As universities gear up for a new academic year officials may wish to ponder what they tell potential students and how that squares with actual events, not least in Wales.
Bangor University (BU) for example, has a difficult reputation to live down.
On its website it tells visitors it has a “long tradition of academic excellence and a strong focus on the student experience”.
But it seems a shame the university’s just-‘retired’ Vice-Chancellor (VC) did not show a tradition of ‘excellence’ in relation to his treatment of women, and that their ‘experience’ has been less than good, after The Eye showed how he had said in an email that he was now with “my Ping Xu” and told a friend “I have found a much younger partner”.
It was reported that the messages “were not only harassment but they were ageist, sexist and racist”.
The property, on the banks of the River Cadnant, cost £475,000 in 2010 and had £267,000 of renovations with £16,000 of Laura Ashley furnishings that included £700 cushions.
The house offered a picturesque garden in an acre of land with a conservatory and library.
A spokesman for BU said: “After being purchased for £475,000, (the house) was independently valued at £750,000 in 2011 and, like other assets owned by the university, it could be sold in the future if the university wishes”.
But BU, one of the smallest universities in the UK, is not alone in a situation where some might question whether their proclaimed values are in line with actual events in a correct manner.
Aberystwyth University (AU) says it “is committed to providing a high-quality service and experience” and obviously the VC Elizabeth Treasure is used to ‘high-quality’ because when she was at Cardiff University (CU) she was dogged by controversy over expensive furnishings, as revealed by The Eye.
In May 2015 we showed how the cost of furnishing and equipping her room was more than £3,220 greater than the money spent on the office of her superior, the VC, Colin Riordan.
Perhaps the ‘experience’ for AU of opening a controversial campus on the holiday island of Mauritius is one it would rather forget.
The Mauritius campus of the university was built to accommodate 2,000 students, but just 106 had enrolled in its second year and it had to be closed.
A former member of the Welsh Assembly, Simon Thomas, once an Aberystwyth student, said opening the campus was “not a wise move”, and the decision to open it was taken at a time when the university was facing other major problems at its main headquarters in Aberystwyth, disclosed by The Eye.
A one-time VC of AU condemned as “madness” the resolution to open the Mauritius campus.
Derec Llwyd Morgan, who ran the university from 1994 to 2004, said the figures showed it was a bad decision to go to a far-flung country.
Almost five years ago we disclosed how the controversial university had plunged in The Guardian league table and dropped from 70th to 87th in the Complete University Guide.
A petition was started demanding the immediate resignation of the then VC, April McMahon.
On the petition one student from Birmingham wrote: “I came to Aberystwyth in 2011 expecting to leave with a degree from a well-renowned university”.
Professor McMahon said the tables had to be taken “with a pinch of salt”.
The collapse in student numbers was further exacerbated by Brexit.
John Grattan, then ‘acting’ VC at the university, said about 50 applicants pulled out the day after the Brexit vote.
“I won’t hide it from you that Brexit poses a challenge to the university,” Mr Grattan told students during a graduation ceremony.
A crisis also erupted in the university’s finances.
The former director of finance Peter Curran, said: “The financial implications of under-recruitment have never been so significant”.
His comments came after the number of students accepted at AU plunged even before Brexit.
They went down by 25 per cent in the two years before 2013 while applications by UK and EU students dropped by 15.2 per cent a year later.
Cardiff Metropolitan University (CMU) too faces an interesting problem in being true to its words in all that it does.
It says on its website: “As a Healthy University, we aim to develop a socially cohesive, environmentally responsible and all inclusive work and study environment which looks to engage staff, students and the wider community”.
Yet being a ‘Healthy University’ does not appear to tie in with recent events.
A staff survey of Health and Wellbeing there was only belatedly carried out after we revealed it had been postponed, and the timing has been questioned by a number of our sources at the university who claim it was conducted following our disclosures.
One told us: “(The) Eye must have hit a nerve as the VC tells us that ‘one priority is to address any concerns raised by staff in the Staff Health and Wellbeing Survey conducted last month”.
We have also been given details of alleged “bullying”, and a different staff member got into trouble for “not eating a sandwich within the designated lunch hour”, amid allegations that officials from Human Resources were called in.
The event became notorious within the university as the ‘sandwich saga’.
There is, though, intense frustration among academics we have spoken to at CMU that these events have not been covered in the Welsh mainstream media.
One of our contacts told us: “It has become obvious amongst all of us that anyone in CMU mentioning (The) Eye is immediately under suspicion for being one of your sources.
“They are afraid of the truth about the shambles … at CMU getting out into the mainstream media.”
Meanwhile CU says: “We are an ambitious and innovative university with a bold and strategic vision” and it seems that the VC there is ambitious for taxi rides and hotel accommodation.
In January 2015 Professor Riordan made news after racking up £1,010.98 on taxis, hotels, rail tickets and hospitality between June 2013 and May 2014.
In 2014 he was paid more than £250,000, but was also reimbursed £266.50 for a two-night stay in London, as well as £109 for a single night.
Officials are also apparently innovative in relation to caring for the health of their staff.
A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request has shown that dozens of staff members are seeking help with their mental health.
Last year tutor Malcolm Anderson took his own life and was found dead outside the office where he worked at CU after “silently struggling” with his workload.
Maybe it’s healthier to have a ‘vision’ from a taxi…
Bang goes the reputation part two is next week where The Eye expose the disturbing practices of other Welsh universities.
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