Plans 'madness' says memo

February 25, 2000

A senior consultant behind reforms at Liverpool John Moores University has dismissed the latest measures as "utter folly which will lead to disaster".

Just weeks after a vote of no confidence in the university executive by staff union Unison, Peter Fowler, head of the learning methods unit, has warned of "alarming" developments for academic staff.

In an internal memo, Professor Fowler, a consultant to the team behind reforms, warned senior colleagues that management has isolated itself with unaccountable decisions. He said some plans were "madness".

The university is seeking a new vice-chancellor to replace Peter Toyne, who will retire early, later this year, leaving the university facing cuts.

Professor Fowler wrote: "I, and many others, can see the writing on the wall. And the writing will soon give way to slogans; and who, in their right mind, would want a job running a place characterised by bitterness, recriminations and resentments?"

The reforms are designed partly to save Pounds 2.5 million in each of the next three years. There have been redundancies in senior management and nearly 200 voluntary redundancies. Administrative staff fear sweeping redundancies.

Professor Fowler, who went to Delaware University to report on reforms there, said alliance between management and academics was essential to any reform.

Such an alliance "is being studiously ignored", he said. "Central management has, I assert, no allies at all. It is disembodied and acts as if it were running a Fordist production-line factory. Given that we are now in the 21st century this is utter folly and will lead to disaster."

Professor Fowler also complained of an increasing perception of "discrepancies" between treatment for different tiers of management. "It looks like - and this is the problem - certain people were better able to defend their service teams than others ... I can understand absolutely the perception that is abroad that vindictiveness is stalking the corridors.

"There is a need for an explanation as to why certain people were slotted into positions and certain others given the elbow. There appears to be - and I stress the word 'appears' because perceptions are indisputably important - no logical reason for many of the actions that have taken place."

Professor Fowler told The THES he was appalled that his private draft memo had been made public. It was sent to only six senior directors and he had decided not to deliver it to the vice-chancellor.

Professor Fowler's comments follow the LJMU annual staff survey that showed low staff morale and dissatisfaction with management. The survey allows staff to question managers and of 286 questions asked, 10 were on equal opportunities policy, 68 were on staff pay and conditions, 35 were on quality issues and 50 were on management and organisation, including one on "excessively highly paid fat-cat managers".

Adrian Jones, regional official for lecturers' union Natfhe, said that morale was "seriously low". He echoed Professor Fowler's concerns that LJMU was seeking a manager, rather than an academic, as its new vice-chancellor.

A spokeswoman for LJMU said it would be inappropriate to comment on Unison's vote "while consultations between the union and management are still ongoing".

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