A Dean Who Won't Give Ground

The leader of a business school at a university in Wales is rebuked for his tone, but makes no apologies.

November 25, 2014
 

The controversial dean of the University of Swansea’s School of Management has been rebuked for his hostile and sarcastic tone in response to concerns raised by graduate students.

The informal complaint, submitted to him earlier this year, related to several factors, including lack of communication, false promises and supervision problems related to high staff turnover. Nigel Piercy rejected all the complaints, parrying them with phrases such as, “This comment does not rate high on an independent thinking criterion,” and “Your political value judgments are irrelevant.” In response to the school’s failure to formally invite research students to an Easter ball, Professor Piercy wrote: “What were you expecting – a liveried footman arriving at your residence with a personal gold-embossed invitation on a silver salver and a personal limo to the event?”

Piercy has been a controversial figure since he arrived at the school last year and began sweeping changes. Earlier this year he warned disgruntled staff that the school was “not a rest home for refugees from the 1960s.”

In August, students complained to Swansea’s academic registry about Piercy’s response to their concerns. In a report issued earlier this month, Steve Wilks, a pro vice-chancellor designate, describes the dean’s “language and tone” as “unsupportive”, “inappropriate” and “unsettling,” and apologizes on behalf of the university. He says he has referred his findings to Professor Piercy’s line manager.

Wilks also criticizes the school for repeated communication failures, and expresses concern about its arrangements for ensuring adequate supervision. Its falling satisfaction levels in the 2014 Postgraduate Research Experience Survey indicate a need to “further explore research students’ concerns and to address these.”

Meanwhile, Professor Piercy has trumpeted “significant gains” in the 2014 National Student Survey and the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey as evidence that he is on track to establish the school among the UK’s top 10 within five years. “Every success we have in moving towards this level of performance has a very direct impact on the prestige of the degrees you will obtain and your standing in the eyes of prospective employers,” he wrote to students earlier this month.

His comments are in response to a petition signed by more than 1,000 students calling on Swansea to act on their concerns “over the recent negative profile of the school in the press.” The petition’s organizer, Ilana Cohen, education officer at Swansea’s students’ union, told student newspaper The Waterfront that she received up to 20 communications a day about the school from concerned students.

“There is a considerable amount of misinformation, maliciousness and untruth in some of what has been circulated,” Piercy said in his message to students. “There are always those who oppose change and the disruption it brings, and are prepared to put their own interests ahead of those of our students…. I think the new school motto should be: ‘Haters goin’ to hate, Potatoes goin’ to potate, But we’re doin’ great!’ I may have T‑shirts made.”

A Swansea spokeswoman confirmed that the situation at the School of Management had been discussed at a university council meeting earlier this month. However, she said that the details were confidential.

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