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Swansea University academic under suspension denies wrongdoing

Posted on: 2018-11-29 18:45:00

Part of Swansea’s Singleton campus.
Part of Swansea’s Singleton campus. The university has climbed up the rankings in recent years. Photograph: Swansea University

A senior academic at Swansea University, who has been suspended alongside the vice-chancellor pending the outcome of an internal investigation, has denied any wrongdoing and has lodged a formal grievance against the registrar now in charge of the institution.

Prof Marc Clement, dean of the school of management, instructed lawyers to launch the grievance against the registrar and chief operating officer, Andrew Rhodes, who earlier this week informed staff of the investigation and subsequent suspensions.

Rhodes, an alumnus of Swansea who joined the university as registrar in April, was previously a senior civil servant working as director general of operations at the Department for Work and Pensions. In line with the university ordinances, the registrar is now acting vice-chancellor.

A letter from Clement’s lawyers to members of Swansea University council, seen by the Guardian, said their client “vehemently” denied any wrongdoing, was “astounded” by his suspension and would do “all it takes to clear his good name and protect the institution to which he has dedicated a significant proportion of his professional life”. Attached to the letter was a notification of grievance.

On Monday, staff and students at the university were informed that an internal investigation had been under way for the past few weeks and as a result the serving vice-chancellor, Prof Richard Davies, in post since 2003, had been suspended while it continued.

Clement and two other members of staff from the school of management were also suspended – all on full pay. In a message to staff Rhodes gave no detail about what was being investigated, but said it did not concern the academic performance of the university or its financial wellbeing.

The letter from Clement’s lawyers, Capital Law, said there had been no discussion of the allegations with their client prior to his suspension. “Had this occurred, he would have been able to allay the concerns raised. This would have avoided a very public suspension, the significant negative press interest and damage to the reputation of the university and of our client.”

It went on: “The allegations appear to have been generated from incomplete, cursory and misleading due diligence. The upshot being that instead of now working for the furtherance of the university’s own interests, our client has been forced to take legal advice to protect his own position.

“Our client wishes this matter be resolved as swiftly as possible, not only to limit the damage this may cause to the reputation of all parties involved but also to the vital work he is involved with within the university.”

According to reports in Welsh media, members of Swansea University’s medical school have also written to council members expressing their support for both the vice-chancellor and Clement.

“Both these men have worked tirelessly over many years to transform Swansea University,” the letter says.

“Without them, there would be no school of medicine or the Bay campus. The public spectacle created beggars belief and to see these men treated in this manner brings grave concern for what our university is becoming.”

A Swansea University spokesperson declined to make any comment relating to correspondence with council members. “However, we are satisfied that all procedures have been carried out robustly and correctly and in line with the university’s statutes and ordinances.”

Under Davies’s leadership, Swansea University has made ambitious progress in recent years, opening a new £450m campus and climbing up the university rankings. It has also been involved in the £1.3bn Swansea Bay City Deal, signed off by Theresa May last year, to fund 11 projects in the area over the next 15 years, in particular a £200m state-of-the-art “wellness and life science village”, a huge regeneration project planned for Llanelli’s Delta Lakes area.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said it was “very unusual but not unprecedented” for a vice-chancellor to be suspended. Four years ago, the Plymouth vice-chancellor Prof Wendy Purcell was suspended pending a review.

The Swansea vice-chancellor’s suspension came just weeks after Davies, who earns £252,000 a year, announced plans to retire at the end of the academic year. “This is not the time to reflect on the past,” he commented at the time.

“There are more successes and exciting opportunities in the pipeline and, in the fast changing environment of higher education, including Brexit, 12 months is a long period. My focus will be on business as usual which includes, of course, helping to maintain the upward trajectory of the university.”

According to Hillman, the climate in universities has changed in recent times, with vice-chancellors under increasing scrutiny from their governing bodies. “Governing bodies are a more important part of the picture than they used to be and have greater responsibilities – and they are beginning to flex their muscles a bit,” he said.


Sally Weale Education Correspondent
Source: The Guardian

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