Reports among staff at a controversial Welsh university say convention may be broken in marking the death of a contentious former head of their scandal-hit management school, first revealed by The Eye.
The ruling Swansea University Court meets on Saturday, and official documents show that senior members normally stand as a mark of respect “for all those persons associated with the University who have passed away during the year”.
But this time it will be the death of Nigel Piercy, the former Dean of Swansea University School of Management, who resigned after two turbulent years in charge.
Academics also doubt whether controversial Pro-Vice Chancellor at the university, Hilary Lappin-Scott, who sends tweets read by staff of her expensive travels around the world, will give a eulogy to Professor Piercy.
As Professor Piercy took over from her, and she was, initially, his line manager, this is thought to be highly unusual.
Professor Piercy quit two and a half years ago, after relentless pressure from us, when he clashed repeatedly with staff, warned them the school was “not a rest home for refugees from the 1960s with their ponytails and tie-dyed T-shirts”, and described trade unionists as “unpleasant and grubby little people…usually distinguished only by their sad haircuts, grubby, chewed fingernails and failed careers”.
His wife Nikala Lane and son Niall also worked at the school.
Normally, when a former Dean or staff member dies, the department or university recognises this in an announcement to current staff.
Yet staff at Swansea were formally told nothing.
Professor Piercy claimed his unconventional approach had been successful in pushing the school up rankings,
But his comments did not impress Sir Roger Jones, Pro-Chancellor at Swansea and chair of the University Council.
He said the institution had been ill-served by Professor Piercy’s “gratuitously offensive comments”.
Meanwhile after leaving, Prof Piercy had penned a book, about an institution he called “Duckpond University”.
The book contained a “case study”, and was subtitled “The anatomy of hate and the tactics of the gutter”, in which he described the “experiences of Frank Sargent as Dean of the School of Management at Duckpond University” who was charged with “managing a strategic turnaround…for a group of failing university departments in the period 2013 to 2015”.
While stressing that “for legal reasons… Duckpond University is not an actual university”, Professor Piercy described it as an institution “’at the end of the railway line’ in a remote part of Wales”, adding it had a “reputation for being ‘run’ by the trade unions and the Welsh Labour Party”.
Swansea declined to comment on the book, but a spokeswoman said that the university’s school was in “robust health” and was “on an upward trajectory, with a rich learning environment, strong research-led teaching, an excellent student experience and strong links with business in the region, in Wales, and internationally”.
Prof Piercy resigned in July 2015 after two crisis-laden years in charge, citing “differences with the university” regarding implementation of the school’s future strategy.
After he resigned he gave an interview in which he admitted he “did have to step on some toes”, and that his entire career as an academic “has been based on being provocative”.
But other academics have questioned to us, the appointment processes that led to three members of the same family being employed at the school within a year.
Prof Piercy left the University of Warwick in 2013 and was joined in Swansea shortly afterwards by his wife.
His son, Niall, was promoted to the role of pro dean.
“It never really struck me as a problem,” Prof Nigel Piercy said at the time he left.
“My wife comes with me as part of the package.
“My son was already there (at Swansea).
“I don’t know what he is doing, but she’s staying.”
It will be interesting to see if senior officials at Swansea stay with convention in marking the death of one of their Deans who made headlines for the university.
But headlines it would rather not have had.
Tomorrow we look at what may really happen in the meeting of Swansea University Court.
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