An outraged former senior manager at a controversial Welsh university where staff say they are “too frightened to talk” but believe it has “nosedived” in the rankings, has alerted The Eye to latest figures which reveal the contentious Vice Chancellor (VC) was paid more than seven times the median salary of workers at the institution, The Eye can disclose.
Today’s revelation comes after we exclusively showed that a leading academic will not now be coming to crisis-hit Cardiff Metropolitan University (CMU).
The ‘Annual Report’ for CMU shows how the headline-grabbing VC, Cara Aitchison, was paid almost £182,000 last year, yet it has plunged in the tables and her staff are deeply unhappy.
The source at CMU told us: “The reality is (there has been) massive reputational decline. (It is) 96th out of 131 in the latest complete uni guide, 113th out of 121 in the Guardian (and) 108th out of 129 in the Times, yet that merits a £15k pay rise!! Unbelievable”.
The emergency at CMU appears to centre on plans to expand massively the university, and it has not been alone among Welsh Higher Education institutions, in attracting controversy, yet there is mounting concern internally that the events are not being covered by the mainstream media.
Other documents we have seen show that CMU has set an ambitious target of reaching a level of 26,425 students by 2023, an increase of 8,810 on the figure two years ago 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.
Another of our contacts there has said in the past that officials were “turning a blind eye even though a grievance has gone straight to them”.
The Eye have received alarming complaints that the new people who have been brought in are of low calibre, and subservient to Professor Aitchison.
After a recent meeting of the Vice-Chancellor Executive Group (VCEG), unhappy staff were sent recruitment rules that every appointment panel had to be chaired by a member of the group or a Dean of another school at the university.
Yet a ‘whistleblower’ at CMU says it is just further evidence of “more controlling and lack of trust”.
The source added that the incidents had become unbelievable at the institution, saying: “It’s starting to go mad again”.
This contact told The Eye earlier: “I can’t wait for the REF (Research Excellence Framework) results … Research across the university is at an all time low”.
We understand that a deputy Vice-Chancellor at CMU had submitted a formal complaint about the running of the institution by Professor Aitchison, and a spoof Twitter site was created, which was being widely followed by staff at CMU.
The Eye have shown previously how another source at CMU told us the atmosphere was “feverish”, while more than two and a half times the amount of money had been spent on legal fees compared with the year before, and the astonishing events at the university have become a source of amusement for our satirical writer Edwin Phillips.
Meanwhile a number of staff who left have been required to sign ‘gagging’ clauses.
One angry former staff member at CMU has given us the names of others who have sought their own legal advice, but in his words they “have been shown the door”.
But apart from The Eye receiving a huge number of critical comments from academics that the mainstream media in Wales continue to ignore the mounting crisis at CMU, it appears there is also growing alarm among staff that officials have undertaken enormous alterations needed to accommodate thousands of extra students.
One of our contacts at the university 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.”
But our own inquiries of the university about the crisis under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) legislation have been met with a blanket refusal to provide answers.
It is clear though that all is not as it should be within CMU.
We have been given details of alleged “bullying”, and a different staff member got into trouble for “not eating a sandwich within the designated lunch hour” when officials from Human Resources were allegedly called in.
The event became notorious within the university as the ‘sandwich saga’.
It all came as another internal document to staff at CMU, and passed to us, was condemned by one of our whistlebowers as “the latest attempt by our Vice Chancellor to persuade us all that everything is going well and according to plan, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way”.
A number of Professor Aitchison’s staff have analysed the statistics given in this document and are deeply unimpressed.
One told us: “In the VC news update there are some obvious discrepancies in some of the cherry-picked figures that any academic can spot”.
The source claimed in the past that there were major differences in anticipated turnover in the paper for 2018/19 to the statistic given in the Strategic Plan for CMU, and continued: “So which figure is correct? The previously published strategic plan or the latest Pravda update?”.
A staff survey of Health and Wellbeing has now been carried out after we revealed it had been postponed, but the timing was questioned by staff who said 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'”.
Another of our sources criticised the knowledge of some staff now at CMU, saying: “A five year old has more technological intellect than some C Met staff… a lot of staff think storing to cloud has something to do with the weather!”.
Yet others who have been at the university for some time are praised by the contact: “There are some good staff being ‘trodden’ all over. I see it happening all the time. (As for) media non-exposure, I guess BBC Wales will worry about ‘links’ they have with CMet and don’t want bridges burnt”.
Even as the scandal at CMU has been kept from the mainstream media, The Eye have been inundated with desperate comments from distressed academics, and the latest says they are “demoralised and demotivated”.
One contact told us earlier: “Staffing levels are completely inadequate. 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 responded to an earlier 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, as in the case of the refusal on the grounds our questions were “vexatious”, but remarkably these denials came within hours, and CMU officials stressed that “Professor Cara Aitchison … is working normally”.
The questions were also sent to a senior official at CMU who is one of Professor Aitchison’s acolytes marked “urgent” but there has been no reply.
Perhaps a reply will now be forthcoming after our disclosure that staff at CMU are deeply unhappy their VC is paid so much more than them. Or perhaps not.
Tomorrow – why an airport is back in the news after linking up with a state-run airline from a country accused of supporting terrorism.
Our Editor’s memories of his extraordinary 36-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major new book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now! The picture doubles as a cut-and-paste poster!