Council members at Sussex University have rebuked a committee chaired by the vice chancellor for agreeing to spend Pounds 150,000 on a house for the incoming registrar without consulting the university council.
When council members passed a minute accepting the decision to buy the house they added that they "regretted" that the terms on which the registrar's post was offered were agreed "without the council having an opportunity to comment".
The committees cited by the council minute included both the appointing and remunerations committees, the former chaired by Gordon Conway, the vice chancellor.
The row broke out after members at a planning committee meeting, also chaired by Professor Conway, agreed to "purchase a house (maximum value Pounds 150,000)" for Barry Gooch, the new registrar. Mr Gooch, currently secretary of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is due to join Sussex next month and has already accepted a five-year contract including the offer of accommodation.
The decision provoked an angry reaction among Sussex's academics and students. The university's trade unions liaison committee drew up a petition opposing the decision and Janet Collett, president of the local branch of the Association of University Teachers, sent a letter to council members.
She warned that the university will find it "difficult" to justify "this use of public money" - enough, she pointed out, to buy 7,000 library books. Ms Collett said that the salary of the registrar is higher than that of the university's professors and "can hardly be thought to define him as a person in social need, as students are".
Professor Conway said that the money for the house would be found from university reserves and that it was very difficult to draw a distinction between public and private money "because we receive both".
The decision, which he thought was "quite reasonable", had been taken because Mr Gooch was appointed on a five-year contract and the house was part of the remuneration package which had been agreed with him. It was expected that Mr Gooch would also use the house for official entertainment. "The most important point," he added, "is that this has been done properly in accordance with the procedures of the university."
He had also checked with the chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, who raised no objection to the proposal.