Troubled head quits

September 20, 2002

The head of one of Cardiff University's top academic schools has stepped down after admitting that he does not have the confidence of staff for his plans.

David Skilton, head of Cardiff's School of English, Communications and Philosophy, which was awarded a 5* rating in last year's research assessment exercise, said he could not gain sufficient support for his strategic vision.

Vice-chancellor David Grant told staff in a memo that he had been aware of problems in the school for the past six months.

He said: "Professor Skilton has from time to time informed me of issues adversely affecting the school or putting the school's future at risk. My office has also received direct correspondence from members of the school on similar or related issues."

In July, Professor Skilton offered to resign as head of school and told Dr Grant that he wanted to "immerse himself again in his research".

From this week, he has been replaced by an acting head, pro vice-chancellor Richard Whipp.

The university said it was confident that the school "would continue as a recognised strength of Cardiff", but it would not comment further. It is thought that the problems were more about personality issues and concerns about academic direction than about financial stability. Student recruitment is said to be "buoyant in all areas".

Staff at the school, which has more than 70 permanent academics and eight top research centres, are known to have been angered by a number of senior management decisions in recent months.

Last month, The THES reported that academics at the school had been told they had to pay their own way if they wanted to attend academic conferences - a move dismissed as "stupid" by staff.

This move is believed to be among the reasons why Nick Coupland, a vociferous critic of Professor Skilton, resigned his post as head of the school's Centre for Language and Communications last month. He has agreed to resume the role since Professor Skilton's departure. He declined to comment this week, explaining that he hoped the school's problems would soon be over.

Professor Skilton was also on the receiving end of an avalanche of complaints from creative writing staff protesting against the decision to dismiss a lecturer from the MA course that he helped to conceive and design.

Dr Grant, in his memo to staff, said: "Professor's Skilton's desire to stand down, against a background of very considerable success for the school, came as a surprise to me.

"I very much appreciate Professor Skilton's contribution in leading the school since its inception in 1988 through to 5* recognition in the most recent RAE, and evidenced in the high quality of staff who make up the school and the phenomenal popularity of the school among student applicants."

Professor Skilton, who will remain at the school in a research capacity, was unavailable for comment.

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