Whistleblowers: Review to make Pimlott 'more accountable'

January 10, 2003

A review team has called for a new tier of senior managers at Goldsmiths College after complaints that the management style of warden Ben Pimlott is "autocratic".

The team, set up last year following controversy over the reappointment of Professor Pimlott as warden and a no-confidence vote in him by staff, has recommended the creation of two new senior posts.

A new full-time deputy warden and a senior pro-warden would make the warden more accountable, said a senior member of the college, and would clear up the current situation where senior staff are directly answerable to Professor Pimlott alone.

A Goldsmiths spokeswoman said it was "rubbish" to suggest that the review of Goldsmiths' "management structures and lines of communication" was directly linked to the criticism of Professor Pimlott as an individual. But sources said that the review team's recommendations correlated with concerns about the warden's stewardship.

The review was set up partly in response to anger last year when the governing council awarded Professor Pimlott a second five-year term as warden against the recommendation of the reappointment committee set up to review his position at the end of his first term of office.

The THES reported in August that the committee, which included elected members of staff, recommended that Professor Pimlott should be reappointed for just one year to allow for further review of his performance. Four members of the nine-strong committee did not want to renew the warden's contract at all. But the full governing body handed Professor Pimlott another full term.

Earlier, in June, staff had voted 82 to 73 in favour of a no-confidence motion against Professor Pimlott. The motion said that he had "failed to provide the leadership that Goldsmiths needs" and had "failed signally (sic) to engage in meaningful consultation, has ignored staff concerns and has managed autocratically".

The review team's plans for a permanent deputy warden and senior pro-warden follow concerns over senior management arrangements put in place by Professor Pimlott three years ago.

Under the existing system, Professor Pimlott can all but handpick his pro-wardens from current academic staff. Staff fear that this allows him too much room for personal patronage.

There is also frustration that under the current arrangements pro-wardens are part time and sit in post for just three years. This means in effect that there is an annual "merry-go-round" of rotating managers, as one senior source put it, which creates instability and denies pro-wardens sufficient authority.

The Association of University Teachers complained last year that further reform plans put forward by Professor Pimlott failed to properly define the role of pro-wardens. The AUT said that the plans concentrated power in the hands of the warden and two senior administrators, diminishing academic leadership.

The review team, led by deputy chair of governors Sir Robert Balchin, has put forward plans to bolster the role of the academic board. There was concern last year when minutes wrongly recorded that the board had supported administrative reform plans from the warden, when they had not. After a complaint, the minutes were amended.

The review recommends a rethink of the "role, responsibilities and composition" of the academic board to ensure it is "able to be the key, high-level committee in the college for the creation and monitoring of academic policy and strategy".

Sir Robert said: "I am certain that the proposals that my committee has made will enable the college to face the future with a better management structure."

A college spokeswoman said the report should not be interpreted as a move to make Professor Pimlott more personally accountable. "The committee recommended that the college should explore a structure more akin to other universities where only the senior management team reports directly to the warden," she said.

Professor Pimlott said: "These recommendations will allow us to move forward in a constructive way."

The board of governors will make a final decision on the reform plans in March.

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