Union accuses West of Scotland of keeping appointments in the family

EIS points finger over professorial post and key individuals' excessive power, writes Hannah Fearn

December 9, 2010

Union officials are in talks with the governing court of the University of the West of Scotland over claims that the institution has left itself open to allegations of nepotism.

In a letter to Richard Blackburn, chair of the court, David Belsey, national officer for further and higher education at the Education Institute of Scotland, claims that excessive power has been granted to a few individuals at the institution, adding that the union's concerns had not been properly addressed.

"The flawed management structure of the university allowed the executive deans excessive freedom without accountability that could lead to poor decisions," he writes.

The letter follows union concerns over a professorial appointment last summer.

The newly created post of professor of events and cultural policy was filled by Gayle McPherson, who is the partner of Malcolm Foley, executive dean of the Faculty of Business and Creative Industries.

The EIS claims that the decision to advertise and fill the post during August left potential internal candidates unaware of the vacancy, and says its request for an extended deadline for applications went unheeded.

Seamus McDaid, UWS principal, has assured Mr Belsey that Professor Foley was "scrupulous" in distancing himself from the recruitment process.

However, emails obtained by the EIS indicate that he was involved in the creation of the post.

One email sent by Anne Johnstone, assistant director of human resources, states that Professor Foley was to provide a "customised job description" for the role.

In his letter to Mr Blackburn, Mr Belsey says that the union is not satisfied with the way UWS has dealt with the matter.

"It is clear to me that the EIS has no further means of addressing its concerns with the university management regarding recent appointments, which illustrate to the EIS the flawed management structures in place at the university," Mr Belsey writes.

A UWS spokesman said that executive deans were accountable to the principal and did not have the authority to create new posts without approval from the court. He added that Professor McPherson's appointment had been "consistent" with faculty strategy.

"Appointments have been made in line with university appointment processes; they have been advertised internally and externally," he said.

Responding to reports that former colleagues of Professor Foley had been appointed to other posts at the institution, the spokesman said: "It is common in universities, and indeed good practice, for colleagues in academic areas in different institutions to know each other and work together. It would also be entirely consistent with normal practice for colleagues to have informal discussions about posts prior to them being advertised or during the appointment process."

Meanwhile, concerns have been raised about the introduction of two professorial grades at the university. The new system ranks professors as "level one" or "level two", with the more senior grade reserved for those who bring in up to £50,000 a year in grant income while achieving "international standing" in their disciplines.

One professor, who asked not to be named, said this had resulted in many with strong research records being graded as level one, leaving some "demoralised".

However, the spokesman said the institution had "no evidence of widespread concerns" on the issue.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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