Lawyer takes chair on troubled campus

January 12, 1996

The University of Portsmouth has elected a new chair of governors, promising a clean break for the troubled new university.

Caroline Williams, a local solicitor, was elected as chair on December 20, almost exactly a year after former vice chancellor Neil Merritt resigned amid allegations of expenses irregularities.

Mrs Williams, who works for Blake Lapthorn Solicitors, was voted in to the chair after the incumbent Stuart Waring withdrew his nomination. University staff had called consistently for the resignation of Mr Waring and Charles Brims, a senior board member and former audit committee chairman, in connection with their investigation of Professor Merritt's expenses.

Mrs Williams says that Mr Waring decided it would be in the best interests of the 15,000-student university not to seek re-election. He was also due to retire later this year having served the maximum five years as chairman.

She is now determined to distance the university from the upheavals caused by the resignation of Mr Merritt and the ensuing internecine disputes.

"Mr Waring felt, in the circumstances, that it was better to have that clean break. I think this break has been made but it had to be recognised publicly," she said.

Portsmouth's Joint Trades Union Committee, which had pressed for resignations, has welcomed Mr Waring's decision to stand down and Mrs Williams' subsequent appointment.

But union spokesmen are now calling on Mrs Williams to reinstate Bonnie Tall, Mr Merritt's former secretary, and to ensure a "just and proper" settlement for former deputy vice chancellor John Pickering, who was effectively forced to resign.

Mrs Williams said that both matters had been resolved and that she thought there was nothing further to be judged by the university.

She said that many problems at new universities stem from a lack of consideration given to management training and systems in the period of transition from polytechnic to university: "We were expected to create management systems from thin air."

A working party on governance at Portsmouth University is due to report in March. Mrs Williams believes the findings will be of interest to other former polytechnics which may have had similar experiences.

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