Stan Mason, principal of Glasgow Caledonian University and Scotland's highest-paid principal, has unexpectedly given up his post just as the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has announced a further investigation into the university's management.
SHEFC's chief executive, John Sizer, is carrying out an inquiry into GCU on behalf of the National Audit Office following allegations of mismanagement.
Neither the SHEFC nor the NAO will outline the allegations, but Professor Sizer has now said that following his initial investigation, he has decided to make a more detailed inquiry, focussing more closely on "propriety, accountability and value for money in the use of public funds". He had no concerns about the university's overall financial health.
On the day that Professor Sizer announced his decision, the university's chair of court, Malcolm Campbell, said Professor Mason, 63, had "relinquished his duties with immediate effect" and asked the court to consider his early retirement.
"The university court has approved in principle that we follow this course of action, provided it is fully within all the regulations that may apply to it," said Mr Campbell.
Professor Mason was keen to return to his long-standing international research and consultancy interests, and had indicated for some time to staff that it might be time for others to take forward the challenge of developing the university to meet the needs of the new century, Mr Campbell said.
"Both Professor Mason and the university have also been concerned about the effect of the stress of the ongoing SHEFC investigation on his wife and family."
Professor Mason's two sons work in the university's bulk solids handling unit, one as a senior lecturer and one as laboratory manager. One of his daughters-in-law recently left a post as recreation development officer in student services.
Professor Mason is the sixth highest paid vice chancellor in the country, with his 1995-96 salary topping Pounds 123,000. He is the third head of the institution in a row to leave suddenly following alleged staff discontent.
His predecessor, Norman Meadows, director of the then Glasgow College, left in 1988. A statement from the board of governors said Dr Meadows, 63, was seeking early retirement, but had asked to give up his responsibilities immediately in order to concentrate on research.
Dr Meadows's predecessor, Reginald Beale also took early retirement after a highly critical report from the Council for National Academic Awards.