Management feud behind Abertay Dundee suspensions, source claims

An irreconcilable breakdown in relations among members of the University of Abertay Dundee’s senior management team is behind the suspension of its principal and his deputy, Times Higher Education understands.

February 3, 2011

Bernard King, principal and vice-chancellor of the university, was suspended this week, joining his deputy Nicholas Terry on the sidelines. Professor Terry was suspended on 21 January.

A source close to the dispute said that senior managers were “effectively at war with each other” and claimed that the failure of Abertay Dundee’s court to intervene earlier had exacerbated the problem. A disagreement over a series of financial decisions under discussion was said to have been the final straw in the feud, which had been “building up for years”.

THE has also learned that action was taken by the court after a series of complaints were made about what some had claimed to be a lack of leadership at the institution.

Abertay Dundee said in a statement released earlier this week that the pair had been suspended on “unrelated issues”.

Yesterday, Steve Olivier, acting principal and vice-chancellor, addressed workers at a meeting that reportedly was also attended by former members of staff.

Professor Olivier said he was “extremely surprised” to find himself in the role, but said he appreciated the trust that had been shown in him.

He told staff he could not comment on the suspensions, but confirmed he had been in contact with the Scottish Funding Council, the Quality Assurance Agency and senior civil servants.

He said his three aims for the university were to find “unity of purpose”, to convince others of the institution’s strength, vitality and viability, and to move towards “clear water”.

“I do want you to know that I’ll listen, but it doesn’t mean that I’ll take that advice. I will take decisions that you will find unpopular,” he said.

“I’m not here to change things massively, but I don’t want us to just be in stasis. I don’t want business as usual: I want a little bit more from us than that.”

Refusing to take questions or comments, he also warned staff against speaking to the media.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you what to do…[but] this is simply to protect the institution,” he said.

Abertay Dundee’s University and College Union branch held a local meeting after the address.

“We are prepared to engage with the interim management structures to try and assist them to resolve this as quickly as possible,” said Deborah Shepherd, regional support officer at the UCU.

But she warned that the branch would only work with managers “on the condition that they start to engage with the staff and union in a way that is mutually beneficial and includes an examination of what went wrong”.

“We are not pleased to be here. Members are extremely concerned that we have got into this position because we have complained over a number of years about the management style at this university,” she added.

The university confirmed that its interim executive team would include Ian Simpson as acting director of operations and David Heeley as acting pro vice-chancellor for academic development.

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