In a letter (Female staff back Bath vice-chancellor, 25 November), 15 senior staff at the University of Bath backed their vice-chancellor, Glynis Breakwell, and suggested that she had been the subject of intense criticism because of her gender. Yes, Professor Breakwell is both a woman and a vice-chancellor, something that is far too uncommon. However, it is her actions and not her gender that have led to a near-complete loss of confidence and ultimately her resignation following demands from students and staff (Vice-chancellor on £468k to step down – but stay on full pay, 29 November).
The few senior staff still willing to defend Professor Breakwell fail to consider how her use of power has affected women at the university. She could have taken radical action to eliminate our gender pay gap, which is significantly higher than the national average. She could have opposed the 16% real-terms pay cut that most staff have faced since 2011, which has left many female colleagues struggling to pay bills and some having to use food banks. And she could have recognised that zero-hours and other insecure contracts disproportionately hurt women, who are most in need of security to be able to deal with workplace harassment and discrimination.
Instead, she has hidden behind claims that there is not enough money for the pay of female staff to stay in line with inflation, while taking home pay rises of up to 25% for herself and presiding over the University of Bath becoming one of the country’s most prolific users of zero-hours contracts. There is nothing progressive about having a female boss paid more money in 12 days than our lowest-paid full-time female colleagues earn in a year. With the announcement of her resignation, it is imperative that these issues are addressed in future governance at the University of Bath. Yes, we want to see women with power in universities, but not one woman who seems to only look after herself and a small clique of other senior managers. We want to see power spread across the organisation, with academics, support staff and students having a say in how our university is run.
Natalie May Assessment and timetabling assistant, Wendy Lambson Technician, Andie Barlow Postgraduate administrator, Susan Sutcliffe Food and beverage assistant, Jane Francis Senior teaching fellow, Monica Rodriguez Cabrero Hospitality supervisor, Shelley Bromley IELTS officer, Izzy Playle Admissions officer, Julie Samways Project support officer, Marjorie Gibbon Technician, Diana Hopkins Academic skills course leader, Miranda Armstrong Head of academic skills programmes, Jenn Sheppard IELTS administrator, Change He Self-access language centre manager, Elke Pawlowski Teaching fellow, Rebecca Fox The Edge arts administrator, Rachel Sherring-Lucas Postgraduate administrator, Cynthia Spencer Undergraduate administrator, Fay Pafford International student recruitment coordinator, Ruth Robins Skills coordinator, Catherine Adams Postgraduate administrator, Evangelia Polymenakou Teaching fellow, Karen Spillard Operations manager, Grizelda Moules Teaching fellow, Manuela Von Papen Teaching fellow, Rachel Los Teaching fellow, Ruth Waring Research information coordinator, Rachel Button Research information systems administrator, Grace Macmillan Teaching fellow, Edwina Wilkinson Purchasing technician, Heather Lee-Wright Administrator, Doris Bechstein Student recruitment manager, Lizzi Okpevba Milligan Lecturer, Steph Jewitt Department administrator, Iryna Withington Student recruitment officer, Christine Valentine Research associate, Ana Cecilia Dinerstein Senior lecturer, Susan Johnson Senior lecturer, Anne-Catherine Mechler Teaching fellow, Bailu Xie PhD student, Monica Albertinazzi Parkhurst Teaching fellow, Joan Abbas Postgraduate teaching assistant, Rebecca Yeo PhD student, Virginia Irwin Deputy head of international student recruitment, Katy Jordan Repository support librarian, Hayley Wragg PhD student, Renske Visser PhD researcher in social policy sciences, Emma Emanuelsson Lecturer, Tess Legg PhD student, Jessica Otterwell Communications and website coordinator, Samantha Wratten Teaching assistant, Dr Susan Johnson Senior lecturer (associate professor), Dr Ana Cecilia Dinerstein Senior lecturer and 11 others who wish to remain anonymous
• Aditya Chakrabortty (The fat cats have got their claws into our universities and will eat them up, 28 November) points out that at the University of Manchester, two of the senior leadership team and three members of the board of governors are current or former employees of AstraZeneca, with whom the vice-chancellor, Professor Nancy Rothwell, served as a highly paid non-executive director for a number of years. Our concerns extend beyond this to broader issues relating to governance. In May, Rothwell announced plans that threatened more than 900 staff with compulsory redundancy if 140 academics and 31 support staff did not accept voluntary severance. After a campaign led by the University and College Union, she and her senior leadership team backed down.
However, at a governors meeting in October, the chair, Edward Astle, barred one member from discussion of redundancies on the grounds that he is a member of the UCU branch committee in dispute with the university and there was therefore a “conflict of interest”. There was no conflict of interest, just a conflict of opinion – something that no university board should find too challenging.
It is not just the excessive pay for senior staff or the adoption of corporate values and a failed top-down model of management that should be of concern. We should also be concerned by efforts to stifle dissent and limit the ability of staff, regardless of whether they are trade union branch committee members or not, to scrutinise policy and hold university managements to account – for these form the bedrock of academic freedom and successful universities.
Dr Adam Ozanne
UCU branch secretary, University of Manchester
• Aditya Chakrabortty exposes how members of senior management at universities cash in on their positions by mimicking corporate practices. School leavers are told they will not get a decent job without a degree, pushing them into higher education. Market forces do not apply to the cost of a degree as all universities charge the same, regardless of the quality that they deliver. To get a degree, students must borrow, again in monopolistic circumstances. They then find their peers in class are predominantly from south-east Asia, diligently absorbing the facts they have paid even more of a premium to receive, but unable to contribute meaningfully to the discussions that are supposed to be an integral part of university education. Before long these overseas students too may well feel there are better value places to acquire an education and the university sector will find itself hoist by its own short-termist petard. Meanwhile, where is the NUS?
• To Aditya Chakrabortty’s long and justified charge sheet against UK universities could be added the creation of bloated central administrations, staffed by obliging jobsworths – PR apparatchiks or nimble professors who, swapping scholarship for senior administration, spout managerial gobbledegook, sustain vice-chancellorian grandiosity, and obediently dance to whatever tune governments and their shifting bureaucratic agencies choose to crank out.
Emeritus professor of history, Oxford University
• The vice-chancellor of Oxford University remarks that her pay package is undramatic when contrasted with footballers (Report, 5 September). If that’s an example of Oxford academic thinking then I’d prefer to study at the University of Baloney. No one person – past or present – is responsible for institutional success. The long-term key is always collegiality, and success is collective.
• Professor Breakwell thinks that “there is a recognition that leadership in a university is of tremendous importance” (Vice-chancellor says she is ‘not embarrassed’ by £468k pay controversy, theguardian.com, 29 November). Perhaps she should read a 2010 article in the journal Higher Education, “University leaders and university performance in the United Kingdom: is it ‘who’ leads, or ‘where’ they lead that matters most?”. It says research suggests that “evidence for the importance of VC characteristics for institutional performance was limited. Indeed, our findings suggest that, whilst the performance of a university may be ‘moulded’ by the characteristics of its leader, most of the variability is explained by non-leadership factors.” The lead author is Glynis Breakwell, University of Bath.