Protracted clashes with council led to the early departure of City's v-c

Malcolm Gillies resigned after long-term conflicts over governance. Melanie Newman reports

July 30, 2009

The resignation of City University London's vice-chancellor followed at least a year of conflict with the institution's governing council, Times Higher Education has learnt.

Staff at the university were told last week that Malcolm Gillies was stepping down after less than two years because of "differing views on matters of governance". A survey of council members last summer noted that the council had "failed over the past year on clarifying the relative responsibilities of the vice-chancellor and the council".

More contact and a "more engaging relationship" with the vice-chancellor was needed, the survey indicated. It also identified an "ambiguous relationship" with City's executive committee in which non-executive council members had "too little interface with management".

Members complained that they often had to make "important decisions requiring immediate action without a full context".

At about the same time, John Stuttard, a chartered accountant and former Lord Mayor of the City of London, was appointed chair of the council. Times Higher Education understands that Professor Gillies disagreed with him over his voice in City's running. Sir John resigned in November 2008 for health reasons.

In the months after Sir John's departure, Professor Gillies is understood to have lobbied for more external council members with backgrounds in education and a former vice-chancellor as chair.

Months later, no chair had been appointed and the council decided that an independent review of its effectiveness should be carried out by Egon Zehnder, a consultancy firm, which would also inform the recruitment decision. Professor Gillies opposed the review.

The firm reported its findings to the council at a meeting on 13 July. Times Higher Education asked City if the findings were related to the vice-chancellor's exit. A spokeswoman said the report was confidential.

Professor Gillies' departure on 23 July has also prompted suggestions that disagreements arose from his preference for investment in teaching rather than administration and a liberal approach at odds with a business-focused board.

But one source suggested that the clash was primarily about him "acting too much like a chief executive".

Professor Gillies will remain as professor of music at City until January 2010. Julius Weinberg, the deputy vice-chancellor, will take the reins until a replacement is found.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

THE CASUALTIES OF CONFLICT

Malcolm Gillies is one of three university heads to step down this year after clashes with governors.

Simon Lee resigned as vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University in January after governors gave him an ultimatum: leave or face a hearing into "serious complaints regarding his treatment of staff". He maintained that a dispute with Ninian Watt, the chair of governors, about whether to raise tuition fees was the reason for his ousting.

Martin Everett, vice-chancellor of the University of East London, was also given a choice: resign or be investigated for alleged poor leadership. He chose the latter course, but then stepped down in March.

In the same month, Brian Roper, vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University, resigned due to the controversy over student-data returns. He, however, had had the support of London Met's governors.

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