According to a report on the BBC’s website, senior managers commissioned respected furniture designer John Makepeace to produce the handcrafted chairs, despite the university’s PR department warning that it could cause reputational damage.
David Coslett, Plymouth’s deputy vice-chancellor, said the commissioning of new graduation furniture was “the next stage in the development of our graduation ceremonies”, which he said attracted more than 25,000 students and guests to the city, injecting “around £700,000 worth of additional tourism income” into the local economy.
“While the detailed process of commissioning the graduation furniture continues and commercial discussions with third parties are ongoing, the university’s intention will be to fund this legacy project externally through private donations and charitable foundations,” he said.
“Ultimately, this is not about ‘chairs’ but a collection of contemporary design pieces by one of the world’s leading furniture designers.”
He added that even before launching the project publicly, the works had “attracted the attention of one major museum which is interested in adding to its contemporary design collection”.
It is the latest controversy to hit the institution in recent weeks. Last month, William Taylor, the retired judge who chairs Plymouth’s board of governors, announced that he had initiated an independent investigation into claims that he had sexually harassed female staff, which he denies. Mr Taylor has stepped aside pending the outcome of the investigation.
The crisis at Plymouth has been deepening since 1 July, when it emerged that Wendy Purcell, the university’s vice-chancellor, had been “placed on leave” by Mr Taylor and the board of governors. It is now known that Professor Purcell was initially suspended, but her status has since changed and she is currently on paid leave.