Lecturers fight back

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
Reading the interview with Bill Wardle, former principal of James Watt College (TESS February 9), was an unusual experience for me. I was lost for words.

Fortunately, I have recovered sufficiently to try and set the record straight on behalf of the staff at the college who were the victims of Professor Wardle's mismanagement and who are now the intended victims of "recovery" proposals put forward by the interim principal, Graham Clark.

According to Professor Wardle, the situation at James Watt has been caused by the staff, the Educational Institute of Scotland, his senior management team, the board of management and the Further Education Development Directorate (Fedd). The only one who has no responsibility is the person who ran it for five years.

Does Professor Wardle ask why a previously moderate and compliant staff passed five votes of no confidence in him, or why MSPs condemned his plans to sack every lecturer and re-employ them on draconian conditions? I suspect not.

The Fedd report is a scathing indictment of management failures. It is little wonder that Neil Munro's article reported Professor Wardle's particular scorn for the Fedd. Its 50-odd pages catalogue management dysfunctionality, profligacy, misinformation and the withholding of information which could have been picked up and acted on more quickly than it was.

The failure to do so highlights the fundamental problems in the sector and, while the official line is that James Watt is the exception which proves the rule, those of us who work in colleges know different.

To give a few examples of Professor Wardle's assertions:

* lecturers at JWC are not paid 20 per cent above the sector average. The figure is 5-6 per cent and shrinking (he received 50 per cent above the average for principals);

* lecturers' salaries are com-pared inaccurately to the sector average, whereas our "productivity" is compared to the norm for large colleges;

* Professor Wardle's claim that he "decentralised and democratised" is mind-boggling. JWC has a management structure that is inefficient, an inhibitor to effective communications and a drain on resources;

* he fails to mention that he was given a pound;130,000 golden handshake while disciplinary action against him was being considered.

Professor Wardle's pi ce de resistance is to claim that he couldn't have been the problem because the accumulated problems are still there a few months after he left.

In an attempt to rebuild relationships, I feel obliged to agree with Professor Wardle on one point: his successor's proposals are derivative of his own. They represent the same one-dimensional approach (that is, make people redundant and add the cost to the deficit) which was specifically criticised in the Fedd report.

Our interim principal appears to be morphing into our former principal in front of our eyes. In recent days, Dr Clark has opined that heads of school and senior lecturers are to blame for our current problems, that the EIS is not representative of the staff (a favourite of Professor Wardle) and that Professor Wardle was "dead right".

Our college cannot afford any more short-term fixes, particularly the ill-judged and unjust one on offer. We and the communities we serve deserve better. That is why we are calling for a public enquiry to establish exactly what went wrong and why the SFC did not intervene more quickly than it did.

Alan Ferguson is branch secretary of the EIS Further Educa-tion Lecturers'

Association at James Watt College

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