Two quit in sponsor row

December 19, 1997

THE University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology has become embroiled in a bitter dispute with banks and building societies following the high-profile launch of a joint venture earlier this year.

Two senior academics have left the university as a result of soured relations which have jeopardised the joint venture and other associated projects worth Pounds 300,000 a year to the university.

In May UMIST launched the Consumer Finance Education Centre with 15 business sponsors including the Bradford and Bingley, Halifax and Britannia building societies and the Co-operative Bank. The idea was to inform the public about financial matters by producing independent educational literature on matters such as banking, pensions and insurance. Vice chancellor Bob Boucher wrote a letter to The Times trumpeting the project.

But by August the executives who had publicly supported the vice chancellor became concerned about lack of progress in getting the venture started. Fears were raised that reputations were being damaged by inaction. A few weeks later relations had deteriorated to angry exchanges between the business partners and Professor Boucher.

The root of the problem was opposition from a group of academics in the school of management who feared that links with commerce could threaten their academic credibility. Despite the launch the centre had not been formally approved by the school's policy committee.

Businessman-turned-academic Chris Green, the acting director of the education centre, was facing repeated demands for an explanation for the delay from business partners when he was suddenly suspended by the university in late August on charges of gross misconduct. The accusation was that he leaked a draft letter from the vice chancellor to the business partners. The letter explained that the venture was facing delay and arranged for the return of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of subscriptions already paid by the businesses.

Mr Green, who was also accused of aggressive criticism of the vice chancellor, had raised Pounds 250,000 in outside support for the centre and had developed a lot of support within the industry.

He was the subject of a university inquiry into the alleged leak, conducted by two senior professors and a barrister, which cleared him of all charges. The inquiry report was not made public and a severance deal of more than Pounds 50,000 was negotiated. Mr Green could not comment on his departure because of a legal agreement. But it was followed by that of David Knights, professor of organisational analysis at UMIST and Mr Green's boss, who resigned from the university where he has worked for 26 years. He has refused to comment on the reasons.

The education centre was to have been an offshoot of the Financial Services Forum founded by Professor Knights. The forum has raised Pounds 6 million since its launch three years ago.

The furore had been contained within the university but the vice chancellor wrote an angry letter to the chief executives of his business sponsors last month complaining about their discourteous treatment of the university. This was not the letter Mr Green was accused of leaking. A series of bad tempered exchanges followed. The future of the education centre and the forum is now uncertain although a university spokesman who declined to comment on the details of the case said a meeting was expected early in the new year to try and resolve matters.

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