Report attacks Queen's

July 5, 1996

Queen's University, Belfast has been accused of settling some fair employment cases out of court, without admitting liability, to safeguard its image, writes Noel Mcadam.

In addition to the charge of "cheque-book diplomacy", an internal report also accuses management of a "head in the sand" approach to problem-solving.

The university's public relations department comes in for particular criticism in the 70-page document which recommends the establishment of a new public affairs office.

The official paper was leaked on the day Queen's vice chancellor, Sir Gordon Beveridge, revealed he is to resign two years early.

A university spokesman said the report was one of a number commissioned over the years. The executive board had not yet reached any formal conclusions on it, and it would not be considered by the governing body until the autumn.

The report was compiled after 122 interviews with staff, students and a number of external people described as key decision-makers. It said: "Resulting from the bad publicity generated by issues such as fair employment and the national anthem, the university has had its image tarnished in the eyes of both communities in Northern Ireland.

"While both communities have attitude difficulties with the institution, in particular there appears to be a more marked chill factor within sections of the Protestant community towards the university."

The report, called Communicating Excellence: A Public Affairs Strategy for Queen's, also said morale has been hit by "a culture at Queen's in which those who achieve success were unrewarded in order to prevent embarrassment to those who were less successful".

It added that a core theme of the interviews with the external people was the lack of leadership given by the management on key issues, including employment tribunals and the row over the decision to drop the national anthem from graduation ceremonies to avoid giving offence to Catholics and nationalists. The research was done by public relations firm Drury Communications in the first three months of the year. It concluded that perceptions in the community may not reflect the real situation but "it is the management of perceptions, as well as the reality, that is important to the shaping of future communications policy".

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