Vice Chancellor Search Committee still causing a stir

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Potential controversy surrounding the panel assembled to interview and appoint the new Vice Chancellor to follow Paul Wellings has been quashed by members of staff and LUSU officers.

The issue that has arisen revolves around the appointment of members of staff to the panel, officially the Vice Chancellor Search Committee, and the subsequent inclusion of Professor Sue Cox, a member of the University Management Advisory Group (UMAG) in an almost undefined role. Cox, it has been confirmed, was neither elected onto the Search Committee by Senate or University Council but included by Pro-Chancellor Bryan Gray who is chairing it.

The rest of the Search Committee is comprised of Clare Powne and Gavin Brown, Professor Harry Thomason, Ms Lois Willis and University Secretary Fiona Aiken. With the exception of Aiken none are members of UMAG.

Initially, all members of the panel were to be simply chosen by Gray in collusion with Aiken and the Pro-Vice Chancellors, a fact which stirred uncertainty in many of the members present.

“Senate were simply told who was going to be on the panel- well, we weren’t told who was going to be on the panel, there were no names, we were just told that a number of big named people had already been selected”, said Joe Thornberry, Bowland College Principal and the member of Senate who put forward the amendment which stopped the Search Committee being assembled unelected in such a manner.

Having successfully voted for the members on the Search Committee from Senate, the full panel was revealed and Cox was included, unknown to any of the Senate members. The members of staff who objected to the process have been keen to avoid any impression of personal affront with Cox, rather issues with the process. Thornberry summarised “she’s a very, very experienced person in this area and I’m sure had she stood for election she would have been the obvious choice for Senate. I have been at great pains to say to people ‘look, it’s got nothing to do with Sue Cox as Sue Cox’, she’s an admirable, admirable choice it’s just that the way that everything has been done has… it’s left a number of people uncomfortable, put it that way.”

Thornberry says he  understands why the potentially hasty compilation of the panel has been taken: “Because it was a bit of a bombshell, the VC [Vice Chancellor] going when he did, and it’s not a good time for the University let us say that.”

Current Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings will be leaving in December to take up a position at a University in Australia, meaning that a new Vice Chancellor will ideally begin work in January.

With the Search Committee assembled and already having had a met last week, Thornberry expressed his concern that the make up of the panel could lead to more problems in the future. “I do have a worry though which I have expressed to the University Secretary which is that if someone were minded to they could challenge the makeup of the panel. It’s highly unlikely, but you never know what happens further down the line, a disgruntled candidate or anything like that.”

LUSU President Robbie Pickles wholeheartedly supports the panel members chosen, displaying “a good balance of external trustees and senators.” He added: “I am positive that they will appoint a good VC who will take student views into account.”

Pickles approves of Cox’s inclusion on the panel, and wishes to dispel any suspicion that there was an ulterior motive for Gray to appoint her onto it. Pickles said: “I believe she is professional enough to act in the interest of all Lancaster staff and students. She has been appointed as a senior academic, not as a Management School representative.”

Interestingly, the current LUSU President and the President-Elect appear to differ in opinion on how much the students whose university and education the next Vice Chancellor will be in charge of can be involved in the process. Gardiner believes that he has “done everything I can as President elect to get students’ representation on the panel and when I take office in July, will ensure that I communicate with the panel where possible in order to make sure that they make the correct recommendations for the new Vice Chancellor”.

Pickles, meanwhile, feels “it would be completely inappropriate for a student to be involved in such a high level interview when they have no training or experience for such an undertaking. I have been involved in the selection process via the proper channels (consultation with the head hunters).”

Professor Cox was unavailable for comment.

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