Vice-principal quits in protest at failure to punish colleagues

Paul Hagan says Robert Gordon University principal and fellow deputy should have been sanctioned for failing to declare conflict of interest

July 25, 2018
Ferdinand von Prondzynski

The vice-principal of a Scottish university has resigned in protest at the decision not to punish two senior colleagues who failed to declare a conflict of interest.

Paul Hagan, vice-principal for research at Robert Gordon University, quit over a row that blew up when it emerged that the institution’s principal, Ferdinand von Prondzynski, and the vice-principal for commercial and regional innovation, Gordon McConnell, failed to declare that they were co-directors of a company that owned a £12 million castle.

After an inquiry found that the pair were guilty of a “genuine omission or oversight” with no “malicious motive”, the only sanction imposed on the former Dublin City University colleagues was that they should re-familiarise themselves with Robert Gordon’s ethics and conflict of interest policy – and should discuss the outcome of the inquiry with the board.

Professor Hagan, who was on the panel that interviewed Professor McConnell last year, wrote in a resignation letter to Professor von Prondzynski that he “[could not] see how the board could have reached the conclusion and outcome that has been released”, the Press and Journal reported.

“I am convinced that any other member of staff in the same situation would have been disciplined, possibly dismissed. Staff will find it extraordinary that both of you have avoided any significant sanction,” Professor Hagan wrote.

He added: “This leaves me in an untenable position. The deficiencies in the appointment process cannot be repaired retrospectively and I cannot agree with the minimal action the board has decided upon.

“So reluctantly, I will now begin the search for an alternative role elsewhere in the sector.”

The investigation by three Robert Gordon governors and an external member was launched when a whistleblower highlighted the links between Professor von Prondzynski and Professor McConnell.

Professor McConnell did not say on his declaration of interest form, which was signed by Professor von Prondzynski, that he had been a director of Knockdrin Estates, the owner of the von Prondzynski family estate in Ireland, since 2006.

In his resignation letter, Professor Hagan said that he found it “hard to believe” that this was a genuine mistake.

“Collective amnesia on the directorships stretches the boundaries of credibility,” he wrote. “This was a personal, not a professional connection, and demanding of transparency.”

Professor Hagan added that the decision would “drive a wedge” between staff and managers, and that the board had “misjudged the seriousness of the situation”.

A university spokeswoman told the Press and Journal: “RGU carried out a full investigation and the findings have been made public. The university will not be making any further comment at this time.”

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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