Wendy Purcell only a figurehead at Plymouth after stepping down from helm

FoI request reveals former vice-chancellor returned after suspension on full pay despite diminished powers

January 15, 2015

Source: Plymouth University

Wendy Purcell is now only “president” of Plymouth University after leaving her role as vice-chancellor two months after returning to work following a major dispute with the institution.

Meanwhile, Times Higher Education can reveal that she was still on her full £250,000 salary after returning as vice-chancellor, despite no longer running the institution, while the university’s legal costs for the whole affair have topped £0,000.

Four months after being suspended by the institution, Professor Purcell returned to Plymouth on 10 November as “vice-chancellor and president”. However, the university made clear at the time that she was no longer running the university.

Last week, the university said that Professor Purcell is now “president” only. A university spokesman said that she had “successfully completed her seven-year term as vice-chancellor”.

David Coslett, the former deputy vice-chancellor who took on the title “interim chief executive” when she returned in November, now becomes “interim vice-chancellor and chief executive”. The university will “begin the search for a permanent vice-chancellor in the spring”, the spokesman said.

THE also understands that Professor Purcell has moved to an off-campus office.

From the centre to the periphery

The complex picture around Professor Purcell’s suspension, return and later exit as vice-chancellor is further detailed in figures obtained by THE under the Freedom of Information Act.

THE asked the university what Professor Purcell’s salary was, as of her return on 10 November, and whether that differed from her salary in 2013-14 before she was suspended.

“The vice-chancellor’s present salary is £250,000, the same as in 2013-14,” the university answered in a response sent prior to Professor Purcell’s exit as vice-chancellor.

At the time of Professor Purcell’s return to work, the university stated that she would have a “strategic portfolio” focused on “external and sector relations, and the university’s wider enterprise agenda”, while Professor Coslett would have “overall responsibility for the running of the university”.

News that Professor Purcell was receiving her full vice-chancellor’s salary despite no longer running Plymouth is likely to raise further questions about the university’s handling of the situation.

THE asked whether Professor Purcell’s salary had changed since her exit as vice-chancellor last week, but the university did not answer.

THE asked the university in the Freedom of Information request to detail its legal costs in its dealings with Professor Purcell. The university gave a total cost of £1,010.35.

But the university refused to answer the question of what, if any, legal costs it has paid on Professor Purcell’s behalf. It also refused to answer whether it had paid any other money to her as part of the agreement for her to return.

Plymouth has never disclosed the reasons for Professor Purcell’s suspension, which prompted the Higher Education Funding Council for England to recommend that the university hold an external review of its governance and triggered events leading to the resignation of the chair of governors who suspended her.

However, THE understands that the case against Professor Purcell included a complaint by a senior member of staff about her management style and allegations about her spending.

john.morgan@tesglobal.com

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