The controversial head of Swansea University’s School of Management is having all his communications with students vetted by the university and the students’ union after complaints about a series of incendiary remarks.
Nigel Piercy’s tenure as dean of the school has been dogged by controversy ever since he, his son and his partner were recruited by the institution in 2013. Earlier this month, the Western Mail revealed that 13 formal complaints had been submitted to the school in that time by staff and students.
In November, Professor Piercy was reprimanded for his hostile and sarcastic tone in response to concerns raised by PhD students.
His comments included: “this comment does not rate high on an independent thinking criterion”; “your political value judgments are irrelevant”; and “the budget activities [of the school] are nothing to do with PGR [postgraduate research] students”.
The latest source of tension was the announcement to PhD students in December that 11 named doctoral students in economics would have their office facilities imminently moved to another building.
The message was circulated in an emailed document from Professor Piercy – seen by Times Higher Education. It says that the 11 will be relocated in the Richard Price Building and offered a “separate schedule” of events from other postgraduates on the grounds that, according to other students, they “undermine every positive effort by the school”.
Adding that other students have complained that this creates a “toxic atmosphere”, Professor Piercy writes: “Obviously, we cannot allow one group of students to undermine the experience of another.” Any economics student who objects to their move will need to “explain why”.
The Richard Price Building is where economics academics – with whom Professor Piercy has repeatedly crossed swords – are located. As a result, the academics reportedly refer to the building as “Guantanamo Bay”.
THE understands that the economics students reacted furiously to Professor Piercy’s remarks. Ilana Cohen, education officer at the Swansea University Students’ Union, threatened to boycott a “task group” set up after more than 1,000 people signed a petition she launched in November complaining about how negative publicity surrounding the School of Management has affected students’ degrees. The committee is charged with implementing an action plan to improve the student experience in the school.
Subsequently, the university agreed that every communication with students by Professor Piercy should be signed off by Ms Cohen and Raymond Ciborowski, the university’s registrar and chief operating officer.
One such communication was sent to the 11 economics students in the week after Professor Piercy’s original remarks. In it, he asks them to “forgive” his previous email and apologises for “any upset this may have caused”. The motivation for their proposed relocation was their expressed dissatisfaction with existing facilities, he says, but it is “fine” for them to remain if they wish to.
The dean also says that he is planning to meet each student individually, “with representatives from the university also present”, to “better understand your needs”.
Swansea University declined to comment.