Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Mystery in Academia

The mystery deepens within Dundee's academia land the past few days.

The photograph is of the 'modern' Abertay University in Dundee (not to be confused with the much larger and ancient University of Dundee which is internationally renowned for teaching and research).  Abertay replaces the highly respected Dundee Institute of Technology which was founded in 1888 as Dundee College of Technology and it was recognised as an 'industrial university' by the Scottish Office as early as 1902 and gained independent degree-giving authority in the 1970s.

As the 'Tech' the old building provided many with their further education and much of the valued classes were taken in the student's own time outside of work.  Like many technical colleges throughout Scotland between the 1950s and 90s, thousands could be seen rushing through cities weekday evenings, clutching well worn satchels and wearing a determined grimace.  They understood education was their way up the ladder in any profession and appreciated having such a quality institution in their city.

However, the Tech in Dundee is no longer.  In 1994 the 'powers that be' saw money floating in front of their eyes and opted to change to university status.

Professor Bernard King (pictured above) was principal of the Tech for two years prior to the creation of Abertay.  He had moved to Dundee from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen where he was Assistant Principal and Dean of Faculty of Health and Food.  Last week Prof. King was suspended from his £220,000 post by the university court. The reasons have not been disclosed, but it is known that the suspension has cost him his place as the spokesman for Scotland's higher education institutions.  It is believed this is the first time a principal of a Scottish university has been suspended.

Rumour abounds of course and many say the move was because there were concerns over the future direction of the university.  One university source claimed some leading figures were keen for Prof. King to retire, but he had been reluctant to do so. One retired lecturer likened Prof. King's management style to 'an absolute monarchy'.

But the mystery deepens.  During the reporting of Prof. King's suspension it was discovered the Prof. had suspended his Vice-Chancellor Professor Nicholas Terry last month.  No reason has been made public.  In fact, the word on the street is that the staff didn't know the VP had been suspended until last week when they received an email informing them the Chancellor had been suspended.

Abertay university is now in the hands of temporary management.  There is to be an independent investigation into the issue which provoked the suspension.

Two high profile academics suspended from their highly paid posts in one small, average university and no explanation given to the public who pay their vast salaries.

Dundee never needed two universities.  The Institute of Technology should never have been allowed to change to university status because the city lost a very valuable vocational education facility.  Abertay has never filled that gap and because of that thousands of young people have been denied the pleasure of learning the practical skills needed by tradesmen and others every day.  Prof. King preferred to concentrate  on making Abertay the first university to offer a Computer Games degree and ignored the need for practical technical courses.

It's the talk of Dundee's steamies right enough.



RMcGeddon said...

It's a bit of a mystery right enough SR.
I studied at the old Techie and the teaching was excellent.
A professor wrote to 'The Courier 'today and said it was just people washing their dirty linen in public.
She probably couldn't say more for legal reasons.

subrosa said...

I haven't read the Courier yet today RM but it certainly has a mystery about it. As far as I can gather it's nothing to do with finances as the place is in the black - mainly because they provide so few courses yet the money rolls in.

I could tell you a story about how it's run but it's too long for here.

Tcheuchter said...

"Dundee never needed two universities."

And is it needing two football clubs? ;)

subrosa said...

All my life it's had two football clubs Tcheuchter. Dundee was the superior one when I was a child.

You're asking the wrong person really as I've little interest in football but it would seem sensible to me to merge the two, although an agreement about that can't be reached.

Brian said...

How can a salary of £220,000 be justified?

Dramfineday said...

Is this place a bit like Terry Pratchett's "Unseen University" then SR? The Chancellor and Deans always seem to be trying to do each other down

JRB said...

Is this a case of intellectuals living in their ivory towers and being completely devoid of any sense of reality?

Joe Public said...

@ Brian 17:11

Because the responsibilities are on a par with a mere council worker?

English Pensioner said...

I went to a good old technical college, studying part-time day and several evenings a week and in due course obtained admission to my Professional Institute. In those days, engineers trained that way were highly valued and sought after by employers.
Before I retired, I had a couple of University trained "engineers" under me; they were no doubt good on theory, but had never even seen, let alone worked on some of the electrical equipment. With "Engineers" like these, we certainly need the Health and Safety Laws, I NEEDED to do a real risk assessment ( for my safety) every time I let them near anything but paperwork!
Bring back the proper Technical Colleges!

Oh, and by the way, "Professor" these days is no longer a measure of Academic achievement, as in the old days, it is more of a point on a salary scale. My son-in-law is one, and he agrees with this view. Just look at how many "Professors" there are these days, popping up on the TV all the time!

Woodsy42 said...

"Professors" there are these days, popping up on the TV all the time!"

American colleges and universities use the term professor for what we would call a senior lecturer, so many of the 'professors' you see on TV would not be profs in the UK

subrosa said...

It can't Brian but universities ensure those in power get the benefits while the likes of basic vocational night classes for things like creative writing are dropped. 'Can't afford such nonsense' I was told.

subrosa said...

Dram - ah you've got it! When I was writing this I was trying to think which book I read something similar.

subrosa said...

In some ways I'd argue King is an intellectual John. He's certainly not on a par with some of the Chancellor's of Dundee University I've met in the past, but I understand what you mean.

subrosa said...

I agree with you EP. Professors are ten a penny which undermines the title greatly. Trying to research the two men involved there wasn't much about them at all. Think there's more about me on the internet. :)

subrosa said...

I wonder how many folk, who call themselves profs here Woodsy, really are? As far as I know a prof is a senior lecturer and doesn't necessarily have to hold even a PhD.

Woodsy42 said...

"I wonder how many folk, who call themselves profs here Woodsy, really are"
I think those you see listed by traditional Uk universities are real ones. The status is valuable and quite hard won.
From overseas, and especially the USA, very few are. In much of Europe it means simply a teacher - French 'professeur' for example.

subrosa said...

I asked you that Woodsy because, except for local achievements, these two didn't have anything on Google.

Yet, if I google any Glasgow or Dundee uni profs I get thousands of links. There must be a pecking order in profs as there is in everything else. :)

Woodsy42 said...

Hi Subrosa. When I started working at a uni (not as an academic)there were 2 profs in the dept. One was dept head, the other a high-power researcher. When I left (30 years on, much expansion) the proportions were still similar. HOD, a senior researcher,head of a large sub-subject. But in addition a US lecturer had the title (but not the UK status) and there were three 'emeritus' professors - but these are essentially retired, the prof status is kept for life, bit like army ranks are. EG the most famous on gardeners question time 'Professor Alan Gemmell of Keele Unversity' did GQT long after retirement.
I specified 'traditional' unis but also just checked the science faculty of our local upstart poly-become-uni and only found 5 profs, bit high but not outrageous.
Clearly the water is severely muddied by USA and European definitions, enough to fool the media perhaps? But maybe there is a specific grade inflation problem in some places, particularly those with corrupt leadership?

subrosa said...

Thanks for taking the trouble to explain that Woodsey. I'm always slightly uncomfortable when people use the likes of Major or professor in retirement as it does sound pretentious a wee bit. So there's not a grading scale for profs in UK. Interesting.

Brian said...

@Woodsy42 "Old professors never die, they just lose their faculties" as a dear old Law prof told us in his tutorial.
@JoePublic: £220,000 for a town clerk is cheap. Not.
Wouldn't a flatter salary ladder be more in keeping with the "all in it together" zeitgeist?

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