Distressed academics at a controversial Welsh university where staff say they are too frightened to criticise publicly the huge changes that are underway have told The Eye their institution has “nose dived” in the latest rankings and they expect an official message soon saying it’s their ‘fault’, but they have condemned the mainstream media for not covering the growing crisis.
Cardiff Metropolitan University (CMU) is now ranked 108 in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019; which means it has plunged 18 places in only a year.
One of our sources at CMU told us: “There is yet more anxiety here at CMU with the latest university rankings out that could not have come at a worse time.
“We are doing our best to welcome new students telling them what a great course they have joined, which is true, but the latest news does not show our institution in a good light – CMU has nose dived.
“No doubt we will have a message before the end of the day telling us it’s all our fault or those who have left.
“Heaven help us”.
The mainstream media in Wales focused on the fact that Swansea University has now overtaken Cardiff University.
WalesOnline, whose Editor Paul Rowland has threatened to sue our own Editor Phil Parry in the past, said: “Swansea University has stolen the crown from Cardif University to be named Welsh University of the Year in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019”.
The story comes amid enormous unhappiness among academics that these journalists are not covering the ‘chaos’ at CMU.
Another of our whistleblowers informed us: “CMU is down 18 places to 108 and there is no word internally yet as the leadership can’t possibly admit that they’ve made things worse since they arrived.
“God knows what pathetic excuse they’ll come up with but we know that they won’t take responsibility.
A further source told 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’.
This academic also highlighted the concern internally that the controversy is not being covered by the mainstream media.
The Eye were told: “(As for) media non-exposure, I guess BBC Wales will worry about ‘links’ they have with CMet and don’t want bridges burnt”.
Another of our contacts at CMU has warned that the best staff left under a contentious Voluntary Severance (VS) scheme and others were ‘persuaded’ to leave.
A source said that in one case after VS, a vacancy was soon re-advertised even though the post was not meant to be filled for two years.
The Cyncoed campus in Cardiff has been labelled ‘Eastern’ and Llandaff on the A48 is ‘Western’ but the alterations have been condemned by staff.
Internal information appears to confirm what we have been told, 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 alarmed.
Even as the scandal at CMU has not emerged into mainstream media, The Eye have been inundated with desperate comments from upset academics, and the latest says they are “demoralised and demotivated”.
Staff at CMU claim they are under enormous pressure because of the changes, and mental health is a major concern yet a wellbeing survey was postponed.
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 worried 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 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) completely denying information from one of our contacts that Professor Aitchison and her deputy had been placed on ‘sick leave’ as the major alterations were undertaken and the drive for more students came under fire from academics.
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”.
These 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.
The Eye have asked for further details to be made known publicly in a another series of FOIA questions but have yet to receive a response.
Among the questions is crucial information about how much money has been paid out in VS settlements since Professor Aitchison became VC and the number of senior staff who have left under these agreements.
Our journalists have also asked CMU to tell us how many staff have been required to sign ‘non-disclosure’ clauses.
It seems unlikely this information will emerge in the mainstream media.
But details are now public about how CMU is faring compared with other institutions.
Not very well.