City University head quits

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The Independent Online

The head of one of the UK’s leading business universities has resigned in dramatic fashion after just two years in the post, amid claims that the governing body was running it like a corporation.

Professor Malcolm Gillies, the vice chancellor of City University in London, stepped down with immediate effect yesterday after a long running disagreement with the council over how the university should be run.

A source at the university told The Independent that Prof Gillies – who was only appointed in 2007 – had diverted money and resources into teaching at the expense of administrative positions, which had proved unpopular with the council.

Up to 63 redundancies in the university’s information services, human resources and finance departments are due to be finalised at the end of this month.

“What has happened came as a complete shock to everybody,” the source said. “He’s literally clearing his desk today – he’ll be out of the building come half past five. He’s been a tremendously good thing for City, and everybody here is very upset and furious. It seems the corporate people have won out over the teachers.

“Our council is very much made up of business people and lawyers. Our VC was a professor of music and a liberal arts academic, and obviously didn’t see eye-to-eye with the council. It would appear that they wanted everything to have a corporate, business-based approach, while he wanted to take a rather more fluid approach.”

When staff approached him to ask about the circumstances of his resignation yesterday, Professor Gillies is reported to have shrugged his shoulders and said: “This is the corporate world vis-a-vis the academic world.”

Academic staff at the university were informed of his resignation by email. A statement issued by City later in the day said Prof Gillies and the council had “differing views on matters of governance”.

Prof Julius Weinberg, the deputy vice chancellor, will handle the day-to-day running of the university until a replacement is found. Prof Gillies will remain a professor of music at City until January next year.

The softly-spoken Australian vice chancellor was extremely popular with the university’s academic staff, who said yesterday he had always listened to their concerns and responded personally to their emails.

However, he had also been unafraid to make controversial decisions. One year ago, he set up an internal staff newspaper which was independent from the university, and was written, edited and run by students enrolled at its highly respected school of journalism. The university’s press office was forbidden from interfering with the publication.

John Saunders, president of the local University and College Union branch at City, has written a letter to the acting chairman of the council, Apurv Bagri, demanding to know the reasons for Mr Gillies’ departure.

“I have said that the staff are very concerned that the loss of the vice chancellor could have a negative impact on life at the university for staff and students,” he said.

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think-tank, said he was shocked to hear the news. “Malcolm Gillies was one of the most imaginative and thoughtful vice chancellors there is. I am very sad and sorry about this.”

A spokeswoman for City said: “I am not at liberty to discuss the details of this matter, except to say that the final decision between the university and Professor Gillies was mutual and amicable, with both parties putting the interests of the university first.”