Provost Malcolm Grant admitted he chaired a meeting 'less diplomatically than I would have wished'
Published: 8 November, 2012
by TOM FOOT
THE top boss of University College London has admitted he chaired a meeting “less diplomatically than I would have wished” after being accused of bullying by members of his academic board.
Provost Malcolm Grant – who is leaving the Gower Street university next year to chair an NHS body responsible for £80billion of government funding – is facing a massive backlash from academics over his performance at an explosive meeting last Wednesday.
Mr Grant lost his rag during a knife-edge vote on whether to press ahead with plans to tear up its historic employment rights statute, according to the academics’ University and College Union (UCU).
Its report said: “This was an unpleasant spectacle that left attendees shocked and disturbed.
“The meeting on Wednesday represented senior management beginning to lose control of this discussion and debate and resorting to extreme measures to get their way: ignoring motions, refusing to table items for the agenda and most extraordinarily shouting down members of academic board.”
The university admits the “Statute 18” change would be “unique within the higher education sector”, but academics say it removes rights to legal representation and will simply make it easier for managers to sack them.
A petition set up online says the changes will remove “academic oversight over redundancy, dismissal, capability and loss of privileges”.
Mr Grant is accused by the UCU of “bullying behaviour” after ranting at an elected member of the academic board.
The board was set up to protect the rights of lecturers and staff employed by UCL.
Two votes on whether the employment rights changes should be “entirely rejected and never discussed again” and a second – on whether the consultation should be stopped – appeared to split the room.
But the UCU said Mr Grant refused to count a show of hands because he held a “pre-determined view”.
In a circular sent out to staff after the meeting, Mr Grant said he had presided over the Statute 18 reforms meeting “less diplomatically than I would have wished”.
A UCL spokesman said the university was aiming to “strengthen the protection of academic freedom” by “removing procedures that are no longer consistent with current employment legislation”.
He said: “The proposals would set up a dedicated committee of UCL’s council that will advise on academic freedom, in matters relating to redundancy, discipline and grievances.
“UCL’s academic board is a broadly constituted body and was consulted on the proposals.”
He said the board member who was shouted at acted “discourteously” by calling a vote without asking Mr Grant first, and added: “Two propositions were then put forward by the chair of the meeting, the first on whether the new proposals should be entirely rejected – which on a show of hands was rejected – and a second on continuation of consultation, which was accepted.”
Mr Grant was appointed chairman of the NHS Commissioning Board after being recommended for the post by former health secretary Andrew Lansley.