Student Council vote to call for Dr. Sweeney’s resignation
Updated: Mar 11
Vote comes as Boyne promises to make Head of School Appointment process more “participative and consultative.”
By Anttoni James Numminen
Photo courtesy of The Gaudie.
The Student Council voted Tuesday night on a proposal calling for the removal of Dr Paula Sweeney from her position as Head of School for Divinity, History and Philosophy (DHP).
The motion was put forward by Sabbatical Communities Officer Lina Nass. Nass states that Dr Sweeney has repeatedly lied to students and staff, given contradictory and misleading statements and has been linked to the sudden departure of senior academics, including Professor Stefan Brink, as reported in The Gaudie (17.10.18).
Speaking to The Gaudie, Nass said the motion was to ensure Dr. Sweeney would no longer hold a position of such responsibility within the University, saying: “as we’ve seen, she hasn’t used her position to benefit students”.
The motion comes as part of a wider series of formal complaints against Dr. Sweeney, following the mismanagement of divestment in DHP over the summer. Professor Stefan Brink’s departure, in particular, has been a shock to many students, some of whom, according to Lina Nass, had turned down full scholarships elsewhere and paid thousands of pounds to study under Brink in Scandinavian Studies.
This has had an adverse effect not just on their professional and personal futures but on their mental health as well and it has been described as the university effectively “thrashing their dreams.”
The Student Council is the representative of the student body and can mandate the AUSA executive committee to campaign on its behalf. If passed, the motion is likely to cause further rifts between management and students and staff. The implications of this are also unlikely to shed a positive light on Aberdeen University, which was chosen Scottish University of the Year 2019 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019) but has generally failed to achieve a high ranking in student satisfaction.
“This is not just about one person; it’s about a wider sentiment relating to how Universities are run these days. They’re not run by students or staff, they’re run by senior management,” said Nass.
Nass sees Dr. Sweeney’s actions as symptomatic of a process of marketisation in universities, which has led to an empowered senior management and an emphasis on making money, rather than providing a good service and quality education.
“Unfortunately, this is not just a problem at Aberdeen; it’s a systemic issue within the entire higher education sector in the UK, where senior management is running the show,” Nass reiterated. “We should have a meaningful say in what happens.”
For many councillors, this has created a ‘democracy deficit,’ whereby students and staff no longer have an equivalent say in the running of their departments, despite arguably being best placed to decide appointments such as Head of School.
Nass felt that everyone should support the motion because students, as well as staff, should have a say in who runs their departments and in how the University is run. The motion argues that it is important for students to be able to trust their head of school and that currently there is no way for students to hold staff or senior management, in particular, to account.
In a ‘November Update’ sent out by the University Communications, Principal George Boyne has signalled a commitment to a more “participative and consultative” appointment process.
“I’ve taken initial steps to make [the Head of School Appointment Process] more participative and consultative. The current processes in the Business School and in LLMVC [Language, Literature, Music and Visual Culture] are beginning with meetings convened by Professor Phil Hannaford - interim Senior Vice Principal - with individuals and groups in each School. These are open to anyone who wishes to attend; the purpose is to establish whether the School wishes to pursue an external or internal appointment, and in either case to identify potential candidates. Following a call for and receipt of formal applications, the final stage will include a presentation to the School by each of the shortlisted candidates. Feedback from School staff on these presentations will contribute directly to the final decision on the appointment.”