Principal's monthly meetings bring out the big issues - such as loos and draughts

January 26, 2007

It seems that it is not only social space that staff dislike sharing with students, a recent meeting at Glasgow Caledonian University showed, writes Olga Wojtas.

At the latest monthly meeting between the principal, Pamela Gillies, and her colleagues, Professor Gillies heard how staff in the university's Saltire Centre were sniffy about having to share the first-floor toilets with students. One staff member said: "We'd love to have that area to ourselves."

And, proving how worthwhile to staff such meetings are, Professor Gillies immediately replied: "That shouldn't be too problematic."

Professor Gillies, who joined Glasgow Caledonian last year, instituted the monthly meetings to keep herself abreast of the latest staff gossip and concerns. They have proved popular.

In addition to toilets, Professor Gillies was lobbied for an hour last week on matters ranging from institutional strategy to draught-proofing glass walls.

Staff can be surprisingly honest. One member of the technical support team told Professor Gillies that he had had a job offer from another institution, but he said he would rather stay at Glasgow Caledonian because the institution was considering proposals that would allow qualified support staff to apply to be lecturers.

Professor Gillies was able to reassure the man that the proposals had gone to the unions for discussion. She said that although she did not want to pre-empt negotiations, she believed that the unions were enthusiastic and she was anxious not to lose good staff.

Even quite sensitive issues are dealt with openly. One academic asked about rumours that there were plans to do away with associate deans and wanted to know the rationale behind it.

Professor Gillies said the university's task group on bureaucracy thought GCU was too top-down and should be streamlined. She added: "This is one of the suggestions, and no decision has been taken. We won't be changing anything until (the report has) gone out for consultation."

The Times Higher asked whether, as principal, Professor Gillies did not have more important things to deal with than complaints about draughty work stations and loos.

But she explained: "The concerns and comfort of the staff are paramount, and communication is always an issue in a university - there are always the rumour mills. The more opportunity we have to make sure staff have correct information, the better."

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