Kingston University vice-chancellor Julius Weinberg has rejected criticisms of his institution’s abolition of the positions of principal lecturer and reader, saying that the move will help senior staff to become professors.
As part of a new academic progression and promotion system introduced at Kingston in 2013-14, all academic staff on grade 10 – two ranks above senior lecturer – have been invited to apply for new “associate professor” roles.
Of 222 staff eligible to apply, 167 submitted an application and 117 were successful, taking up their new posts this month.
Another 20 senior staff took voluntary redundancies in the summer ahead of the changes, according to union leaders, who say the reapplication process is “de facto grade dilution” and that principal lecturers play a vital, often undervalued, role in running academic departments.
Senior staff turned down for associate professor roles had often received only one or two lines of feedback, said Julian Wells, acting chair of Kingston’s University and College Union branch. “We would be rebuked by management if we supplied such cursory feedback to our students,” Dr Wells said.
Initial comments from staff also suggested that those with a teaching-focused application for an associate professorship might have been treated less favourably than those with a heavier emphasis on research, he added.
But Professor Weinberg said that such accusations of bias in favour of researchers were “complete nonsense”. “We had some people who are more research-oriented who didn’t get through because we wanted them to do more teaching,” he said.
Several individuals who failed to win associate professorships had “failed to engage in the [reapplication] process” and had “not taken it seriously enough”, Professor Weinberg added.
Several unsuccessful candidates included “some individuals who happened to be active in the union” who were “confusing their own personal disappointment [with unhappiness about the process] and are stirring”, he added.
However, staff who failed to gain associate professor roles were welcome to reapply and would receive support over the next five years to do so before they were shifted down to grade 9, Professor Weinberg said.
“It is an extremely supportive process,” he said, noting that staff had been invited to receive verbal feedback on their submissions. “It is not, in any way, a redundancy process,” he added.
Scrapping the principal lecturer post, which is generally found only in post-1992 universities, was required because “it meant nothing outside a very narrow range of universities”, whereas the associate professor role was recognised internationally, Professor Weinberg said.
Those who took the role, which included directors of studies and programme coordinators, often ended up swamped by administrative tasks that hampered their promotion to the professoriate, he added.
“This is about developing a clear and effective career pathway for the future,” he said.
“This is a great opportunity for academics, and people have been telling me that they wish it had happened 10 years ago,” he added.