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Inquiry call in Robert Gordon University ‘cronyism’ row

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The new principal is to be Prof John Harper

A union has called on the Scottish Funding Council to investigate the appointment of Robert Gordon University’s (RGU) new principal.

Prof John Harper was chosen to lead the Aberdeen university after the departure of Prof Ferdinand von Prondzynski.

The University and College Union (UCU) has alleged the decision smacks of “cronyism” and “jobs for the boys”, by breaching good governance codes.

RGU said the appointment was in line with its recruitment policy.

It said the union had “misrepresented” the action taken by the university’s board of governors.

In a letter to the funding council, UCU official Mary Senior said: “We are not aware that there has been any open appointment process for this post, denying other potential candidates the opportunity to come forward.

“We are not aware that the appointment process enabled any student, staff nor trade union input to be taken into account. We are not aware that there was a selection committee which undertook any type of shortlisting of candidates.

“We consider that Robert Gordon University has not adhered to the 2017 Code of Good Governance in this process.”

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Staff at the university have been sent an email explaining the appointment

The UCU also questioned whether the appointment was in line with the government’s policy of promoting equal opportunities.

Ms Senior added: “We cannot see how automatically promoting one white male vice principal, is open, transparent or fair in any sense.

“It denies a whole range of other individuals – women and men – the opportunity to apply for this highly paid, important leadership role.

“I cannot imagine any other organisation in the public or private sector that would adopt this approach, appointing their head, without any recourse to open advertisement, recruitment and selection.”

The principal’s post was to become vacant when Prof von Prondzynski stepped down, following questions being raised about a potential conflict of interest.

Mike Fleming, the chairman of RGU’s board of governors has written to staff at the university explaining the appointment of Prof Harper.

‘Ideal candidate’

Mr Fleming said the appointment was “in line with the university’s procedures and complies with the Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance”.

He added: “John is the ideal, experienced candidate for the position, with demonstrated leadership qualities and significant knowledge of the institution and the higher education sector.”

Commenting on the UCU’s letter to the Scottish Funding Council, a spokeswoman for Robert Gordon University said: “We are disappointed that UCU continues to misrepresent the action that the board of governors has taken.

“The board acted decisively to stabilise what was a difficult situation for the university.

“There was full involvement of the board in the appointment and the governors were unanimous in their decision to appoint Prof Harper who has the overwhelming support and confidence of both the board and the staff.”

RGU said Prof Harper and the university’s board had “mutually agreed” a two year fixed-term contract “to give him time to deliver the stability and move the university forward”.

The spokeswoman added: “Once the situation is stabilised the board will then consider the future leadership of the university.”

A spokesman for the Scottish government said: “Universities are expected to adhere to clear, inclusive and transparent governance processes. Within that requirement, they rightly have clear, statutory autonomy and this appointment is a matter for RGU.”

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