Students pass vote of no confidence in University of Manchester boss after ‘mishandling’ of coronavirus

Dame Nancy Rothwell has ‘become exemplar of how not to run a university’, campaigners say

Colin Drury
North of England Correspondent
Saturday 13 March 2021 12:08
Dame Nancy Rothwell
Dame Nancy Rothwell

Students at the University of Manchester have passed a vote of no confidence in its vice-chancellor following what they call her mishandling of the coronavirus crisis.

Dame Nancy Rothwell has faced criticism after the university spent the summer assuring undergraduates that learning would largely go ahead as normal this academic year – only for face-to-face classes to be cancelled and facilities closed once students had paid tuition fees and accommodation rents.

Protests also erupted during autumn’s lockdown when a wire fence was erected around halls of residence without students being informed. Dame Nancy was then forced to apologise to 19-year-old Zach Adan after he appeared to be racially profiled by security staff while trying to get into his own flat.

So angry were some students that they occupied a tower on the Fallowfield campus until the university agreed to a rent reduction.

“They have manipulated us for profit,” one student, 19-year-old Chris Adair, told The Independent at the time.

Now, the vote calling for Dame Nancy to go came after a referendum was held by the students union.

About 89 per cent of those who took part said they had "no confidence" in the vice-chancellor – who earns £260,000 a year – or other senior leaders.

A spokesperson for the student-led campaign group said her position was now “completely untenable”.

The added: “It's apparent to anyone that the mistreatment of students and mishandling of the pandemic by the university over the past year has become an exemplar of how not to run a university.”

Jo Grady, general secretary with the University and College Union, said the result of the vote was "no surprise" and called for the vice-chancellor to step down.

She said: “She irresponsibly brought students back to campus to secure income from fees and rent and then locked them in their accommodation, and has failed to address racial profiling on campus.

“'Universities should be governed democratically, with management properly reflecting the will and needs of students and staff.

“Those who study and work at the University of Manchester deserve better, more representative leadership. Nancy Rothwell's resignation would be a positive first step towards this.”

But in a statement, the university's board of governors pointed out that only 13 per cent of the institution’s 40,000 students had actually taken part in the vote.

"Whilst our senior leaders haven't got everything right, where that has been the case, they have led from the front by apologising and have always taken action to ensure lessons are learnt and improvements are made," it said.

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