Staff get rid of the boss

September 8, 2000

Psychology staff at Leicester University have ousted their head of department, Anne Colley, by popular vote, following her much-criticised role in a whistleblowing controversy revealed by The THES.

The staff of the psychology department have undone a senior management decision to renew Professor Colley's headship, voting her out in a secret ballot, in favour of a candidate who called for "a more consensual style of management".

The ballot was forced in the face of opposition from senior managers.

Since February 1999, The THES has reported on Professor Colley's role in the controversy surrounding whistleblower Andrew Colman, who has repeatedly complained about the university's procedures for promoting staff. His complaints have prompted a number of embarrassments for the university, and have led to frequent clashes with Professor Colley.

Professor Colman spent more than a decade at the top of the senior lecturer scale, being passed over for promotions given to staff with lower university rankings.

His complaints, largely that the procedures were not fair and were not being adhered to, led to the university being called discourteous by the Queen, the university's visitor. In June last year, the data protection registrar said it was "a matter of concern" that staff had been asked to pass private personal data on Professor Colman to Professor Colley.

Things came to a head in October 1999 when Professor Colley issued Professor Colman with a formal disciplinary warning for failing to deliver a set of exam questions on time. Earlier this year, following allegations of victimisation, the disciplinary action against Professor Colman was withdrawn on appeal.

Professor Colman was finally given a chair, and the vice-chancellor, Bob Burgess, reformed the procedures for staff promotions earlier this year. The episodes appear to have affected Professor Colley's popularity with her staff.

In March this year, months before Professor Colley's term as head was due to end, the vice-chancellor had already decided that her headship should be extended for another three-year term. But there was a complaint that there had been no consultation with the department, as required under the university's procedures.

At first the university tried to set up an informal consultative meeting. But Professor Colman said that the consultation should be confidential, with a secret ballot of the department's 30-plus eligible staff. Ed Millar, the psychology professor who was charged with organising the consultation, was reluctant. He described Professor Colman's request as "over the top" and said that Professor Colley was "the sole option put forward by the university centrally". The acting dean of the faculty, Ian Lauder, said a secret ballot was neither "necessary nor desirable".

But popular will prevailed. After a staff meeting called by the vice-chancellor in June, the staff forced a change of heart.

A rival to Professor Colley, Michael Joseph, emerged. Among changes that Professor Joseph proposed in his election statement was the adoption of "a more consensual style of management".

In July, Professor Joseph was elected - by what is understood to be a clear majority - as head of department, to serve for three years beginning last month.

The university this week said that it had, in common with many other universities, a three-year rotational system for departmental heads. "The university organises elections when more than one nomination comes forward at the time that an appointment or re-appointment is being considered. In the case of psychology, two nominations were received and an election was held."

Professor Colley has declined to comment.

Phil Baty

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