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“Regime change is urgently needed”: Staff Take Aim at Senior Management

Dozens of employees have raised concerns over the substance and direction of the University’s modern language consultation

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Ahead of a vital Court meeting on Tuesday, two of University Principal George Boyne's top lieutenants have come under fire in recent days.

Senior Vice Principal Karl Leydecker and Director of People Debbie Dyker have helped to formulate the University's proposals for the future of modern language provision.

On Wednesday, Senate (the University’s academic body of staff and students) voted 78-15 to call on management to halt the ongoing consultation. 

One member of staff told us there was "real anger and anguish" among colleagues over senior management's handling of the consultation, adding that many staff believe that their trust has been betrayed.

To that point, a colleague commented:

“It feels to me that trust has been completely broken. Senior management are not acting like true leaders, but rather like mere bosses.

"I have no faith in them and do not believe they have the interest of our community (staff, students and others) at heart.”

“Perhaps we need new people in SMT: people who can be more creative, who are motivated by our charitable purpose and our commitment to service to our community.”

A number of employees compared the situation to the infamously toxic years when former Principal Ian Diamond ruled the roost in Old Aberdeen. 

One academic staffer said: “The modern languages thing is bad enough, but the lack of communication and transparency means staff are scared about what could be coming next. I haven't felt this despondent since the Diamond era.”

Another added:

"Regime change is urgently needed. The leadership has failed in several key areas.”

“We thought the Diamond regime was as bad as it could get. Most of the senior leadership including the many members of Court who have silently presided over this disaster need to be removed now.”

Concerns raised over historic breach of process

Issues over process have been raised, with some employees questioning whether members of senior management can be trusted to carry out the consultation properly. 

Contested data sets, cancelled focus groups, and a perceived lack of interest in staff proposals have only exacerbated fears that due process isn't being followed.

After all, this wouldn't be the first time. Last July marked six years since one of the more embarrassing episodes in recent University history.

In July 2017, Professor Diamond intimated his desire to retire after “difficult issues had developed in the professional relationships within the academic leadership team at the University.” 

Diamond's role was significantly scaled backed during the following academic year, despite drawing his full salary.

However, Diamond did not formally give his notice until July 2018 (when his successor was appointed), under the terms of a settlement with the University’s Remuneration Committee.

At that point, he was paid £289,000, bringing his total renumeration to over £600,000.

A report by charity regulator OSCR notes that members of the Remuneration Committee were required to seek approval from the Scottish Funding Council before signing off on the payment, but they deliberately decided not to do so.

The report comments: “The negotiator (David Steyn) and Director of Human Resources (Debbie Dyker) were aware of the requirements in the SFC Financial Memorandum regarding severance payments and decided not to seek SFC approval.”

Serious issues of process were identified, including the calling of a meeting to approve the settlement with only 12 hours notice.

A review by the Scottish Funding Council adds:

“There were flaws in the conduct of that Committee and the University Court did not receive sufficient information to be assured of due process or to protect the University’s interests.”

As a senior member of the current steering group, Dyker, who was subsequently promoted to Director of People, has helped to manage the ongoing consultation.

One concerned staff member said:

“After the publication of the OSCR report in 2020, there was widespread disbelief and horror that Debbie Dyker was protected by George Boyne and retained as a powerful voice within the Senior Management Team. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise to any of us that the current approach to LLMVC has been managed without any apparent regard to due process.”

The Gaudie understands the University carried out a review of governance following the incident.

Leydecker also facing backlash for role in consultation

Discontent over membership of the steering group is not limited to Dyker. Senior Vice Principal Karl Leydecker faces increasing levels of frustration from Senators. 

One source with knowledge of the situation told The Gaudie that there was a "real possibility" that Senate tables a no-confidence motion in Leydecker early next year.

The source revealed that Leydecker was "running out of goodwill" among senators due to his handling of the languages consultation, adding “enough is f***ing enough."

One LLMVC employee added: “If someone in senior management (I'm thinking George, Karl or Debbie) don't lose their job over the way this has been handled, I'll be very disappointed. They've dragged the university into disrepute on the world stage and have treated me and my colleagues with unbelievable levels of contempt through this whole process.”

Why weren't staff told before October?

Additionally, staff have questioned why colleagues in LLMVC were not made aware of the modern language department’s financial problems until late October, when the issue was first raised in June.

According to Court papers published ahead of a meeting on 21 June: “Work has commenced to develop targeted intervention in financially weaker disciplines and subject areas rather than considering the option of untargeted voluntary severance schemes. Biological Sciences, parts of Geosciences, parts of LLMVC will be the focus of this work.”

Staff reacted negatively to the discovery of this information, with one member of academic staff telling The Gaudie: “The entire process appears to have been unduly rushed, poorly organised, and willfully obscure in terms of its aims, objectives and time-frames.”

A administrative colleague added:

“While I don't believe that all programmes must be maintained indefinitely even if they are clearly unattractive to prospective students, I do believe SMT should ensure a measured, transparent provision of information regarding a) how modern languages were chosen over other struggling programmes (like music and those in biological sciences/geosci) and b) a precise timeline of how this will benefit the rest of the university.”

"Full on panic mode."

Another employee questioned why redundancies for modern language staff had been introduced so suddenly. 

They noted: “The Principal was telling people… that there was a way forward to the next academic year and that he did not see a need for redundancies this year. Then weeks later a third of the academic staff in LLMVC are at risk of redundancy.

"This seems to be full-on panic mode…”

However, some staff have defended senior management’s actions. 

One pointed to the recently constructed translation suite as an example of University support for languages, telling us: “A staff/student ratio of 4 to 1 in some courses  is absolutely not sustainable - the University has invested heavily in Languages…”

Another added:

“Unfortunately difficult decisions occasionally need to be taken.”

Asked why the process was time-constrained, a University spokesperson said: 

“The 45 day consultation is to provide an opportunity for staff across the School to feedback on the proposals and to also feed in any alternative proposals.  This requires it to be timely to allow the proposals to be considered and decisions taken that may inform future student intakes.

They added: “We have always made clear that modern languages will continue to be taught and valued at the University of Aberdeen. We are looking at three options for what sustainable future courses may look like and we are very grateful to those who are responding in this consultation period.”

The University previously told The Guardian: “These are difficult and uncertain times for universities as they deal with the impact of the sharp decline in the numbers of young people studying languages. The university remains committed to teaching languages but is exploring how this can be done sustainably.

“[We] are unfortunately not in a position to make a commitment to the continuation of our current provision given the long-term and accelerating reduction in enrolments for degrees in modern languages.”

The Gaudie has reached out to the office of Professor Leydecker for a sit-down interview focusing on the consultation, and we hope to bring you that interview soon. 


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