The future of Gerald Stockdale as principal of Swansea Institute of Higher Education is in doubt this week following the resignation of two prominent governors.
The resignations come in the wake of a stormy governors' meeting at which there was an attempt to push through a unanimous vote of confidence in Professor Stockdale, who attended in contravention of the institute's rules of governance.
Last week, staff recorded a vote of no confidence in the principal and two other senior managers.
Val Feld, director of the Equal Opportunities Commission in Wales and a governor for the past four years, said she was forced to resign in order to avoid a gagging order. Another governor, Jackie Williams, wife of the dean of the international office Brychan Williams, one of the senior managers criticised by staff last week, has also resigned.
Ms Feld said: "The governing body wished to prevent me speaking out as a governor or expressing any independent point of view. I reached my decision that my position as a governor was untenable when asked to support a broad statement of confidence in the senior management of the institute. I did not consider that the seriousness of the situation which had led to such an overwhelming vote of no confidence from staff had been adequately addressed by the governing body."
Ms Feld expressed concern "at the slow pace of implementation of a procedure to ensure management and financial accountability and academic standards". She also raised questions about the independence of the governing body. Several governors have links with a local FE college, Gorseinon College. One governor is the college's principal, Penelope Ryan. Professor Stockdale is one of Gorseinon's governors. "The degree of overlap does not look good," Ms Feld said.
She was also disturbed by the fact that Professor Stockdale sat through the discussions about his future. The institute's constitution, based on model articles laid down by the privy council, specifies that "the principal shall withdraw from a meeting of the board of governors whilst an item concerning his or her own position is under discussion".
Lecturers' union Natfhe has broken off discussions with the senior management after the governors issued a statement detailing an agreement concerning "formal negotiations" between the management of the institute and Natfhe over "the difficulties facing the institute".
Natfhe "unequivocally refute" any agreement. David Rees, the institute's Natfhe spokesman, said the statement "compromised our position", adding that Natfhe would seek a meeting with the governing body before links with the senior management can be re-established.
Ms Williams said: "I resigned because I felt that my continued presence might provide a focus for those who wish to make mischief." Professor Stockdale declined to comment.