Brian Duffield, chief executive of the University of the Highlands and Islands project, resigned this week, hours before UHI Foundation members received a report into alleged complaints of mismanagement, intimidation and autocratic leadership.
In a letter to UHI board chairman Sir Fraser Morrison, he offered to retire next February or earlier "in the interests of UHI". Sir Fraser accepted his resignation with immediate effect. Alistair MacFarlane, former principal of Heriot-Watt University, is now acting chief executive.
In the wake of press reports in June of complaints about Professor Duffield's management style, the UHI initially insisted there had been no such complaints. But former civil servant Kenneth MacKay was eventually charged with investigating whether complaints had been received and if so, how they were handled.
The Association of University Teachers Scotland has condemned the inadequacy of the UHI's grievance procedures. The foundation has insisted on keeping Mr MacKay's report confidential, and is urging the board of governors not to publish it. In his resignation letter, Professor Duffield said he "fundamentally disagreed" with the way the inquiry had been carried out and its findings.
"However, I believe that to contest the matters in the present climate would do serious damage to the UHI project and its public credibility."
He accused a "vocal minority" of persistent attempts to destabilise the UHI's bid to be designated a higher education institution, but said he was confident of designation in the autumn.
Professor Duffield also disclosed that he had never planned to apply to be principal of the new higher education institution.
Sir Fraser Morrison praised Professor Duffield's drive and determination, and said he deserved much of the credit if the UHI won designation in the near future.