Wanted: new senior governor

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Just what is going on with our University’s governance?

In February The Saint reported on the resignation of Des McSweeney, the vice principal for external relations who lasted just half a year in the job. At the time we wondered what had gone wrong: did he just dislike it and decide to move on, or had the University hired the wrong man?

Now it’s the turn of the senior governor. The University Court has determined that Ewan Brown, who has been the University’s chair since 2006, should stay on for a further two years. It appears to be a clear contravention of the Scottish government’s Code of Good Governance, which says that chairs should stay no longer than eight years except in “exceptional” circumstances.

The Court’s justification? None of its other members – not a single person on the highest governing body of the University, which comprises many of its most senior figures – was qualified to do the job.

It raises quite an obvious question: why on earth not? The University has had plenty of time to train another Court member to fill Mr Brown’s shoes. And if for some reason there really was nobody suitable, why not open up the process and bring in outside candidates?

But instead of external applications we got internal machinations. The chancellor’s assessor, Dr David Erdall, appears to have stood down so Mr Brown could take his job, thereby dodging his term limit and allowing him to stay on as senior governor.

The role of chancellor’s assessor has no term limit. Although the Court minutes note that a succession plan is to be put in place for Mr Brown, there is no guarantee that history will not repeat itself; what if the Court again fails to find a replacement in 2016?

Term limits exist for a reason, and this newspaper must protest Mr Brown’s reappointment. However good a governor he is, his time is up.

Meanwhile, the University’s apparent inability to search for a suitable replacement is hardly an exceptional circumstance. For the Court to bend its own rules is one thing; to flout government guidelines is another.

Des McSweeney and Ewan Brown are, so far, isolated incidents. We hope they will remain so. Otherwise we really will have to ask: just what is going on with our University’s governance?

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