Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Durham Scholars Work in a 'Culture of Fear', Gov Ernance Review Hears

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Durham Scholars Work in a 'Culture of Fear', Gov Ernance Review Hears

Article excerpt

Durham University suffers from a "real culture of fear", according to evidence cited by a review of governance that was debated the week before the vice-chancellor announced his retirement.

The interim review - released this week to Times Higher Education under the Freedom of Information Act - mentions a series of concerns, including the influence of "personal relationships" on decision making, the dominance of management staff in the university's senate and the "undermining" of junior decision-makers by the executive.

The report quotes one respondent to the review who says that "a real culture of fear has developed in the university" and that there was "little confidence" that governance gave a "fair and transparent route to recourse".

Other feedback collected by the review team expressed "frustration" that "personal relationships can have undue influence over the outcome or expediency of decision-making processes".

Set up by the council in 2012, the review was managed by Peter Judge, who has been named the next Attorney General of the Falkland Islands.

It follows tussles over ethics and conflicts of interest in Durham's upper echelons related to its acceptance in 2010 of a £125,000 gift from British American Tobacco.

In accepting the gift, the university overruled its ethics committee and communications office, and tried to keep the donation under wraps. Although the review does not explicitly mention this episode, the governance report recommends that the ethics committee, which the university came close to scrapping, should be re-established as a council committee, rather than a joint committee of council and senate, in order to "provide scrutiny at the highest level".

It also warns that the university executive "cannot be dominated by any single individual or succumb to 'groupthink' " and the vice-chancellor "cannot be the only voice" when appointing members of the executive. …

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