The vice-chancellor of the University of East London, Martin Everett, has been suspended while "serious concerns" about his leadership are investigated, the university's chairman of the board of governors has confirmed publicly for the first time.
The chairman, Jim McKenna, and the university have been silent about Professor Everett since 8 July, when they told Times Higher Education simply that he was on "indefinite leave".
But Mr McKenna has now revealed more details about the situation. He said on 10 September in a memo to all staff: "At successive meetings in June and July the lay governors discussed serious concerns about the vice-chancellor's vision for, and leadership of, the institution."
The lay governors had agreed to refer the concerns to a special committee of the board for consideration, he continued. "This process is under way and will allow the vice-chancellor a full opportunity to respond. I stress that the issues of concern relate to the vice-chancellor's leadership and that there are no allegations regarding the vice-chancellor's probity."
Mr McKenna said Professor Everett would remain suspended from his duties for the duration of this process. He added that he had not spoken out before because the matter was "a sensitive issue with personal implications for the vice-chancellor".
Under the university's articles of government, the chairman of governors or his deputy is required to report a suspension of a senior staff member "in writing to the board of governors within two working days or as soon thereafter as practicable". The articles also require the board to decide rules governing the suspension, including rights of appeal.
One staff governor, who asked not be named, told Times Higher Education: "We were never notified in writing about the suspension. We were only told Professor Everett was on indefinite leave. As far as I am aware no rules on the suspension have been made by the board."
Phil Marfleet, branch secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said the chairman's "paltry statement ... tells us nothing new". "What are the problems of leadership to which McKenna refers?" he asked. "If serious, they should be shared with the university at large. UCU members will be discussing the issue in full and will have much to say to the governors about what is an increasingly bizarre episode."
The decision to suspend Professor Everett prompted lay governor Gillian Slater, a former vice-chancellor of Bournemouth University, to resign from the board in protest. Another lay governor, Raj Loomba, also confirmed that he had opposed the suspension.
Mr Loomba, vice-president of children's charity Barnardo's, said he had attended a meeting on 8 July at which Mr McKenna told the lay governors he had suspended Professor Everett. "I proposed that the vice-chancellor should be reinstated and the chairman should follow the correct procedure to deal with the matter," Mr Loomba told Times Higher Education last month.