Swansea University is facing hard questions over why it allowed the toxic reign of Prof Nigel Piercy to go on for so long, following his resignation this week.
The university’s leaders have been accused of letting down both students and staff by failing to curb the controversial dean’s abrasive management style over a two year period that left the reputation of the School of Management in tatters.
Prof Nigel Piercy came to the school in 2013, joining his son Niall, the then deputy dean for operations. The Piercys vowed to drag the school into the 21st century, describing staff as pony-tailed ‘refugees from the 1960s’. But their reforms soon sparked staff resignations, a protest march, a 1,000 name petition, 13 formal complaints and dozens more informal ones from both staff and students.
After his emails were vetted, the professor let off steam on his blog, describing trade unionists as ‘grubby and unpleasant little people’. This provoked the first public sign of displeasure from the university’s senior management team when Sir Roger Jones, Chairman of Swansea University Council, described Piercy’s diatribe as ‘puerile’ and ‘gratuitously offensive’.
An investigation into allegations of harassment and bullying began, but Prof Piercy stepped down before its conclusion.
He emailed colleagues saying that he had “differences with the university regarding implementation of the school’s future strategy… it is only right that I step down with immediate effect and make way for a new dean.”
The resignation comes just as the school is preparing to relocate to the new Bay Campus.
It’s understood that Niall Piercy, who also faced claims of staff bullying, has been suspended.
South Wales West assembly member, Bethan Jenkins, said: “Hard questions need to be asked of the university itself, which has provided weak and unacceptable leadership to both its members of staff and to students at the School of Management during this time.
“This period in the university’s history has done no favours for its reputation, and it is the people at the top who must shoulder the responsibility for that.”
The Times Higher Education quoted one academic close to the school: “Questions now need to be asked about the role of the vice-chancellor and Hilary Lappin-Scott [pro vice-chancellor for research and innovation and strategic development and Professor Piercy’s line manager] and why they allowed this to go on for as long as it has.”
Professor Marc Clement has taken over as acting head of the school.
A spokesperson for Swansea University Students’ Union said: “We recognise the resignation of Professor Piercy as a positive step forward and will support the university and School of Management in addressing the concerns regarding the student experience within the school.
“Swansea University Students’ Union has a strong partnership with the university and we will be looking to ensure student representatives are involved in the recruitment of school and university management in the future to ensure the interests of students remain at the core of management decisions.”