Saturday, 22 September 2012

What's going on at SMUC?

Imagine you are running an institution of Higher Education.  Imagine, further that it is a Catholic one (or as we'd probably say now, one with a Catholic ethos q.v.)

What would it take to make you send your security staff into the middle of a lecture, in order to remove the lecturer in front of a lecture theatre full of students?

For myself, I would need to be impelled by the sense that something very important was at stake, and further that there was extreme urgency attached to the removal of the lecturer.

Otherwise, it would make no sense at all.  Prudence, with regard to reputational risk alone, would make me wait till the end of the lecture if at all possible, even leaving aside any considerations of charity or the dignity of the individual (which, of course, one shouldn't in a Catholic Institution; or even in an Institution with a Catholic ethos [q.v.]).

Which all leads to the question: what's going on at St Mary's University College?

If you have not been aware of this, you may wish to look at EFPastor emeritus' and Fr Finigan's pieces on this.

The root of the dispute seems to be the proposed merger of the School of Theology, Philosophy and History with the School of Communication, Culture and Creative Arts to form a much larger  School of Arts and Humanities - and concerns about how appropriate that is for a Catholic Institution.

In fairness, I should note that such a trend of merging departments and faculties has swept English HEIs over the last decade or more: I am aware of many Universities which have done so (and predict a major Welsh University will follow suit with the arrival of a new Vice Chancellor this term...)

SMUC is also establishing a new Centre for the Study of Catholic Theology - so that's all right then.

However whether this particular re-structuring is wise or necessary is very much up for debate (though none is tolerated, it seems); and when the manner in which it is done involves such scandalous scenes, and leads to the resignation of distinguished figures such as Professor Eamon Duffy, and Dr Robin Gibbons, the longest serving theology lecturer, that does suggest a flawed process.

Having observed various organisational re-structurings in a long and varied career, I have noticed that while the 'business case' is often (though not always) the primary motivator, they are almost always seen as an opportunity to dislodge staff who are no longer valued, and who would otherwise be hard to shift.  (Sometimes that is done by voluntary severance schemes, sometimes by re-organising posts out of existence to make the staff redundant, sometimes by provoking them into doing or saying something that provides grounds for a disciplinary case against them, and sometimes by making life impossibly uncomfortable for them in a thousand small ways that would make constructive dismissal hard to claim...)

Is that a part of what is happening here?  Are people like Professor Duffy, Professor D'Costa, Dr Towey and Dr Gibbons not the kind of people wanted for the new Centre for the Study of Catholic Theology?  And if so, what does that tell us about it?

Of course, the Governors may say that some things are best settled privately and internally, not in the glare of ill-informed public comment like mine. That is a view with which I have some sympathy; unfortunately one rather undermines that approach by publicly frog-marching a lecturer away mid-lecture.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link.

Love you reference to need for how things should be done in a Catholic Institution -.....never leaving aside either charity or dignity of the individual.

M B Karamba said...

Had the removal been limited to that referred to above, it would have been uncharitable enough. However, Dr. Towey was asked to get into a van, and driven home. Security stood outside his house until he handed over his mobile phone.
Ubi caritas et amore, false arrest ibi est?