Angry staff at a crisis-hit Welsh university have told The Eye their controversial Vice-Chancellor (VC) is now on annual leave while the institution is in “chaos”, and it has prompted more lines of questioning internally about who is in charge while enormous changes are undertaken, it can be disclosed.
The mainstream media have refused to cover the growing scandal at Cardiff Metropolitan University (CMU) while The Eye have been inundated with desperate comments from distressed academics, and the latest says they are “demoralised and demotivated”.
But in a swift Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) response to The Eye CMU officials have insisted the VC, Cara Aitchison, is working normally.
Yet internal information appears to confirm the crisis, and documents show that CMU has set an ambitious target of reaching a level of 26,425 students by 2023, an increase of 8,810 on today’s figure of 17,615, while staff claim they are under-resourced for an enlargement on this scale and students are being admitted who simply cannot cope with degree work.
The embattled VC and her key officials have begun a major structural change to accommodate the new students, but academics remain deeply unhappy.
One told us: “The Vice Chancellor is … on annual leave again this week.
“She’s had practically the whole summer off while there are still huge changes going on.
“Staff are incredibly demoralised and demotivated.
“But literally anyone who criticises or questions finds themselves sidelined or worse.”
Another said to The Eye: “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.
“Even UCU (University and College Union) colleagues are afraid to speak out which is indicative of the atmosphere here.”
We have also been given details of alleged “bullying” in a “toxic” atmosphere, and a different staff member got into trouble for “not eating a sandwich within the designated lunch hour” when officials from Human Resources were called in.
The event became notorious within CMU as the ‘sandwich saga’.
A further academic told us: “In July 2017 AFTER the graduation ceremony PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) students were invoiced for modules they had failed and emails said the invoice was for re-examination fee.
Staff at CMU say they are under huge pressure because of the changes, and mental health is a major concern yet a wellbeing survey has been postponed.
“Sickness levels and grievances are through the roof across the university.”
Another of our sources within the Welsh university sector said: “They are rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic”.
A different unhappy academic has told us the university is in “turmoil” and in a state of “carnage”.
The university has responded to a lengthy request for details under the FOIA completely denying information from one of our contacts that Professor Aitchison and her deputy had been placed on ‘sick leave’ as the huge changes unfolded and the drive for more students came under fire from academics at CMU.
We had also asked officials who now is in charge at the university amid accusations from the academics, that it is a “rudderless ship”.
Normally responses to FOIA requests take several weeks, but remarkably this time denials came within hours, and CMU officials stressed that “Professor Cara Aitchison … is working normally”.
Further information had been requested about the future of two top executives at CMU; the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Sushila Chang, and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International) Mohamed Loutfi.
It has been confirmed to us officially that Professor Loutfi will leave the university permanently on September 1.
The Eye have submitted another FOIA request (see tomorrow’s story) asking the university to confirm details we have been given by one of our sources that now an official grievance case has been launched against Professor Aitchison, and lawyers have become involved.
CMU remains upbeat despite the controversy, and officials have stated in an advert for a new chair of governors: “We are an award winning institution both internationally and in the UK and have a learning community totalling 17,000 students (10,000 based in Cardiff and 7,000 studying with collaborative partners), with an enviable reputation for employability and teaching excellence”.
In October a spokesperson said: “The University has recruited considerably more students in 2017 than last year, and we have confidence growth in existing courses can be achieved.
“New courses have come on stream in 2017 achieving high levels of recruitment”.
But the key issue is whether these ‘high levels’ are causing ‘turmoil’ at CMU – The Eye’s sources say they are.
On September 10 on The Eye our satirical writer Edwin Phillips reads a Press Release from CMU to the mainstream media praising journalists there for not covering the crisis.
Tomorrow – CMU is hit with another lengthy Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking what exactly is going on.