The University of Plymouth has identified vice-chancellor Wendy Purcell as the person behind the initial decision to spend tens of thousands of pounds on seven chairs.
A statement from the institution says that Professor Purcell initiated the project in March 2013. It says that the total cost, originally reported to be £150,000, was in fact £95,000 and adds that approval for the project “was not sought from the university executive, nor the university board”.
A number of designers were invited to submit proposals, and in May 2013 the internationally renowned designer John Makepeace was selected “by a panel headed by the vice-chancellor and a formal commissioning process [was] established”.
However, on 2 June 2014, Professor Purcell “decided she wished to have ‘no further involvement’ with the project, which was then at an advanced stage”, the statement continues. “The vice-chancellor did not advise cancellation of the project.”
The chairs will be available for graduation and other public events from the 2015-16 academic year. The university is launching a scheme to secure external funding for the furniture through sponsorship and donations.
The controversy, labelled “Shame of Thrones” by local media, is the latest to hit the institution in recent weeks. Last month, William Taylor, the retired judge who chairs Plymouth’s board of governors, announced that he had initiated an independent investigation into claims that he had sexually harassed female staff, which he denies. Mr Taylor has stepped aside pending the outcome of the investigation.
The crisis at Plymouth has been deepening since 1 July, when it emerged that Professor Purcell had been “placed on leave” by Mr Taylor and the board of governors. It is now known that Professor Purcell was initially suspended, but her status has since changed and she is currently on paid leave.