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Senior officials at a controversial Welsh university have been suspended while a major investigation is undertaken amid questions the shock news may be related to exclusive revelations on The Eye that the institution employed a crook.
The Vice-Chancellor (VC) of Swansea University, Richard Davies, has been relieved of his duties, while the head of his management school, Marc Clement, as well as two other members of staff have also been suspended.
Staff have today been sent an internal message entitled “internal investigation” by the registrar Andrew Rhodes. The message reads: “The vice-chancellor has been suspended while the investigation is ongoing, as have the dean of the school of management and two other members of staff at the school”.
We showed how Professor Clement and his school have long been controversial, and staff at Swansea have questioned the future of the man in charge of him.
The school employed a so-called academic named Steve Chan yet we disclosed that he had served a jail term in America. His jail term was followed by three years of supervised release, after he admitted one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of mail fraud. He was also ordered to pay restitution of $12,596,298.
In 1997 and 1998 Chan and others made false representation to lenders about two companies he was involved in, and more than $20 million was then promised to fund the lease or purchase of computers, furniture as well as related equipment.
Chan, a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), oversaw all the leasing activities of the two companies and was largely responsible for drafting and distributing the false leasing packages and providing lenders with misleading materials, to make them believe the two companies were highly successful businesses. The fraud only ended when the FBI searched one of the companies offices in August 1998, using a warrant.
But he was employed on a contract at the contentious School of Management at Swansea University, and he continued to use his past connection with the university long after he left.
The issue prompted serious questions about the judgement of Professor Clement as well as Professor Davies.
Two years ago an official written question was put to the Welsh Government about the management school and Swansea University, naming Professor Davies, Professor Clement and Chan. The then Assembly Member (AM) for South Wales West, Peter Black, asked the Welsh Education Minister at the time, Huw Lewis, to make a statement regarding the appointment of senior staff at the university’s school and the qualifications of Chan.
He asked: “Will the Minister (Huw Lewis) make a statement regarding the appointment of senior staff at Swansea University’s School of Management, following reports that a meeting was held between the Dean of the School, Marc Clements (sic), and University Vice-Chancellor Professor Richard Davies about the qualifications of Professor Steve Chan?”.
But information has been difficult to uncover. We lodged a series of questions through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with Swansea University about Chan, but the information was refused on the grounds the request was “vexatious”.
Four of the questions we asked in the FOIA were:
- What was the exact date that Professor Steve Chan of the School of Management registered for his Ph.D at Swansea University?
- What was the exact date that he undertook his viva voce examination for his Ph.D?
- Who were the members of his Ph.D viva committee (including external examiners)?
- Who approved the appointment of the supervisors for his Ph.D?
One academic told The Eye at the time:“(Vice-Chancellor) Davies and (Dean) Clement can’t survive this. Questions must be asked about their roles.”
But questions have long been a problem for Swansea University.
The Eye submitted a series of further FOIA queries to the university but all answers were again denied on the grounds we were “vexatious”.
In full they were: “(i) The second supervisor of Chan’s PhD was Prof Mark Rees at Swansea University. What is his title? (ii) Why was Chan’s PhD dissertation not deposited with the British Library’s EThos system (E-theses on-line services)? (iii) Did the External Examiner see Chan’s dissertation?
“(iv) Does Swansea University hold a physical copy of Chan’s dissertation? (v) Did the Vice Chancellor, Richard Davies, know about Chan’s past when he was jailed for fraud in the US, and the University (a) awarded him his PhD (b) appointed him to a professorial chair in the School of Management?
“(vi) Did the University’s Academic Registrar, Raymond Ciborowski, know about Chan’s past when the University (a) awarded him his PhD (b) appointed him to a professorial chair in the School of Management?
“(vii) Did Hilary Lappin-Scott (who had responsibility for the oversight of the School of Management) know about Chan’s past when the University (a) awarded him his PhD (b) appointed him to a professorial chair in the School of Management?
“(viii) Did the University’s Director of Human Resources David Williams know about Chan’s past when the University (a) awarded him his PhD (b) appointed him to a professorial chair in the School of Management?”
Following our disclosures about Chan’s jail term, his contract was terminated, but he appeared to go from strength to strength.
He was later hired as an ‘advisor’ by the leading high-tech firm Synerscope which provides computerised imaging, and specialises in access to “dark data” which is never normally analysed.
But Professor Clement, also has a controversial past himself, and serious questions have been raised too among his own staff, this time about his salary.
He was a leading figure in the University of Wales when it all but folded following a major scandal which was revealed on a Television Current Affairs programme. The BBC series Week In Week Out screened an investigation that showed a reporter posing as a student arranging to pay for bogus qualifications at London colleges validated by the University of Wales. She was seen paying £1,500 in cash for a certificate.
A statement issued by the St David’s Day Group, which comprised Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Glamorgan (at the time of foundation), and Swansea Universities, expressed outrage at the revelations. Four of the five used to be constituent colleges of the University of Wales, the exception being Glamorgan.