Last July saw the surprise resignation of Martin McQuillan, Kingston University‘s ‘Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation’, previously widely seen as one of the most powerful figures in the university. This was allegedly for ‘personal reasons’, according to the announcement that appeared briefly on the university website, and the university ‘wished him well’, but there was no expression of thanks for his years of service. McQuillan did not leave to assume a new post elsewhere, instead joining the swelling ranks of Britain’s academic unemployed. He has since reinvented himself as ‘editor’ of ‘HE’, the online publication of an obscure outfit called ‘*Research‘ – a minor academic advertising service with little more than two thousand Twitter followers. This was quite a fall for a man notorious for his extreme ambition, who joked publicly about playing ‘Vice-Chancellor retirement bingo’.
The real reasons for McQuillan’s abrupt departure were nevertheless spread by word of mouth between Kingston University staff, eventually finding their way onto the Kingston University Dissenter’s Blog, a widely read blog run by a Kingston staff member, that ‘highlights aggressive management at Kingston and other UK universities’. McQuillan had been pushed out because he was found to have been embezzling large amounts of research money – apparently in the region of £200,000. As Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), McQuillan’s corrupt carryings on had been detected by some, including the late Christine Bradley, FASS finance officer, and by Professor Philip Spencer, Associate Dean of FASS. Yet Bradley was sacked by McQuillan while Spencer was pushed into early retirement (McQuillan did not attend his leaving party). When the Senior Management Team (SMT) finally discovered his criminal activities, however, instead of reporting him to the police as a law-abiding university would have done, they let him go quietly, with both parties signing a non-disclosure agreement.
The cover-up was apparently done under the auspices of Kingston’s vice-chancellor, Steven Spier, who was apparently quite ready to conceal from the public the criminal theft of its money, just to save the SMT a bit of embarrassment. The SMT could not legitimately claim that it had had no inkling of his corrupt activities; at least one member of staff had reported to them that McQuillan had attempted to bribe him, but received no response. McQuillan was also rumoured to have fled another scandal at his previous post at the University of Leeds. He was roundly disliked by FASS staff for his bullying and his contemptuous treatment of them, and for being generally unwilling to meet with them if he could at all help it, or even turn up for work on campus (he had promised at the time of his appointment as dean of FASS to relocate from Manchester, but failed to keep his promise, and generally worked from his home there).
McQuillan was, in short, a symptom of, rather than the exception to, the behaviour of the SMT at Kingston. His malign influence over the declining, crisis-ridden university continues in the form of his close friend and sidekick, Simon Morgan Wortham. McQuillan and Morgan Wortham have had a relationship going back many years; both purveyors of the same pretentious postmodernist pseudo-scholarship, they edited volumes together; thanked each other in acknowledgements; and established together their own autonomous little fiefdom within Kingston University: the privileged and unaccountable ‘London Graduate School‘, on whose management board McQuillan still appears. McQuillan stayed at Morgan Wortham’s home while he was settling in as Dean of FASS.
When McQuillan played his cynical rankings game of refusing to enter departments for the last Research Excellence Framework (REF) that hadn’t scored highly enough in the mock exercise, he left it to slimy, insincere Morgan Wortham to present the policy to the outraged FASS staff and pretend to listen to their concerns before ignoring them. When McQuillan was promoted to Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, he appointed Morgan Wortham Dean of FASS in his place – with no consultation with FASS staff or open competition. As one Kingston insider noted, ‘It smacked of a North Korean-style dynastic handover rather than a modern Uni.’ Yet although greatly tainted by his association with McQuillan, of whose criminal activities he was surely aware, Morgan Wortham has actually been promoted since the departure of the former. He is now in charge of the university-wide implementation of ‘Plan2020‘ – the SMT’s brutal policy of downsizing and redundancies, with the aim of turning the university into little more than a factory churning out substandard degrees for students with the money to pay, but unable to get a place anywhere better.
Morgan Wortham’s promotion was not a reflection of any managerial aptitude on his part. As a result of his and McQuillan’s incompetence at the head of FASS, the Department of Politics fell to the very bottom of the Guardian league table last year. The policy of forcing older staff into early retirement and not replacing them took its toll, but this didn’t stop management pretending the atrocious Staff Student Ratio reported by the Guardian was the result of a calculation error. The Department of History was not allowed to recruit undergraduates this year or replace departing staff, suggesting it may be for the axe – though no credible university lacks a history department. For the Department of Economics, FASS overfulfilled its Plan2020 purge target and drove out more experienced staff than they needed to; having spent a fortune on Voluntary Early Pension packages, they may now need to recruit again. KU’s celebrity Economics professor Steve Keen has announced publicly he’s retiring because the university has become an ‘aimless, money-grubbing exploiter of students’.
Meanwhile, after making his contribution to the destruction of a once-respectable university and stealing a large amount of taxpayer’s money, McQuillan is trying to reinvent himself. He chaired a fringe meeting on Higher Education reform at the 2017 Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on 2 October at the Stanley Livingstone Suite at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel, Manchester, alongside the National Union of Students’ Shakira Martin and Mark Leach, director of WonkHE, for which McQuillan also works. McQuillan has also become a contributor to The Guardian on topics related to higher education, where he poses as progressive and left-wing – in stark contrast to his aggressive and bullying managerial methods while at Kingston. For these people, it’s all about presentation.
Those wishing to know Kingston University’s official line on this matter should write to Vice-Chancellor Steven Spier at firstname.lastname@example.org.