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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

Lessons Learned from Modern Languages Row? Staff And Students Aren't Sure.

University Principal's 'Bad-Mannered' handling of MLTI review criticised by senators

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

A group of around 15 students standing outside King's College Conference Centre, protesting potential job cuts
Scores of students turned out to protest potential job cuts in November. Photo Credit: Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Staff in the University’s modern languages department were left disappointed last week, after a long awaited meeting resulted in more questions than answers. 

Members of the University’s academic body, Senate, had hoped senior managers would be held to account over their handling of the contentious modern languages and interpretation (MLTI) consultation.

The consultation, which was announced to a shocked group of lecturers last November, resulted in 30 lecturers being put at 'risk of redundancy' amidst fears for the future of the department.

'Bad-mannered efforts' condemned by senators

While senators were provided with a brief update on an ongoing review of the consultation entitled ‘Lessons Learned,' many had hoped for a much more robust discussion.

According to multiple senators, University Principal George Boyne, who chaired the proceedings, attempted to steer clear of the discussion, which was placed at the end of the day’s agenda.

Asked by one senator to move onto the issue after a presentation on protecting research ran over, Principal Boyne replied:

“Research is more important than the MLTI review for the whole University community."

Multiple senators pointed to this quip as particularly tone deaf, given the erosion of trust between management and staff in recent months.

One academic senator said: “There is an irony in there being a question of trust earlier in the meeting. The Principal responded by admitting that it needs to be rebuilt. Then the whole session was about how the Senate can be a partner in the process of recovery. 

“But then who in good faith cannot be outraged with the bad-mannered efforts to curtail the discussion. The labeling of the MLTI item as 'not a wide-University concern' is at best ignorant.”

Review important for entire University, MLTI staff say

Members of MLTI also expressed disappointment with Boyne's comment, noting that the outcome of the review had important implications for research. 

One academic commented:

“The MLTI governance document raises questions around the University's adherence to fair work principles. These principles are meant to apply to working conditions for all members of staff across the whole institution and they are supposed to underpin all areas of activity, including research. 

“Discussions at Senate indicated that concerns around the consultation process and governance more widely are shared across schools and constituencies, and we know that they have also been raised outside the University, including in the Scottish Parliament."

Motion calling for wider membership of review panel passed

With time winding down, and Principal Boyne noting he had another meeting to attend, senators managed to pass a motion calling on management to diversify the membership of the team assessing the MLTI review. 

The text of the motion reads: 

“Senate requests that membership of the lessons learned group be expanded to include academic and student members of Senate and at least one external member to chair the process.”

It passed 49-12, with 9 abstentions. It will now be considered by University management.

Commenting on the motion, the academic from the MLTI department added: 

“In order to avoid further issues moving forward, and to work towards rebuilding trust, we welcome the motion successfully carried by Senate to request incorporating elected Senators, student and external members in the upcoming review of the MLTI consultation process, to ensure that appropriate lessons are learned and the university community, as well as stakeholders beyond the university, can have confidence in the process.”

AUSA urges University to rebuld trust

Speaking to The Gaudie, VP for Education Rhiannon Ledwell accused University management of not working to repair tentions between students and leadership.

She said: “As senators, it took us over two months to get an additional meeting where we could openly discuss the lessons that need to be learned following the languages debacle. 

“Our clear priority going into the meeting was discussing everything the consultation got wrong, it's effects on education, and how to move forward with concrete and achievable actions.

"It is disappointing that this ended up being a small part of the discussions that took place.


Ms Ledwell added: “We entered the meeting with a genuine desire to move forward constructively, and it is a real shame that we received only defensiveness and dismissal in return highlighting the fundamental problems with our top-down governance structures, the unfortunate breakdown in trust that has occurred between SMT and the University community, and the detrimental effect this is having on teaching and research.


“There were also no reassurances from University management that the upcoming review would be independently led and include student representation in the oversight of the process. This is vital to ensuring that students and staff have confidence that a robust process can be carried out."

University defends Principal's handling of review

However, in a statement, a University spokesperson defended how the meeting was managed. 

They said: “The most recent Senate was an additional meeting, organised at the request of Senators, to consider the consequences of the financial recovery plan for research and education.  The agenda also included an item providing an update on the process for the ‘lessons learned’ exercise.   


“While a member of Senate suggested that discussion should move to the Modern Languages item, at that point there had been no input from Senate in respect of the approach to protecting and supporting research - an issue which impacts across all 12 schools. 


“Senate received an update on the lessons learned process as per the agenda and had an opportunity to discuss and provide input which will be shared with the chair of the process.


“Professor Boyne stands by his comment that the discussion of the future of research across the whole University is more important than the discussion of the process for a review of any single discipline.”


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