Salford’s vice-chancellor’s candid mea culpa

Martin Hall offers regrets after inglorious June but remains committed to post

June 13, 2013

Not many vice-chancellors own up to their universities being “too aggressive” on job cuts, or lament the “tragedy” of closing languages courses when their institution is doing just that.

But given the University of Salford’s disastrous start to the month of June, it appears that Martin Hall, its vice-chancellor, has decided to think outside the box.

Last week, Salford disclosed that several courses, including modern languages, linguistics and areas of politics and contemporary history, would be closed; it announced yet another round of job cuts; and news emerged that its deputy vice-chancellor, Adrian Graves, had been sacked for gross misconduct after a “furious bust-up” with a student at the university’s swimming pool.

Add in continuing controversy over the cost of Salford’s new building at MediaCityUK and the university’s failed libel action against a former lecturer, and it might appear that Professor Hall’s cup is overflowing with a toxic and possibly overpowering brew.

Is it fair for the University and College Union to say that there have been 13 rounds of job cuts at Salford in less than two years?

“Yes, it is,” Professor Hall told Times Higher Education. Salford had “too aggressive an industrial-relations stance in previous years. We’ve got new leadership now in that area within the university.”

Was Dr Graves sacked over the swimming pool incident alone, or was the decision linked to a power struggle at the top of the institution?

“The charge was one of gross misconduct,” said Professor Hall, stating that the decision had been taken by a special council committee.

“That was the charge…on which he was dismissed. It was unaccept-able behaviour [towards a student].”

On the course closures, Professor Hall said that applications on the programmes were “a third of what we need for viability”. He added that Salford had lobbied government and sector officials to extend support for modern languages, “but that’s not forthcoming”.

The vice-chancellor described the closure of modern languages courses at universities around the country as a “tragedy”, but added: “I can’t shore up a national policy failure from one small university. What I’m doing is what everybody else has done.”

On MediaCityUK, Professor Hall said that the building was “worth every penny”. It has cost a reported £2 million a year in rent and £30 million in fitting-out costs.

“Without it we would have very little distinctiveness as a way forward,” he added.

The failed libel action against former Salford lecturer Gary Duke, who criticised Professor Hall and Dr Graves, is reported to have cost more than £100,000 after a judge ruled that the university could not take action as the matter centred on individuals.

Professor Hall countered that it was “never about me” but “was primarily about students and the university”. Pursuing the action was “a judgement call” and he “understands” the criticism, the vice-chancellor added.

Does he feel positive about the future at Salford and his ability to lead it? “I’m positive about being here, because otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I’ve got other places I could be,” Professor Hall said.

And he argued that in the context of recession, fluctuating student demand in a turbulent sector and previous job cuts, Salford was “doing well”.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

“I can’t shore up a national policy failure from one small university. What I’m doing is what everybody else has done.” Can this be interpreted as an admission that university management teams in the UK have been closing departments and sacking academics because the UK government has encouraged or allowed them to do so? 1. "I do what others do" is normally not accepted as an excuse. 2. How much damage needs to be inflicted before a failed national policy in Higher Education gets to be revised? 3. What about the UK's obligations under the UNESCO provisions for protection of academic freedom? See also an editorial in the Journal of Pathology http://journalofpathology.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/does-the-ref-have-an-impact-on-mental-health/ Thank you for having answered to the growing criticism you face (including from me). We continue to disagree on the way forward.
For an academic, Professor Hall clearly has problems with interpreting words. Mr Justice Eady seemed quite clear on the intent of the libel claim and who it was intended to benefit: " I am not convinced that there is a "real and substantial tort", so far as the University is concerned, or that the proceedings should be allowed to continue purely for the purpose of the University's obtaining an injunction to stifle criticism of Dr Graves and Professor Hall (for that is what it is about)..." it was about Hall not the "students" or the "University" as claimed by Hall. Moreover, the sum wasted on Hall's libel claim was in the very near region of £150,000 not £100,000 as reported above. Incidentally, the bulk of that money went to various legal firms of which Mr Ian Austin was a partner. Mr Austin acted for the University throughout as well as sitting on the University governing body as Chair of Audit Committee and on this committee as an ordinary member for most of the three years the libel claim ran. It was reported that the decision to initiate proceedings was made by Hall, Graves and the Chair of the University governing body and was not discussed by the University Council, which according to news reports, they admit was wrong. http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/cash-crisis-salford-uni-faces-huge-3157063 Hall's subsequent decision to launch an appeal to defend the reputation of the University, would have been highly entertaining at any appeal hearing, given his subsequent decision to suspend and investigate the other party to the claim - Adrian Graves Questions need to be asked and answers demanded by the campus unions: was this a god use of University funds during a period when staff were being made redundant? How could two senior managers and a leading University Council member make the decision to launch and maintain such an action with no agreement or ongoing oversight from the University Council? The launching of the civil action was extremely poor judgement on Hall's part. The unions must demand that both Hall and Graves refund the University the full cost of this fiasco? This could pay for two academic posts for another year. Given the debacle, the UCU and UNISON must take the initiative and immediately call for a vote of no confidence in Martin Hall. They should demand his immediate removal from office. Full court judgement Duke v University of Salford 2013 at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2013/196.html

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