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Bowland College and Lonsdale College are still without principals after repeated failures by the University’s search committee to recommend a candidate. The University has appointed Pendle Principal Roger Gould as Interim Principal of both colleges, leaving Gould in charge of three colleges during Intro Week, one of the busiest times of year for college staff. There was no consultation between the University and the two colleges over the appointment, and both colleges have fiercely resisted Gould’s instatement.
The appointment of Gould as Interim Principal of both Bowland College and Lonsdale College came in a letter by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Mark E. Smith, to the respective college syndicates, on July 31.
Both college syndicates have passed motions in an attempt to restrict Gould’s involvement in their governance. Bowland College’s motion, passed on September 18, could have seen former principal Joe Thornberry return as the College’s Interim Principal instead of Gould. In Lent Term of the last academic year, the University’s search committee refused to recommend Thornberry for a third term as Bowland College Principal, a decision another former Bowland Principal said amounted to “slander,” and one which many officers in the college would like to see reversed.
Meanwhile, on September 9 the Lonsdale College Syndicate voted to transfer all of the Principal’s powers and responsibilities to the Vice Principal, Dr. Michael Pickles, with Gould remaining as a largely “figurehead” Principal.
Both colleges are still without permanent principals, after repeated failures by the University to recommend a candidate for either position, a situation believed to be unprecedented in the history of Lancaster University.
The attempted instatement of Gould by the University has been heavily criticised by members of both Bowland and Lonsdale Colleges. Dr. Ian Saunders, a former Principal of Bowland College, said that the appointment of Gould was “totally unacceptable.” “There is no reason that a principal should be imposed upon us,” Saunders told SCAN. “The College Principal needs to know what is going on in a college and its history. To jump into two different colleges and learn that is impossible.”
However, the University’s Provost for Student Experiences, Colleges and the Library, Professor Amanda Chetwynd, defended Gould’s appointment. “Roger [Gould] is an experienced principal and is able to increase his time commitment to cover the additional duties until a permanent Principal can be found,” Chetwynd said.
In the longer term, many students and staff are concerned that the attempted appointment of Gould is an effort by the University to dictate the management of each college and degrade the autonomy of the colleges. This fear has been compounded by the announcement of a “wide ranging review” into the position of the College Principal.
On Tuesday, Week 7, Lent Term 2013-14, the University’s search committee failed to recommend any candidate for the positions of Bowland College Principal or Lonsdale College Principal. The search committee, chaired by Chetwynd, was supposed to recommend the candidate it believed best suitable for each position. This decision was then supposed to be passed on to each college syndicate, which was then to make a proposal for its choice of principal. In the end, the search committee refused to recommend any candidate to either position, so the syndicates had nobody to propose.
Three candidates came forward for the position of Bowland College Principal and one candidate came forward for the positon of Lonsdale College Principal. None of the candidates were recommended for either position by the University’s search committee. Both positions were since re-advertised, but still no candidates were recommended by the search committee.
As SCAN reported at the time, what astonished members of Bowland College the most was the fact that their incumbent Principal, Joe Thornberry, who was rerunning for the position, was not recommended by the search committee. Saunders described the search committee’s refusal to propose Thornberry for a third term as “absolutely dumbfounding.”
Saunders said that Thornberry was “120% suitable for the job,” and that he had the overwhelming support of the college. “Like everyone else in the college, I assumed it would be an absolutely straightforward procedure,” Saunders told SCAN. “Unless someone with incalculable stature and ability came forward, Joe [Thornberry] would be reappointed.
“When I heard there was to be no appointment at all, it was absolutely dumbfounding,” Saunders said. “It suggested the search committee believed that the current Principal was not up to the job.
“I do not know of anything that has happened to a college officer like this.”
On Friday Week 6, Lent Term, Bowland College Management Committee passed a resolution to support Thornberry for a third term of office. This resolution was then passed by the Bowland College Syndicate on Thursday Week 7, Lent Term. Following this agreement to support Thornberry, several Bowland College members, including former principals Saunders and Dr. Louise Banton, wrote to the University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Mark E. Smith, for a personal intervention in the matter. They were sent a “holding response” by way of reply. On Thursday Week 1, Summer Term, Saunders expressed his opinions about the lack of appointment to Chetwynd, only to be told that “procedure had been followed.”
Meanwhile, on Week 9, Summer Term, LUSU Council unanimously passed a motion of support for Thornberry. The Chair of Council, Ronnie Rowlands, wrote to Smith and Chetwynd to express the Council’s views.
The first formal reply from Smith came on July 31, when in a letter to the Bowland College Syndicate and the Lonsdale College Syndicate he announced the instatement of Gould as Interim Principal of the College. In the letter Smith also revealed that a “wide ranging review” of the role of the College Principal would take place during Michaelmas Term, in order to “ensure that the role attracts excellent candidates who have stronger links with the academic focus of the University.”
Many members of both Bowland College and Lonsdale College were outraged at the appointment of Gould, as well as the lack of consultation between the University and the colleges when deciding his instatement. Lonsdale College refused to speak to Gould for over a month after Smith’s announcement. In a letter to the Vice Chancellor, former Lonsdale Principal Dr. Keith Davidson questioned whether it was possible to be the Principal of three colleges simultaneously. “This interim period [when Gould would be the Interim Principal] will include Intro Week and the first few weeks of term,” Davidson said. “There are a large number of social activities planned during these weeks, many of which as College Principal I attended. Several of these events run in parallel with events held in other Colleges.
“With the best will in the world Roger [Gould] cannot be in three places at once.”
An emergency meeting of the Lonsdale College syndicate was held on September 9to discuss their response to Gould’s instatement. It was decided that all authority and duties of the Principal would be transferred to the Vice Principal of Lonsdale College, Dr. Michael Pickles. The syndicate also decided that once Pickles’ term finished on Tuesday Intro Week, Davidson would take over the positon, with the duties and authorities remaining invested in the positon of Vice Principal.
Davidson met Gould on September 10 to discuss the relationship between Lonsdale and its Interim Principal. Davidson told SCAN that he was happy with Gould’s approach to the position. “[Gould] will oversee but will not interfere,” Davidson told SCAN, emphasising that Gould would play a largely “figurehead” role. However, Davidson suggested that this healthy relationship came with the caveat that the Principal positions would be “re-advertised fairly soon.”
On this relationship, Gould told SCAN: “While being at the head of the table, metaphorically, the Principal is actually still only one part of college management, albeit with some particular duties and responsibilities – and of course there is no question of any college losing its unique identities, traditions, or direction!”
Gould said that he intended to make himself “equally available, contribute to existing plans where I can and serve as necessary on those committees and teams that shape the direction each one has independently chosen to take,” Gould said.
On September 18 Bowland College Syndicate voted to reject the interim arrangements proposed by Smith, voting instead to retain Thornberry as its Interim Principal. However, an email sent to senior Bowland College members on September 18 by Bowland Vice Principal Simon Corless suggested that the vote to resurrect Thornberry would not be taken into consideration.
“I can confirm that although Roger Gould is our Interim Principal, appointed by the VC, the day to day control still remains squarely with the existing College Management Team whether at Senior or Junior level, albeit, unfortunately, without Joe Thornberry,” the email read.
In an email co-signed by Bowland College President Lee Dudding and Lonsdale College President Michael Sutton, President Laura Clayson wrote to Chetwynd raising concerns over the welfare of students in the two colleges. Clayson questioned whether it was possible for one individual to successfully run three colleges, given the range of responsibilities bestowed upon the Principal position. “As the Colleges form part of the top 5 reasons to come to Lancaster in our marketing material, we feel there needs to be more dedication on the part of the University in ensuring their separate identities are protected,” Clayson said.
Clayson also asked the University to respect the request of the Lonsdale College Syndicate to invest all Principal responsibilities in the position of Vice Principal. At the time of writing no formal reply from the University had been given on the matter.
Ronnie Rowlands, VP (Campaigns and Communications) and Chair of Union Council explained the frustration felt by the colleges towards the University. “As far as I’m concerned, the Students’ Union and both affected Colleges have collectively and unanimously expressed their displeasure with the arrangements and the situation the Colleges find themselves in,” Rowlands said. “You’d think this would serve as good direction on how Senior Management should act in response. Instead, all of these voices have thus far been ignored, with the Provost of Colleges & Student Experience [Chetwynd] basically saying ‘you’ll be fine.’
“This isn’t the only way in which the issue is being swept under the carpet,” Rowlands told SCAN. “The Provost of Colleges & Student Experience has repeatedly insisted that ‘procedure has been followed’ during the appointment process. It is used as an all deflecting and sacrosanct vindication.
“And yet, NO-ONE is able to tell me which procedure permits the Vice-Chancellor to appoint one person to run three Colleges. I have asked this question of both the Provost and the University Secretary. Thus far, they have essentially refused to answer.”