Academics in revolt as senior managers attempt to ‘shift balance of power’

Published

Nick Sikora

Documents obtained by the Guardian have revealed unpublicised plans by the University to  reduce academic influence within the University Court.

The Court, which is comprised of 25 sitting members, oversees the allocation of resources within the University as well as creating and administering strategic plans for the institution.

The new plans will see lay members of Court, who are usually sought for their expertise in areas such as law and business, more than double in number from five to eleven.

Lay members are recruited externally from the University, and are appointed by University Principal Anton Muscatelli.

The number of academic members of Court will drop from seven seats to four to accommodate the increase, while General Council representation, which includes all previous graduates and academic staff, will drop from five members to two.

The proposal, termed Draft Ordinance 206, will allow senior management to command a greater proportion of the Court’s 25 seats in coordination with their appointees, resulting in a shift in the balance of power from the academic body to the University executive.

This has lead to fears that the historic authority will devolve into a rubber stamp for senior management plans.

Draft Ordinance 206 will not be placed before the student body before being accepted as part of the University constitution. Only select SRC members, in their capacity as part of the University Court, have been given access to the plans in advance of them being approved.

The draft proposals are currently being reviewed by the Senate, the University’s academic body, as part of the consultation process that normally takes place before changes to the University’s constitution.

Documents leaked to the Guardian highlight strong levels of anger from within the Senate, with several academics stating their belief that the University is attempting to sideline academia in the pursuit of business goals.

One Professor, who was not the source of the leak, stated his concerns to fellow members of the Senate.

He said: “A lay majority in court opens up the likelihood of the court being ‘captured’ by the university management, who have better access to information and understanding of ‘how things work’.

“That possibility is increased by the role of Court in the appointment of lay members and the absence of mechanisms that promote accountability to stakeholders.

“The proposals to restructure court do not correspond with the (supposedly) central role of academics as drivers of the university’s mission. Thus, we are to provide the vision and application that produces results, but we are to be sidelined when it comes to the important decisions.

“We risk losing the ethos of an institution that is primarily driven by academic excellence, as understood by those best placed to interpret its meaning, and for that reason I oppose the proposed amendment.”

The sense of an increasingly authoritarian management was frequently mentioned in the leaked correspondence, with one senior Professor citing ‘an oppressive managerial culture’, and another accusing executive management of being ‘divisive and alienating’.

One academic wrote: “I have gone in the last year from feeling like a valued colleague and member of the University of Glasgow to feeling like an ill-treated employee, and I know I’m not alone.

“Glasgow is in my bones, but the new managerialism is sticking in my throat.”

Many accused senior managers of having an ‘ideological’ approach to university leadership.

A member of the Senate, who claimed to be speaking for many of his colleagues, stated that: “From conversations I’ve had, many among the professoriat are unhappy with the manageriat. This is not a personal animosity, but has to do with the new managerialism itself, since everything follows from this ideologically driven approach to higher education.”

At present, students have two sitting members on the Court, both of whom are members of the Students’ Representative Council.

Tommy Gore, SRC President and one of the Members of Court able to view the changes in advance, explained the fears the SRC has regarding a reduction in academic representation at the higher levels of University management.

Speaking to the Guardian, he said: “The SRC understands the need to carry out reviews such as this into the governing body of the University to ensure that it is fit for purpose, particularly if we are not following current guidance on good practice.

“However, we are obviously concerned at the reduction in the number of Senate Assessors on Court and the potential for this to have a detrimental impact on the academic input to the University Court.

“That said, we believe what is far more important is that the Senate Assessors, as well as the co-opted members, are of high quality, who contribute to the debate, and are not simply yes-men or women for the University Senior Management Group. We’re lucky that we currently have that in our Senate Assessors who sit on Court, and its important to ensure that continues, because we believe quality is far more important than quantity.”

If the proposals go through, Glasgow University Court will have the highest ratio of layperson to university staff of any rival ancient Scottish university.

The new ratio of 1.78 laypersons to every 1 staff member on the Court compares with 1.75 in Edinburgh, 1.56 at St. Andrews, and 1.45 at Aberdeen University.

A University spokesperson explained that the draft measure is an attempt to bring the University framework into line with other ancient Scottish universities.

He said: “The University Court has developed proposals to modernise the composition of the Court by bringing in more external expertise in line with other universities in Scotland.”

The Senate, who are presently reviewing the proposed constitutional change, will vote on the Draft Ordinance on December 9.