Plymouth University's vice-chancellor returns after suspension

Wendy Purcell ‘will have to regain confidence of staff’ at the university

November 13, 2014

Source: British Council

Wendy Purcell: the conditions of the v-c’s return remain unclear

Uncertainty still surrounds Wendy Purcell’s future at Plymouth University, after the institution was unable to answer questions about her return as vice-chancellor with reduced powers, and any costs associated with the deal.

Professor Purcell, who was suspended in July, began work again as vice-chancellor on 10 November.

But the university has stated that David Coslett, the deputy vice-chancellor who has led Plymouth in her absence, “is confirmed as the university’s interim chief executive and accountable officer and will have overall responsibility for the running of the university”.

Professor Purcell, meanwhile, will have a “strategic portfolio” focused on “external and sector relations, and the university’s wider enterprise agenda”. It remains unclear whether this is a permanent return for Professor Purcell, whose pay and pensions package was worth £330,000 in 2012-13, or the first step in a negotiated exit at a later date.

Times Higher Education asked the university whether Professor Purcell would return on her previous salary, what the total of legal fees incurred by the university was, whether the university would pay her legal fees in whole or part, whether any other financial compensation had been awarded to her as part of the settlement, and whether she would be leaving the institution at a later date.

As THE went to press, the university had been unable to provide answers to any of those questions.

The university has never disclosed the charges against her. But THE understands that they included a complaint by a senior member of staff about her management style and allegations about her spending.

Professor Purcell was suspended by William Taylor, chair of governors at the time but who has since stepped down. After her suspension, claims emerged in the media that Mr Taylor had sexually harassed female staff and students.

The allegations against Mr Taylor, which he denies, have been the subject of an independent investigation led by barrister Simon Cheetham. THE asked the university what the findings of this investigation were. The university again did not provide an answer.

Last month, University and College Union members at Plymouth backed a vote of no confidence in Professor Purcell.

Philippa Davey, UCU regional support official in the South West, said: “The vice-chancellor will return knowing that, with governors and management, she will have much to do in order to regain the confidence of the academic staff.” The union “welcomes the opportunity to create an open, honest and transparent university”, she added.

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