Student voice left out of Vice Chancellor appointment

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Following the announcement last month that Professor Paul Wellings is to resign as the University’s Vice Chancellor, the process of recruiting his successor has begun. The University aims to decide upon a new Vice Chancellor by the end of July, as Professor Wellings will leave at the end of 2011 to take up his new position at Wollongong University, Australia. A head-hunting company has been contracted to help with the process, setting a new precedent in the recruitment of a Lancaster Vice Chancellor.

Despite having become an increasingly controversial figure in the latter years of his time at Lancaster, Wellings has had undeniable success; he has lead the University to a top-ten ranking in national league tables and overseen large-scale investment in building works to rejuvenate the campus. As a result, the search for an appropriate successor has huge importance.

University Secretary Fiona Aitken is overseeing the process which will lead to a new Vice Chancellor being appointed. This does not follow any standard procedure set out in University regulation, as is the case with the vast majority of appointments made by the University. The new Vice Chancellor will be appointed by a Selection Committee comprised of members of University Council and of Senate, the two highest governing bodies of the University.

The Search Committee is to be chaired by Pro-Chancellor Brian Gray. The University Press Office has confirmed that, after discussion at Senate on May 5, Professor Harry Thomason, Ms Lois Willis and Management School Dean Professor Sue Cox will sit on the Committee. These four are to be joined by two further members of Senate still to be elected.

The highly reputable global head-hunting firm Heidrick and Struggles, an organisation with almost sixty years of experience, will work in partnership with the Search Committee. A statement from the University Press Office confirms that “a process of briefing the consultants about the University and consultation on the person specification and the selection criteria has commenced, which includes discussions with representatives of students.” Lancaster University Students’ Union (LUSU) President Robbie Pickles will meet with the head-hunters in Week Four.

This consultation with the head-hunters will be the only student input to the process, as notably the Search Committee does not feature any student representation. When Professor Wellings was appointed nine years ago a student ‘observer’ was involved in the process, privy to discussions but without voting rights.

This time that will not be the case, although LUSU President Pickles does not see this as an issue precisely because of the role of head-hunters. “I don’t see that as a problem, because they’ve appointed head hunters. Those head hunters will talk to a number of stakeholders [including students] and ask them what it is they want from a new VC, and then look for a VC who fits that description”, he said.

Pickles added that “theoretically, they don’t have to talk to students about this at all; they don’t talk to us about the appointment of any other members of staff. In theory, they could just go ahead and appoint any Vice Chancellor. I think it’s good that they are consulting and that student consultation is being taken seriously. I’m quite happy with the position that we’re in.”

Pickles feels that a contributing factor to the decision not to appoint a student to the Search Committee is that the transition from this year’s Full-Time Officer team to next year’s could cause complications. “It would have been me for a while and then George [Gardiner, LUSU President-elect] would have turned up and done the rest of it. You don’t want a student who’s there and suddenly says something different, [so] I can see why they say that and it’s easier to do it that way.”

Nevertheless, Pickles did stress that “I think me and George are of one mind anyway. It’s pretty much a no-brainer, what do students want from a Vice Chancellor? They want a Vice Chancellor who will listen to students and who is sympathetic to student opinion, you’re not going to have a President who doesn’t want that.”

The recruitment process must take place on a fairly short timescale, with interviews expected to be carried out in late June and July so as to appoint the new Vice Chancellor by the end of July. Professor Wellings will remain in the position until December.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s important to recognise that the headhunters are employed by the university, not the students, and will take or leave any imput from students with regards to this appointment. It is a terrible shame that there is no student representation on the board that will ultimately make the decisision to employ the new VC. This is tantamount to a company ignoring the opinions of its customers, an action that ultimately leaves the company out of touch with the very people it seeks to provide a service for.

    The committee appointing the new VC would do well to reassess the purpose of their formation and recognise that ultimately a Vice Chancellor works for and in the interest of the students, recognising the importance of listening to the student voice, not ignoring it.

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