“They’ve lost all authority, they command no confidence”, was the message from hundreds of students and staff demonstrating outside a University of Bath Council meeting last Thursday, according to University of Bath University and College Union (UCU) branch president Michael Carley.
The demonstration had been organised by Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts before Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell – who has been at the centre of a scandal concerning her bloated pay and benefits package, as well as failure of governance at Bath University (HE Marketisation, 18 November 2017) – announced she would retire next year.
Demonstrators gathered to protest Breakwell’s generous retirement package, which proposes that she continues on full pay until the start of March 2019, and that a car loan made to her by the University worth £31,000 would also be written off.
One placard read “Buy your own bloody biscuits”, following news that the £20,000-worth of expenses Breakwell had claimed for her university-owned house in Bath included £2 for biscuits. Biscuits were also thrown at windows during the Council meeting, Carley reported.
“The demonstration yesterday was unbelievable,” he added. “They brought in private security and security from the University of West England. They were defending themselves from their own staff and students.”
Retirement or sabbatical?
Professor Breakwell will receive more than £230,000 for six months’ academic research while she takes a sabbatical, according to the Bath Chronicle.
“A university spokesman said the long-serving leader will receive full pay between 31 August 2018 when she stands down and 28 February 2019 after a semester’s sabbatical”, the paper reported.
“I think the university don’t want to embarrassment of some kind of unfair dismissal,” Carley commented. “I think they are trying to dodge anything that might be called a severance payment, as there’s now Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) guidance on severance payments, and they are trying to get round that.”
“But I think what they’ve done now is even worse,” he added. “They’ve exposed the sabbatical, it’s a joke. There are people now asking who approved this sabbatical, where the research proposal is and what the outcome is going to be.”
HE Marketisation asked whether Professor Breakwell will be required to produce a ‘REFable’ output out of the sabbatical. Carley responded: “I have no idea, but we are going to ask and keep asking.”
“You can’t go on sabbatical when you are retiring, you just can’t,” argued Carley. “The point of a sabbatical is you go somewhere, come back and contribute something to the research strategy of the university.”
Last month the Bath Chronicle also revealed that Dame Breakwell had been given an interest-free loan of more than £31,000 to spend on a car.
According to Carley, the loan was an “efficient” way for the University to provide Breakwell with a car – to which she was contractually entitled. However, as part of Breakwell’s retirement package, it was revealed that not only will the loan will be written off, but that this was the arrangement from the beginning.
“That’s the problem – this is not a loan, a loan is something you have to pay back,” Carley pointed out. “Some of us are on cycle schemes that come out of our wages every month, and if we leave we have to pay off the balance.”
The way that the University’s Council – the University’s governing body responsible for its finances and investments, as well as for the protection of the University’s reputation – made this decision was also problematic, argued Carley.
“It was agreed by email two days before a scheduled full meeting of the Council,” he revealed. “Everyone was emailed and told 75% of members had to agree to the proposed retirement package, and had until 15:45 that day to respond.”
“It’s dodgy governance again,” he added, “so a complaint has already gone back to Hefce about it”.
Hefce has just released a damning report on governance at Bath University, after Lord Andrew Adonis had raised concerns following the release of details of how Breakwell’s renumeration had been decided.