UHI 'utterly condemned'

September 15, 2000

A damning report on the troubled University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) project was made partially public this week.

The report, which found senior management had given staff the impression of a conspiracy against them, prompted the resignation of chief executive Brian Duffield a fortnight ago.

The report investigates the furore surrounding the handling of complaints about Professor Duffield's management style. Author Kenneth McKay, a former civil servant, "utterly condemns" the UHI for issuing a factually incorrect statement to the press in June denying the existence of any formal complaints. His report says this "gave the appearance of a cover-up or conspiracy".

Mr McKay dismisses Professor Duffield's argument that because the complaints had not been formalised through due process they had no formal status. He concludes that the statement reinforced the feeling of those staff who had registered complaints that their concerns were being ignored.

Professor Duffield had said he was being subjected to trial by media after reports surfaced that he had been accused of mismanagement, intimidation and oppressive autocratic and divisive leadership resulting in a serious breakdown of staff morale.

Mr McKay concludes: "I think it was inevitable that UHI staff would eventually take their concerns to outside people and to the media. I think it is an indication of the commitment of those concerned with the UHI project that they delayed for about six months before pursuing their complaints outside UHI."

The report recommends that the board of governors consider, as a matter of urgency, what action it can take to ensure that any member of staff wishing to raise a grievance can do so without fear of damaging his or her career within the UHI.

Recommended changes to the grievance procedures include provision for a complaint to be made against the chief executive or company secretary, removal of the warning that anyone raising a grievance could be subject to disciplinary action and greater human resource expertise to be introduced to the executive office.

At a meeting this week, the board of governors accepted the report in full, apologised for errors and withdrew earlier misleading statements. But, it rejected calls for the resignation of Sir Fraser Morrison, chair of the board, or any other board members.

Jack Dale, consultant to the Scottish Association of University Teachers, welcomed the report and said that he hoped it presented an opportunity for a new beginning for the UHI. But he said he regretted that the report had not been published in its entirety.

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