Whistleblowers: LJMU initiates inquiry

December 8, 2000

Michael Brown, new vice-chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, is clearly not happy with what he has found in some key areas.

He is trying to fulfil his pledge to meet all staff in all corners of the university - where the senior management faced a union vote of no confidence just before he arrived earlier this year. One such visit to the estates and facilities department caused particular concern.

Late last month, he made a statement to staff: "In response to a number of complaints received from staff employed in estates and facilities and in order to exercise its duty of care to staff, the university has established a panel of inquiry into these complaints", which include mismanagement and equal opportunities issues. "It will also look at the wider issues of management and operational matters which are directly associated with specific complaints," the vice-chancellor said.

Dr Brown told The THES that it was difficult to be specific about the allegations raised, "as the purpose of the panel of inquiry was to facilitate a confidential mechanism for staff to raise issues of concern to them".

Part of the inquiry's remit is to establish the "specific nature and volume of complaints" and to "determine whether there are good grounds for specific grievance or disciplinary action to be taken and to advise the vice-chancellor accordingly".

Dr Brown said: "Sufficient staff in this area raised issues with me that suggested that there was a possibility of a significant basis of concern. Many issues were raised by female staff concerning equal opportunities and management style, and I thought that an impartial group of senior academics should be put in place to allow staff to raise issues of concern in confidence. At this stage, I have no evidence of any substantive issue and have an entirely open mind, but I wanted to test the position unambiguously. The panel will report to me personally within (two) weeks and the outcomes of the confidential report will be considered then.

"By the very nature of the way the inquiry has been set up, and the assurances of confidentiality being given to staff, the report will remain confidential. Also, in such a situation one cannot say whether there is an issue or issues that need addressing - that would be to prejudge.

However, the response to private staff comments, through the provision of a panel of inquiry, does demonstrate a personal commitment to listen to staff and to take such advice very seriously indeed."

Review of accounting system disaster
Cambridge University is to introduce strict new quality assurance procedures for its business affairs, following the disastrous implementation of its discredited new financial accounting system.

Fundamental shortcomings in the planning and implementation of Capsa, the accounting system that brought the university to the brink of financial meltdown in the summer, were reported by The THES earlier this year. Following widespread staff anger, the university's governing council has accepted that "it is inevitable that the university will have to invest more in the way it does its business".

In a notice from the council, in response to a heated emergency staff discussion of the problems, the university has conceded that its "management and administration had not been resourced to keep pace with developments in higher education nationally".

The university's registrary will develop plans for "explicit quality assurance procedures for the operation of the unified administrative service". Plans will be put to the university next year.

The council also confirmed a full investigation into the affair by a special review team, including external experts, will be published.

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