Whistleblowers: More Lipa staff quit

August 24, 2001

Two more senior staff have resigned from Sir Paul McCartney's "fame school" in Liverpool following a breakdown in morale and accountability shortcomings.

Donna Soto-Morettini, head of acting at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, has quit for a job as director of drama at the Royal Scottish Academy of Drama and Dance. Susanne Burns, head of management at Lipa, is joining the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall as director of business development.

Both declined to comment on the reasons for their departures, but it is understood that both have been unhappy with the management. Ms Soto-Morettini wrote an open letter to Lipa's governors in October last year. It said: "I can't happily work in the place Lipa has become." In response, chair of governors Flo Clucas wrote an open letter to staff , saying: "nobody in this institution is indispensable".

The THES has reported on shortcomings of management and accountability since January. A leaked Higher Education Funding Council for England audit report highlighted a lack of financial and managerial accountability and a draft internal management review report catalogued a "worrying" breakdown in communication. Problems have led to a number of high-profile departures.

Ms Soto-Morettini and Ms Burns follow Paul Kleiman, head of performance design. He wrote privately to governors that he had lost respect for Lipa's managers. Director of higher education David Price quit last year after clashes with Lipa managers and governors.

Before this, chair designate of the governors, Patrick McKenna, resigned claiming Lipa's strategic plan, which prompted the other resignations, was "complete rubbish".

Mark Featherstone-Witty, Lipa's chief executive and principal, defended the recent departures. In a letter circulated to all students late last month, he said there was "a lot of misinformation and probably quite a few misunderstandings circulating".

Mr Featherstone-Witty said the departures of Mr Kleiman, Ms Burns and Ms Soto-Morettini were normal. He denied that Ms Soto-Morettini had been sacked, saying "this is absolutely not the case".

"Good staff do move on to new projects and, inevitably, some students will be disappointed that staff they have come to know and respect move on during their time with an institution... We recognise the valuable contributions that they have made," he said.

He also defended Lipa's decision not to appoint Ian Gardiner as head of music. Mr Gardiner had been acting head on a fixed-term contract and was popular with students. But he resigned as staff governor protesting that staff views on restructuring issues were ignored by governors.

Mr Featherstone-Witty said the selection process had been "rigorous" and the decision not to appoint Mr Gardiner was "not intended to reflect adversely" on him. "Nor was it, as some people have suggested, Lipa 'rewarding' Ian for speaking his mind in the past," he said.

Mr Featherstone-Witty warned students about "negative articles" about Lipa in The THES this year. He said: "Although this publication has a low circulation and is mainly read by academic staff, the articles do have the potential to cause damage to the institution."

He said The THES had been leaked "inaccurate documents" which had "created a very misleading picture". He said that the most disappointing aspect of the affair was that the documents were leaked by a member of staff.

Mr Featherstone-Witty said: "We are of course aware that a number of staff were unhappy at the direction in which Lipa council deemed Lipa should go and were quite vociferous in expressing their concern.

"These concerns were heard and considered... Lipa is big enough and strong enough to shake off the criticism directed at it from individuals who seem motivated by obsessive hatred of the organisation which has provided them with a livelihood for a number of years."

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