The head of a management school has defended his decision to upgrade student marks against the advice of external examiners – by claiming that disgruntled staff members had marked down students deliberately in anger at his methods.
Nigel Piercy, dean of Swansea University’s School of Management, made the comments in an email to members of staff after the Western Mail and Swansea student newspaper The Waterfront reported, on 30 July, scathing comments about the “rescaling” of final-year marks in the school’s economics BSc.
In a leaked external examiner’s report, Robin Bladen-Hovell, a professor at Keele University’s Management School, describes the “substantial” upgrading – which saw one student’s mark lifted from 2 to 31 per cent – as a “gross debasing of standards”.
“If I were a cynic, I might be tempted to conclude that [it] is a blatant attempt by the management team to increase league table performance by manipulation of degree outcomes,” he adds.
As Times Higher Education has previously reported, tensions at the school have been raised by increased teaching loads and allegedly aggressive management since Professor Piercy’s arrival in May 2013, while he has told staff that the school is “not a rest home for refugees from the 1960s”.
Professor Piercy writes in an email sent to staff on 4 August: “As a result of the political behaviour of colleagues to attack a legitimate evaluation process in pursuit of their own ends, our students are paying the price.” He says rescaling is a “completely acceptable practice” that is “widely used” elsewhere.
He also claims that Professor Bladen-Hovell has “not published since 2004” and says that his behaviour during the exam board visit “was such that we have written a letter of complaint to his [vice-chancellor]. Using profane language and aggression towards our staff is not acceptable.”
Professor Bladen-Hovell told THE that the comments “appear [to be] an attempt to shore up [Professor Piercy’s] own position by attacking my professional integrity and credibility. [They] reflect very poorly on him and the allegations about my behaviour do not match my recollection of events.” He said Swansea’s registrar, Raymond Ciborowski, had “agreed to pursue the matter”.
On 5 August, Professor Piercy emailed staff to highlight the school’s achievements. Welcoming recent publicity, he adds: “Encouragingly, we even have our own internet trolls now…though I fear they are mainly certain members of our own staff and seemingly one of the PVCs [pro vice-chancellors].”
THE understands that after being tipped off about the rescaling, Swansea’s Teaching and Learning Committee, chaired by Alan Speight, pro vice-chancellor for student experience and academic quality enhancement, vetoed a similar approach to first- and second-year exam scores.
Swansea’s School of Management has since withdrawn its recognition of the committee’s authority and intends to bring a motion of no confidence in Professor Speight at the next university senate meeting in October. Professor Speight did not respond to an invitation to comment.
A spokeswoman for Swansea said: “Decisive action was taken at an early stage to rectify that issue, prior to the receipt of the external examiner’s full report…Scaling adjustments were made in three of 51 final-year undergraduate modules…based on specific circumstances which were made known to the external examiners.”