V-c departure angers staff

December 1, 2000

Staff at the University of Northumbria say their vice-chancellor has destabilised the institution by announcing that he will be leaving next year, following a clash with his board of governors.

Gilbert Smith has released correspondence that reveals differences between himself and the governors. "It is apparent that the vision I hold for the university is different to that held by you and your senior colleagues," he says in a letter to Gavin Black, chair of governors. "So the time has come for me to move on."

But after publicising the letter,  which also trumpets the university's successes under his leadership, along with a three-sentence response from Mr Black, the vice-chancellor refused to give interviews or to explain the difference of opinion.

A spokesman said Professor Smith intended the letter to "be the sum of his explanation" and did not wish to elaborate further.

Senior academics have reacted angrily to the way news of the departure has been handled. "This raises many concerns for staff here," said Martin Levy of lecturers' union Natfhe. "We don't know what the difference of opinion is and now the vice-chancellor is leaving, we don't know whose vision will prevail. We have been left in the dark and at a time when we are in dispute with the university, we are wondering who we are negotiating with."

Mr Levy said staff would seek clarification from Mr Black.

Another senior academic said: "There are a number of competing versions depending on who you speak to. We are being force-fed a version of events by the university executive that claims the vice-chancellor's attempts to widen the university's agenda are being hampered by the governors, who view Northumbria primarily as a teaching institution."

Other versions suggested the fall-out was nothing to do with the university's mission, but centred on the vice-chancellor's management style.

Northumbria has been struggling with a budget shortfall and has announced plans to cut costs by 7 per cent with more than 100 redundancies. Natfhe members are working to rule in protest, refusing to attend meetings or give students essay marks.            

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