Swansea staff accused of being stuck in the 1960s

Dean Nigel Piercy is accused of ‘undermining’ academics’ confidence with his outspoken view

July 10, 2014

Source: Getty

Far out? staff have reacted with anger to ‘hippy’ taunt from school’s dean

Staff at Swansea University’s School of Management have been warned that it is “not a rest home for refugees from the 1960s”, amid high levels of discontent with what many academics regard as an overly aggressive style of management.

As Times Higher Education reported last September, Nigel Piercy was recruited as dean of the school in May 2013, shortly after his son, Niall, was appointed deputy dean for operations. Controversy arose when Professor Niall Piercy warned that any academic without four papers deemed 3* standard for the research excellence framework would be moved into teaching-only roles. The policy was rescinded, but controversy continued over increased teaching loads for some staff.

Further bad feeling was created in March when Professor Niall Piercy circulated a spreadsheet of student satisfaction scores for the first semester of 2013-14. Course modules with a low score, it was announced, would be placed in “special measures”.

The names of course directors for some modules were omitted, but 22 academics submitted a formal grievance, arguing that directors’ identities were common knowledge and that the spreadsheet undermined their “professional credibility”. In a memo to staff, Professor Nigel Piercy emphasised that the corrective measures applied to “the module, not the individual teacher”.

THE understands that the grievance is unresolved and that a similar spreadsheet was published last week, rating the second semester.

Meanwhile, in April, the school conducted an anonymous survey of its academics. Many complained of management disrespect, a lack of consultation and low morale. Professor Nigel Piercy added a “health warning” in the document – which was circulated to staff in the school – advising recent recruits to take the feedback “with a pinch of salt” as “it contains the feedback of a relatively small number of staff” who “had a lovely cosy lifestyle doing whatever they wanted for years”.

He added: “There were a few hippy-dippy comments about collegiality and letting the ‘people’ make the decisions.” Quoting a verse of Do You Hear the People Sing? from Les Misérables, he continued: “I’m sorry. This is not a commune. This is a managed institution pursuing goals that are closely aligned with the university’s. It is not a rest home for refugees from the 1960s, with their ponytails and tie-dyed T-shirts. Live with it. Some wags call for the removal of some or all of the school’s top management team. Yes, well don’t hold your breath. Or actually, do.”

In a document of last February seen by THE, Professor Niall Piercy claims the school has “a legacy of perhaps 20-30 staff [of 70] who are not up to standard in the classroom…Large-scale severance, redundancy or early retirement” is the solution. THE understands nearly 20 academics have left since the Piercys’ arrival, mostly moving to well-regarded universities.

Several academics told THE they believed the Piercys had effectively been given carte blanche by university management to turn around what, by common consent, has been an under-performing school.

A spokeswoman for Swansea said: “The university is committed to improving the teaching and learning of students at the School of Management as part of our ambition to become one of the world’s top 200 universities. All changes within the school seek to underpin this, and we hope that staff will support us.”

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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Reader's comments (5)

The underlying story here of bullying and nepotism is, sadly, becoming all too common in UK Higher Education - and business schools do seem to be especially prone to it. What is unusual in this case is the sheer contempt and naked ideological agenda of those involved. Insults about hippy-dippy communes and tie-dyed T-shirts seems more like comments on the Daily Mail website than something you would expect to see from a senior manager in a university. But it is not just the nastiness which is striking, it is the incompetence. What kind of manager, whether in universities or anywhere else, would think that circulating messages like those reported would be conducive even to "a managed institution pursuing goals that are closely aligned to the university's", as it is so clumsily expressed? And if it is the case that those leaving are going to "well-regarded universities" doesn't this rather suggest that, at the most basic level, it is an approach which is delivering failure?
By 'stuck in the 1960s' I assume that Prof Piercy is referring to the idea that academics should have professional autonomy and academic freedom. Hardly hippie dreams are they? But then when confronted with this sort of rabid managerialism any attempt to resist is so easily classified as nostalgia. My solidarity with all those who are unfortunate to work under this regime.
Wasn’t the 1960s the time of the Cold War and tyrannical, nepotistic governance from the top over the masses? The Kremlin issued edicts which were so far removed from the daily lives of people that ultimately the power base crumbled. What’s happening at Swansea seems like a classic Soviet era ploy of a power crazed head appointing family and cronies to key positions, paying themselves lots of money and having perks such as oversized offices and just make sure that the proletariat is obedient. This power crazed despot should realise that the greatest asset of a university is its staff and by taking all power away from the masses, they take away sources of initiatives to make life better for the future. Like the Soviet Union, this despotic regime will soon fail, but sadly they will by then have ruined what was once a good School in the interests of the ruling family of despots. Such a shame
Very depressing.
Sounds typical of the increasingly Soviet-style management of too many universities today: 5 year plans, top-down targets, bullying of subordinates to achieve them, endless decrees from the centre, repeated monitoring exercises and appraisals, perpetual reorganisations, intimidating State-sponsored inspections (TQAs, Periodic Programme Reviews, Institutional Audits, the REF) to ensure compliance - by justified by the Orwellian use of 'accountability'.. The more Conservatives, New Labour and HE managers preach the need to embrace 'the market', the more authoritarian and dictatorial is the managerialist regime imposed to make the market work!!! The other irony is that a private sector company which suffered just 2% of the hyper-managerialism and State interference that universities are subjected to would be forced out of business after a couple of months.

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