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A "Personal Vendetta” or "Strong Signal"?: Staff debate future of Senior Vice Principal 

Anger over consultation has seen questions raised over Professor Karl Leydecker’s position- but are such calls justified?


By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco



Photo Credit: University of Aberdeen


Over the last two weeks, Karl Leydecker has become one of the most divisive figures on campus. Ever since Principal George Boyne’s right hand man announced the terms of a modern languages consultation on 30 November, the longtime Germanist has faced a storm of criticism. 


Professor Leydecker, UoA's Senior Vice Principal since March 2019, serves as the primary line manager to the University's Heads of School and supervises “ambitious School plans and budgets.”


Many staff and students have reacted negatively to what some have characterised as Professor Leydecker’s disregard for due process, disrespect for modern languages staff, and misrepresentation of data. 


At last Wednesday’s Senate meeting, Professor Leydecker defended the integrity of the consultation amidst intense questioning. 


Following a unilateral decision by University Court to scrap single honours degrees (and maintain joint honours), The Gaudie understands that a number of Senators discussed tabling a vote of no confidence in the embattled deputy in the New Year. 


On Tuesday evening, one Senator told us: “Senators have reacted with surprise to the SVP's announcement that the university will not accept single honours language students next year, since they have neither been consulted on such a proposal nor given approval of the change to the degree programme.


“It appears that the SVP is acting outwith his authority, and Senate will proceed with moving a motion of no confidence at the next meeting of Senate…”

However, The Gaudie now understands that a potential vote of no confidence may not have the support of the majority of Senators. As such, it remains unclear if a motion will be lodged at Senate’s next meeting in February. 


Asked whether Principal Boyne had confidence in his top lieutenant, a University spokesperson dodged the question, instead telling us:


“Court agreed not to admit students to single Honours degrees in Modern Languages.  This reflects the extension to the consultation period, relative to the UCAS cycle, and the reduction in the scope of the consultation.  


“The decision affects a very small number of applicants who will be offered alternative joint degree programmes of study. Senate has not been asked to remove the degrees from the University Calendar.  Admissions processing is a professional services function, with management and Senate subject to the general direction of Court.”


Professor Leydecker previously told BBC Scotland he would not resign in the event of a vote of no confidence against him, saying: 


“I don’t expect that to happen and I’m focussed on ensuring that we have the best possible outcome for languages and continuing to lead the university as their SVP.” 

However, a snap poll conducted by The Gaudie revealed that 89% of student respondents and 81% of staff want to see such a motion tabled against Professor Leydecker. 


Several respondents cautioned that the University's complex issues would not be solved by a single vote.


One member of Professional Services told us: “The root issue at UoA is systemic, not just limited to Karl Leydecker. The entire Senior Management Team has questions to answer, as does Court. The last thing we need is another scapegoat sacrifice only for the problems to continue unaddressed.”


Another Professional Services employee said: “Leydecker is not the only member of SMT who needs to be held accountable for this whole budgetary farce. I would be much more interested in a complete revamp of SMP than scapegoating a single member.”


An academic member of Senate added: “This strategy will not help colleagues in MLTI; reducing a complex very wide reaching problem to a need to ‘get the bad guy’ does not reflect well on the University as a venue for enlightened informed thought.”


Another Senator noted: "While the cuts to modern languages are ill advised (to say the least), something will need to be done..."


"A VONC seems like a personal vendetta and threatens to make the University ungovernable."

By contrast, a number of staff members we spoke to argued that the motion was needed to “send a strong signal.”


One academic staff member said: “The proposals to cut modern languages have brought the institution into disrepute, and this is likely to have significant financial repercussions at a time when the university, like the rest of the sector, is facing difficulties. Senior management actions have exacerbated the situation, and they should face reprisals for this.”


Another added: “Leydecker has clearly demonstrated he has the mentality to view our ancient place of learning as a business. A new VP with a mindset on finding the balance between fiscal solvency and academic excellence.”


A member of Professional Services commented:

“If any other staff member had subjected the university to such reputational damage or treated their fellow colleagues as poorly they would be out of a job - and so should he…” 

An academic member of staff noted: “I know bad news is sometimes inevitable, but this entire process has been terribly badly handled. A teenager could have devised a more diplomatic, smarter process that would have been far more inclusive, humane and productive than this debacle.”


It appears that Professor Leydecker’s job is secure for the moment.


However, the outcome of the consultation (now due to close in mid-February) and associated decisions (such as potential staff redundancies) could see this position change.

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