ‘wider working practices’ in December 2012

August 28, 2014

Source: Alamy

Senior figures at Plymouth University were told as early as 2012 of claims that its chair of governors had shown “unacceptable behaviour” towards members of staff, Times Higher Education has learned.

William Taylor, the retired judge who chairs Plymouth’s board of governors, announced last week that he had initiated an independent investigation into claims that he had sexually harassed female staff, which he denies.

He has stood aside pending the investigation’s findings.

The crisis at Plymouth has been deepening since 1 July, when it emerged that Wendy Purcell, the university’s vice-chancellor, had been “placed on leave” by Mr Taylor and the board of governors. It has now emerged that Professor Purcell was initially suspended but her status has since changed and she is currently on paid leave.

Mr Taylor said in his statement last week that at a “late stage in the review of matters involving the vice-chancellor, she submitted allegations against me to my fellow governors”.

THE understands that at least one member of the board of governors was made aware of allegations against Mr Taylor of “unacceptable behaviour” towards members of staff in December 2012.

The allegations were not raised by Professor Purcell.

Mr Taylor had been appointed chair of governors in October 2012.

However, in a statement, Plymouth’s acting chair of governors, Steve Pearce, says that concerns raised in 2012 related to “wider working practices”.

“No member of the board had any knowledge of [sexual harassment] allegations before receiving the vice-chancellor’s correspondence [last month],” he says.

On the change in Professor Purcell’s status, a spokesman for the university said: “Initially the vice-chancellor was formally suspended, but in accordance with its duty of care, the university did not make public reference to her suspension.

“Subsequently, the vice-chancellor agreed to take paid leave on the same terms and conditions as the initial suspension. This included the continued withdrawal of her duties and responsibilities as chief accountable officer.”

The spokesman refused to disclose the nature of the allegations against Professor Purcell.

He said: “We can confirm that the vice-chancellor is aware of the detail of the specific complaints made about her conduct and has been invited to respond accordingly.

“As this is a confidential matter, the university is not in a position to disclose any details of the complaints and nor would it be appropriate to do so.”

The Higher Education Funding Council for England has recommended that Plymouth undertake an external, independent review of governance in light of recent events.

But Plymouth has said that it will do so only “once current internal matters are satisfactorily resolved”.

Hefce is understood to have received several letters from figures connected with Plymouth urging it to press the university to begin the review immediately.

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