Serious concern is growing among staff about apparent radical changes at a senior level, in a controversial Welsh university, where they say they are “too frightened to talk” publicly, and which advertised for a Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) proclaiming it was another institution using the wrong logo as well as picture, The Eye can reveal.
Workers at contentious Cardiff Metropolitan University (CMU) have discovered that Baroness llora Finlay is no longer Chair of Governors at the troubled university.
All reference to the peer has been removed from the governance page of CMU, and her post has been advertised but without reference to her or the sudden departure. It’s been claimed in a staff newsletter that she stepped down “for personal reasons” although there was no mention that this was about to happen in board minutes from December, and many personnel appear to have missed the information.
Our journalists understand that CMU governors recently received a letter from Baroness Finlay alleging serious breaches of rules at the university, and staff have told us they wonder if the two facts may be connected.
One said: “Things just seem to go from bad to worse here. First there is a massive expansion putting everyone under strain, and now llora Finlay has gone”.
Another told The Eye: “This whole thing is incredible”.
Yet in recent years CMU has seemed extremely proud of their catch, and publicised events where Baroness Finlay was speaking.
In one conference on how society cares for people at the end of life, officials declared in publicity material: “Professor the Baroness llora Finlay of Llandaff FLSW is an internationally renowned expert in palliative medicine, who developed a postgraduate course that has taught over 2,000 doctors in the field… She is a Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, and recently took up the post of Chair of the Board of Governors at Cardiff Metropolitan University.”.
But the change of course now is intriguing, as CMU confronts challenging stories which have been broken exclusively by The Eye.
CMU has been undergoing huge change and stated in the advert for the DVC, which used the wrong picture and said it was for a different Welsh university: “We are now a community of over 11,500 students based at our two main Cardiff campuses, with a further 8,700 students studying with our international partners in 15 countries”.
Yet we have also received a huge number of critical comments from academics, that the mainstream media in Wales, have ignored the mounting crisis at CMU as officials undertook the enormous alterations needed to accommodate thousands of extra students.
The Eye have received, too, alarming complaints that the fresh people who have been brought in are of low calibre, and subservient to the Vice-Chancellor (VC) Cara Aitchison.
After a recent meeting of the Vice-Chancellor Executive Group (VCEG), unhappy staff were sent recruitment rules that every appointment panel must be chaired by a member of the group or a Dean of another school at the crisis-hit university.
However a ‘whistleblower’ at CMU has told us that this is just further evidence of “more controlling and lack of trust”.
One source added that it had become crazy at the institution, saying: “It’s starting to go mad again”.
The 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”, and a spoof Twitter account was created which was 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 became a source of amusement for our satirical writer Edwin Phillips.
Meanwhile a number of staff who left had been required to sign ‘gagging’ clauses.
One angry former worker at CMU gave us the names of others who had sought their own legal advice, but in his words they “have been shown the door”.
Another 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.”
Documents showed that at one point CMU had set an ambitious target of reaching a level of 26,425 students by 2023, while staff claimed they were under-resourced for an enlargement on this scale, and students were admitted who simply could not cope with degree work.
Yet, despite CMU’s proud announcement in the mixed-up advert, it seemed the massive changes at the university did little to improve its performance initially.
It was ranked 108 in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019 – which meant it had plunged 18 places in only a year, and one of our sources at CMU said it had “nose dived”.
But our own inquiries of the university about the upheaval there under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) legislation were met with a blanket refusal to provide answers.
As with our questions to another controversial Welsh higher education institution, officials at CMU have stated that the queries to them from our Editor Phil Parry were “vexatious”, although it was clear that all was not as it should be within CMU.
We were 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.
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 had analysed the statistics given in the document and were 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 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 was carried out after we revealed it had been postponed, but the timing has been questioned by staff who claimed 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 conducted last month’”.
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, were 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 were inundated with desperate comments from distressed academics, and one said they are “demoralised and demotivated”.
A 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 now there will be a reply to staff concerns about apparent radical changes at a senior level in a controversial Welsh university, where they say they are “too frightened to talk” publicly, and which advertised for a DVC saying it’s another institution, using the wrong logo as well as picture.
Or perhaps not…
Tomorrow – the vital importance of correctly identifying someone when you publish information about them.
The memories of Phil’s astonishing decades-long award-winning career in journalism (including reporting embarrassing mix-ups) as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!