A leaked paper written by management at Swansea University’s School of Management, where senior figures Nigel and Niall Piercy have been at the centre of controversy, describes critics among its economics staff as a “cancer” that “must be removed”.
Meanwhile, Swansea’s students’ union has been refused access to CCTV footage that it requested to investigate claims that copies of a student newspaper containing a report on the leaked document had disappeared from a university building soon after being made available.
Nigel Piercy is dean of the school and his son Niall Piercy is pro dean for research and engagement. The Piercys’ tenure, which began in 2013, has been marked by a series of conflicts with both staff and students, principally in economics.
The 2 February edition of student newspaper The Waterfront reported on a leaked “position paper” written by the school’s management in October setting out a case for closing economics.
The paper is scathing about Swansea’s economics staff – although The Waterfront reports only the claim that they are manipulating “students and the students’ union to do their dirty work”.
The position paper, seen by Times Higher Education, says that the school’s efforts to reverse two decades of “terminal decline” in economics have been “entirely undermined and obfuscated by the actions of certain legacy staff in economics”, who have “blocked change”, “played political games”, “sabotaged teaching”, leaked “damaging (and inaccurate) stories to the press” and “deliberately lied to and manipulated students to cause upset”.
“Certain senior individuals have created themselves into a cancer – that must now be removed to allow the rest of the school to survive,” it adds, mooting two waves of redundancies, in this summer and next.
Regarding the reported disappearance of copies of The Waterfront, Swansea’s students’ union has asked the university for the relevant CCTV footage of the building. However, a spokeswoman for Swansea said that the request had been denied because of “data protection issues”.
The union’s education officer, Ilana Cohen, denied being manipulated by economics staff, saying: “My role is solely directed by students.”
A petition she launched in November raising concern about the negative publicity surrounding the school garnered more than 1,000 signatures. Professor Nigel Piercy now has to consult with her over any communication with students after her complaints about the tone of his remarks to disgruntled postgraduates.
In December, he was forced to backtrack on plans to remove economics postgraduates’ office facilities to a separate building from those of other postgraduates amid claims that they were creating a “toxic atmosphere”.
In August, a restructuring document written by Professor Nigel Piercy announced that economics – previously a separate “section” within the school – would be merged with accounting and finance. It was proposed that labour economists would be relocated to a new “self-funding research institute” outside the school, but that plan was later dropped.
However, the Swansea spokeswoman said that economics would continue to be “central to teaching and research in the school”, with expanded staffing and student applications.