Blowing the whistle on a vice-chancellor's fiddle

Lucy Hodges
Thursday 02 November 2000 01:00
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Professor Kenneth Durrands transformed Huddersfield Polytechnic into a thriving university. But he fell foul of his staff who passed a vote of no-confidence in the governors following a decision in May 1994 to remove all independently-elected representatives from the governing body. The local authority, staff and student representatives ceased to be governors. Professor Durrands was the focus of discontent and the university council decided that he should step down before the end of his contract. The severance package amounted to well over £400,000 but this was kept secret. When the details eventually emerged, the governing body was forced to reduce it. Trouble-shooter Sir William Taylor was brought in to run the university for a year and the governing body was reformed. The size was increased, membership was opened up to independent members and many existing members were stood down.

Professor Kenneth Durrands transformed Huddersfield Polytechnic into a thriving university. But he fell foul of his staff who passed a vote of no-confidence in the governors following a decision in May 1994 to remove all independently-elected representatives from the governing body. The local authority, staff and student representatives ceased to be governors. Professor Durrands was the focus of discontent and the university council decided that he should step down before the end of his contract. The severance package amounted to well over £400,000 but this was kept secret. When the details eventually emerged, the governing body was forced to reduce it. Trouble-shooter Sir William Taylor was brought in to run the university for a year and the governing body was reformed. The size was increased, membership was opened up to independent members and many existing members were stood down.

The Portsmouth University crisis arose after Bonnie Tall, the vice-chancellor's secretary, blew the whistle on his expenses fiddling. Neil Merritt was buying expensive air tickets and trading them down to bucket-shop tickets, pocketing the difference. She reported the matter to her superiors but nothing happened. Then the local paper got wind of the story. A pro-vice-chancellor decided to confront Professor Merritt with the allegations. He agreed to resign. But that decision was turned on its head when the chairman of governors threatened the pro-vice-chancellor with the sack if he didn't support Neil Merritt. The pro-vice-chancellor caved in. Bonnie Tall then resigned and went to the press with her story. Eventually, the governors instituted an inquiry run by an independent QC, and the vice-chancellor resigned.

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