Plymouth University crisis: Boss "destabilised" university

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

Grave concerns about the "destabilising" behaviour of Plymouth University's chairman were raised four months ago, the BBC can reveal.

The university is in turmoil amid separate investigations into the conduct of chairman William Taylor, and vice chancellor Wendy Purcell.

Confidential emails have emerged detailing longstanding fears that Mr Taylor was "destabilising the institution" and demanding he resign.

The university declined to comment.

A spokesman said: "These matters are part of the ongoing investigation, the board will not be commenting further."

'Constructive dismissal'

The emails were written to deputy chairman Steve Pearce in April, by Barbara Bond, who then held the ambassadorial role of pro chancellor and is a former chair of governors.

The correspondence, in which she claims to represent the views of a number of senior staff, warns that Mr Taylor's refusal to engage with Prof Purcell to resolve the dispute between the pair has helped "provide a case for constructive dismissal".

It also claims Mr Pearce, a former assistant chief constable with Devon and Cornwall Police, could see "no way forward with mediation" between the pair.

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

Mrs Bond felt the situation was so serious she raised the matter with the university's chancellor, Lord Jonathan Kestenbaum.

The emails also reveal the row had left Prof Purcell in "such a dark place", claim that Mr Taylor "did not understand the role of chair of governors" and that he was "unwilling to learn about the role - especially from a woman".

Mrs Bond wrote: "Senior staff continue to approach me, unsolicited and uninvited, and share their concerns, some of what I pick up has caused me grave concern."

They conclude: "The bottom line is that Bill needs to stand down. The university is being destabilised.

"There needs to be an immediate resolution - this is debilitating and destabilising."

Image caption The university has appointed a barrister to support their investigation into allegations against Mr Taylor

The revelations are the latest blow to the university after separate investigations were launched into the conduct of its two most powerful executives.

Mr Taylor agreed to "step aside" in August while an investigation into claims he sexually harassed staff and students is carried out.

Mr Taylor, a retired judge, categorically denies the allegations, which were submitted by Prof Purcell on behalf of a number of women.

Prof Purcell was suspended in June, the university has not revealed the reason.

A senior barrister has been appointed by the university to support its investigation into allegations against Mr Taylor.

Timeline of events

  • April 2014 - Barbara Bond raises "grave concerns" with deputy chair of governors Steve Pearce about Mr Taylor's "destabilising" behaviour
  • April 2014 - The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) notified by the university of an internal investigation into the conduct of Prof Purcell. HEFCE also receives allegations about the conduct of the chairman
  • 18 June - HEFCE's head of assurance visits the university to review documentation and recommends an external review of governance
  • 14 August - Pro-chancellor Barbara Bond MBE leaves
  • 15 August - Mrs Bond claims she was "forced out" as a result of the dispute

Sources: HEFCE report and BBC News

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