A leading academic is no longer taking a senior role at a controversial Welsh university where internal documents have revealed the alleged ‘control’ of the contentious Vice-Chancellor (VC) and lecturers who believe it’s “madness” have told us they think that staff have been “shown the door”, The Eye can disclose.
An alarming internal message has been sent to staff at headline-grabbing Cardiff Metropolitan University (CMU) declaring that Janine Griffiths-Baker will not now be joining them “Due to unforeseen circumstances”.
The Eye have been contacted by numerous sources at CMU who are deeply unhappy at the enormous pay rise there for the VC Cara Aitchison (see story soon) but the worrying news follows earlier crisise in the Welsh university sector, which we have been alone in reporting.
The latest extraordinary details about Professor Griffiths-Baker were outlined in a note to staff sent on behalf of the Chair of the Board of Governors, Baroness Ilora Finlay, which proclaimed that she was the “preferred candidate”.
The disturbing announcement about the professor centres on her being offered the post of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) at CMU after the previous occupant, Sushila Chang, left in highly unusual circumstances.
It appears that Professor Chang did not fit into the new approach at CMU, where Professor Aitchison has seemingly ruffled feathers.
Yet it is clear that Professor Chang has been welcomed with open arms, at her new institution The University of Fiji (UoF).
Officials there have said they are “delighted” with their catch and that “Professor Chang joins us from Cardiff Metropolitan University where she was Deputy Vice- Chancellor Academic.
“Professor Chang has extensive experience in higher education, having held numerous senior positions internationally including at The University of Queensland, Australia, Griffith University, Australia, the Singapore University of Technology and Design and Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore.”
Yet workers at CMU have been told that Professor Griffiths-Baker will not, after all, be filling Professor Chang’s senior role there.
The latest information is set against a disturbing backdrop after we were contacted by numerous academics at CMU who say they are “too frightened to talk” publicly about what they claim is chaos, and that leading officials who have oversight of the institution are “turning a blind eye even though a grievance has gone straight to them”.
The Eye have received numerous 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 must be chaired by a member of the group or a Dean of another school at the crisis-hit university.
Yet a ‘whistleblower’ at CMU says it is just further evidence of “more controlling and lack of trust”.
Another 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”.
A spoof Twitter site was created, which has been 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 unbelievable incidents 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, and we understand there have been attempts to settle official grievances.
But The Eye have also received a huge number of critical comments from academics that the mainstream media in Wales, continue to ignore the mounting crisis at CMU as officials have undertaken the 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.”
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 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.
Yet it seems the massive changes at the university have done little to improve its performance.
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 said it had “nosedived”.
But our own inquiries of the university about the growing 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’, and came as another internal document to staff at CMU, which was passed to us, has been 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 the 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 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 claim 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 WellbeingSurvey 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 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”, while a different unhappy academic told us the university was 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.
It also appears to have been ‘urgent’ news that a senior academic is no longer joining crisil-hit CMU.
This only raises further questions…
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