Plymouth University boss accused of sexual harassment

Judge William Taylor
Image caption Plymouth University chairman of governors William Taylor faces allegations of sexual harassment

Plymouth University's chairman of governors is to be investigated about claims of sexual harassment by a number of female staff.

A senior barrister has been appointed by the university to support their investigation into allegations against retired judge William Taylor.

Complaints include discriminatory and inappropriate behaviour, sources say.

Mr Taylor denies the allegations but said he was prepared to stand aside during the inquiry.

The revelations come amid turmoil within the university boardroom, following a bitter feud between Mr Taylor and vice chancellor Wendy Purcell.

'Transfer duties'

Prof Purcell was suspended from her £288,000-a-year post in June. The university is yet to reveal the reason for the suspension.

In a statement, Mr Taylor said he was made aware "at a very late stage in the review of matters involving the vice chancellor" that she had submitted allegations against him to the governors.

"I categorically deny these allegations which I consider to be defamatory," he said.

"I have personally insisted that, together with the university, these are robustly investigated by an independent expert.

"It would clearly be inappropriate to comment further while that investigation is in train, except to say that these are deeply hurtful."

However, he later added he was prepared to stand aside while the barrister investigated the allegations.

He said: "I had already stepped away from the investigation into the vice-chancellor's conduct. I would be prepared to do the same again and transfer all my duties and responsibilities as chairman to my deputy, Steve Pearce, pending the outcome of the independent investigation - were that thought to be helpful.

"I shall speak to the board tomorrow and seek its views."

Image copyright Plymouth University
Image caption Wendy Purcell has been vice-chancellor of the university since 2007

On Thursday, Barbara Bond MBE left her ambassadorial post as the university's pro-chancellor and later claimed she was forced out as a result of the ongoing dispute.

In an open letter the following day, Mrs Bond said she had longstanding concerns about "questionable governance practice" and criticised Mr Taylor's "manner when dealing with female members of staff and students".

Her term of office as pro-chancellor came to an end last month, but she said she had been asked to stay on by Prof Purcell.

The university denied dismissing Mrs Bond, saying her term of office as pro-chancellor had ended.

Mrs Bond said she raised concerns about governance with the regulator, the Higher Education Funding Council (Hefce), which then visited the university in June.

A report of the visit concluded there was not enough evidence to justify an investigation into the university's governing body, but did recommend an external review of governance.

The university has agreed to a review in the next academic year.

The report states allegations have been made against both Prof Purcell and Mr Taylor, and the breakdown in personal relations between the pair "appears to have exacerbated matters to the detriment of the university".

Plymouth University has 33,000 students and has become a key player in the economy of the South West, employing around 3,000 academic and administrative staff.

Gary Streeter, the MP for South West Devon, said: "This is beginning to hurt the university.

"This must be sorted out as quickly as possible, in days rather than weeks, it's becoming a crisis".

Timeline of events

  • 29 May 2014 - The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) was notified by the university of an internal investigation into the conduct of the vice-chancellor
  • In early June, the council was contacted by a source at the university about a "governance crisis" and requested Hefce's intervention
  • Also in early June, the council received allegations about the conduct of the chairman
  • 18 June - Hefce's head of assurance visited the university to review documentation
  • In July, a brief report following the inquiries was prepared for Hefce
  • 14 August - Pro-chancellor Barbara Bond MBE leaves

Sources: Preliminary report and BBC News

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