V-c says board used 'unlawful' actions to try to remove him

UEL governors' suspension of Martin Everett has raised serious concerns, says Melanie Newman

October 2, 2008

Martin Everett, the vice-chancellor of the University of East London (UEL), rejected an offer of a payment to leave the institution before he was suspended over questions about his leadership, it has emerged.

Six days before his suspension on 8 July, Professor Everett wrote to Jim McKenna, chairman of UEL's board of governors, expressing "very serious concerns" about his treatment. "You essentially invite me to accept a payment to go quietly or otherwise you threaten the use of procedures to remove me ... this action does not derive from any recognisable process. There has been no warning of misconduct or demand for improvement," he wrote in a letter seen by Times Higher Education.

"These actions and proposed actions are not only unfair and unlawful but also represent a substantial risk of the misapplication of public funds. There have clearly been serious failings of process and governance ... I do not believe that the governing body of an institution can simply buy its way out of compliance with required lawful and proper behaviour in this way."

UEL told Times Higher Education after the 8 July governors' meeting that Professor Everett was on "indefinite leave". On 10 September, Mr McKenna wrote to all UEL staff and confirmed that Professor Everett had been suspended.

He said that "at successive meetings in June and July" the lay governors "discussed serious concerns around the vice-chancellor's vision for, and leadership of, the institution". These are now before a special governors' committee.

In his letter to Mr McKenna, which was dated 2 July, Professor Everett said Mr McKenna had "declined to tell me who was involved or what was said" in relation to these criticisms. He defended himself against an accusation of "lack of vision", stating: "My vision for the university now is the same as the vision I articulated to the court at interview."

Professor Everett said he was raising a grievance in relation to Mr McKenna's actions, which he considered to be a breach of his contract and inconsistent with both the university's procedures and with guidance given by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. He said he was copying the letter to all the independent governors on the board.

On 23 September, a meeting of 80 members of the University and College Union at UEL passed a vote of no confidence in Mr McKenna. The union called an all-staff meeting for 1 October.

Mr McKenna declined to comment, but on 29 September, the lay governors issued a joint statement to all UEL staff. In it, they say: "the action currently being taken in respect of the vice-chancellor ... is being taken on our behalf and with our full support and involvement. Any suggestion that the chair is acting alone is wholly without foundation.

"Moreover, the board of governors had received appropriate legal advice throughout ... and is confident that it is acting in accordance with the articles of government."

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

LAMPETER'S NEW V-C TO REDEFINE STRATEGY

The University of Wales, Lampeter (UWL) has appointed a former vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England to lead a review of the institution's strategy.

Alfred Morris was named interim vice-chancellor last week and charged with helping to redefine UWL's vision, mission and strategy, including examining partnership possibilities with other higher education institutions.

Robert Pearce, the former vice-chancellor, resigned last month after having been on sick leave since a report commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales noted "very real problems of leadership and management".

UPDATE: 2 October 2008

Some 36 senior UEL academics, including 25 professors, have signed a petition calling for Professor Everett’s reinstatement. The petition, sent to the board of governors on 30 September, said the academics were “deeply concerned” about the suspension and believed that there were no grounds for “such an exceptional action”. “We call on the university authorities to rescind this suspension and to restore the vice-chancellor to his post without delay, to ensure the continued well-being and development of the university,” the academics said. On 1 October, a resolution, also calling for the governors to rescind the suspension, was passed overwhelmingly by an all-staff meeting that included representatives of the University and College Union, Unison and Unite.

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