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Principals deny union allegations

College heads have hotly refuted claims of staff mismanagement. Neil Munro reports

Angry college principals have rounded on the College Lecturers' Association over its claims that they are mismanaging and intimidating their staff.

Their fury is directed at Joe Eyre, the former CLA president, over his allegations of authoritarianism and "macho mismanagement" carried in The TES Scotland two weeks ago.

Robert Chalmers, principal of Moray College in Elgin, said that "unfounded and increasingly vitriolic attacks run the risk of alienating actual and potential students and do little to enhance the credibility of the CLA - albeit, one hopes, the views expressed are not necessarily representative of the majority of members".

He added: "To imply that Moray College or any other could preserve pre-incorporation conditions is to deny the reality of the economic context in which all organisations have to operate. The prospects that all colleges face are challenging and exciting and they are not helped by building castles in the Eyre."

Richard Millham, the principal at Motherwell, has also taken serious exception to Mr Eyre's references to his college where a planned second one-day strike was called off after both sides agreed to resolve outstanding differences on salary conservation through ACAS.

The college denies it has disregarded college agreements and breached conservation rights.

Mr Millham refutes the union version of events surrounding a management restructuring exercise that Mr Eyre claims forced nine senior staff members to apply for four new posts without negotiation.

The successful candidates were put on six months' probation while the others were demoted, Mr Eyre says.

The Motherwell principal insists that full consultation and discussion had been taking place on the restructuring since last November, including staff meetings with the board as well as with himself and his depute.

"The joint consultative committees have been involved in the discussions and have, on a number of occasions, indicated that they have no difficulty with the structure," Mr Millham said.

He also points out that all staff appointments are made for a six-month probationary period. The person appointed to the fourth senior post was not from a college in England, as Mr Eyre had stated. There were only six applicants for the four posts, and of the remainder, one did not apply for any of the new posts, one was premature retirement and one took voluntary redundancy.

The dispute between the two sides was partly fuelled by the college's refusal to rule out compulsory redundancies as it wrestled with an accumulated Pounds 500,000 deficit.

The Motherwell management, however, has now given an assurance that there will be no compulsory redundancies before August, and says the board has not yet taken any decisions on whether there should be a salary increase for lecturers this year.

Mr Millham also challenges Mr Eyre's assertion that agreements on class contact and evening work have been torn up. The previous terms and conditions required staff to undertake duties on a maximum of two evenings a week and increases in class contact are well within the agreed maximum of 860 hours a year, he says.

ACAS has also been brought in to bridge the gap between the two sides at Moray College, which has led to a salary deal for 1996-97.

Dr Chalmers says all staffing has to be justified according to the needs of students who are the primary focus of colleges.

"To suggest that staff are 'under sustained attack from management' is a gross misrepresentation of a scenario in which colleges have had to create year-on-year efficiencies while realigning staffing to meet changing needs, " he said.

The Moray principal also took exception to Mr Eyre's remarks at his union's annual conference (TESS, May 16) when he alleged that the college planned to shut down all non-advanced work and concentrate on higher education.

Moray is part of the network set up to form the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).

Dr Chalmers said this was "a fundamental distortion of the facts".

He added: "Moray College has worked hard to inform its community that any expansion in higher education will not be at the expense of non-advanced provision, nor could it be in terms of the legislative framework. Rather, it is based on rectifying a situation in which potential clients of higher education courses have been disadvantaged historically. That is part of the vision of the UHI."

The college's three-year plan, which has to be submitted to the Scottish Office, specifically makes provision for the continuation of non-advanced courses.

"Where does Mr Eyre get his information?" Dr Chalmers asked.

His contributions have been "emotive, inaccurate and unbalanced", according to the Moray principal.

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