What happens when two best mates and self-proclaimed ‘deconstructionists’ carve up a Faculty and treat it as their own personal fiefdom? And what links London with Paris in this sordid Dickensian tale?
Our story begins in 2010, when Middlesex University decided that CRMEP, their Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (or ‘CRAP’ as some other Middlesex staff privately referred to it), was no longer financially viable and had to close. After an outcry by CRMEP about what they saw as unfair ‘destruction’ by Middlesex and some intense lobbying of other cultural philosophers and deconstructionists, in stepped one Martin McQuillan, FASS Dean at Kingston University and self-described ‘literary theorist’.
McQuillan had been a lecturer in English at Staffordshire University for 3 years and then a deeply unpopular and unsuccessful Head of School at the University of Leeds for 4 years, and was part of the small incestuous circle of postmodern cultural ‘theorists’ who give very good reviews to each other’s work in elitist philosophy and literary journals. Consulting nobody but himself, McQuillan suddenly offered to save the CRMEP and host it at Kingston, taking on four full-time CRMEP staff. As one of the CRMEP staff later admitted, Kingston had to provide (quote) ‘a substantial sum of transitional funding’ for this to happen. But that was no problem for FASS’s Dean, a keen fan-boy of postmodern culture and anything that smacked vaguely of the more pretentious parts of French philosophy (such as the meaning of mail not arriving, and other vital questions).
The dubious deal also involved the ‘dynamic’ CRMEP being given a special large room for its ‘research centre’ on the 7th floor of the Tower Block at Penrhyn Road, equipped with a refrigerator (for the wine bottles), brand new state-of-the-art PCs, and even a dedicated area with comfy chairs for ‘thinking’. CRMEP at Kingston would only teach a handful of postgraduates, with no undergraduate teaching loads (much to the disgust of other hard-working FASS staff). The centre also remained empty for much of the time, with only one staff member using it, and then on rare occasions.
McQuillan’s fellow collaborator in this questionable project was English lecturer and close friend Simon Morgan Wortham, another so-called ‘literary critic’ and devotee of deconstruction. Together the pompous pair plotted and planned, setting up a so-called London Graduate School (LGS), of which they made themselves the two co-directors. The expensive and unaccountable LGS was designed to work with CRMEP, and the two pals made sure that any research income coming into FASS was top-sliced, with lots of lovely dosh ploughed into both CRMEP and the LGS. Very close links were forged between CRMEP and the LGS, and in 2012 the operation took on a French dimension. An MA in Contemporary European Philosophy was set up, jointly run with the University of Paris 8, with registered students doing a semester in London and a semester in Paris. Joint ‘conferences’ were also arranged, with very post-modern titles such as ‘Transdisciplinarity in French Thought’.
However, all was not well. Both the CRMEP and LGS became bottomless pits for FASS, sucking in more and more Faculty money, a situation which continued when McQuillan became the University’s Deputy Vice Chancellor for ‘Research and Innovation’ in 2015, ensuring that Morgan Wortham became his successor as FASS Dean. The dodgy duo were determined to make it all still work, though, brushing off the growing concerns of the Faculty’s finance officer about the huge sums involved. Their sheer arrogance was on full display when the devious pair disappeared off on a jolly jaunt to DePaul University in the USA in October, 2015, to attend a two-day conference grandly titled ‘Thinking Universalities: A Conference Organized Around the Work of Etienne Balibar’, with absolutely no expenses spared. Balibar was another close friend of McQuillan’s and Morgan Wortham’s, whom they had made ‘Anniversary Chair in Modern European Philosophy’ at CRMEP.
But where it all became even murkier lies in the Parisian part of the operation. Through Eric Alliez and Catherine Malabon, both CRMEP staff at the Philosophy Department at Paris 8, McQuillan and Morgan Wortham had set up and financed a special flat in Paris, claiming it could be used by any FASS researcher who needed to stay in Paris while engaged in research or writing. The problem was, hardly any FASS staff knew about this, and it was clearly not available to just any old member of FASS staff – only to CRMEP and LGS people personally vetted and approved by McQuillan and Morgan Wortham. What is worse, the dodgy pair evidently treated it as a kind of holiday flat mainly for themselves.
The tragedy is that FASS staff will never be allowed to have the full details about these clearly corrupt practices. When McQuillan’s embezzlement led him to finally getting the push in summer 2017, controversial ‘non-disclosure’ agreements were signed by the University and McQuillan. The previous V-C, Julius Weinberg, had been briefed on the scandal but did not act, while the University’s Senior Management Team (SMT) still refuses to comment, hoping it will all somehow go away. The new V-C, Steven Spier, fearful of any negative publicity, also remains determined to cover it all up. And Morgan Wortham, who was a chief beneficiary of the lucrative arrangements, is now the SMT’s senior Plan 2020 enforcer, and so has too much at stake to deconstruct his own role in the murky affair.
In the meantime, parts of the FASS staff (including lecturers in English) face a depressing Christmas 2017, with the prospect of major job cuts being announced early in 2018, and increased management pressure on those who remain. The irony, that the man tasked with savaging the university through mass redundancies and other cost-cutting measures is the same man who squandered FASS’s wealth on his own personal fripperies should not need pointing out. As Dickens wrote, ‘So wicked do destruction and secrecy appear to honest minds…’.
Thank you to the current and former Kingston University staff who have contributed information to this blog. Please keep it coming. It is only by exposing its corruption, lack of accountability and persecution of its staff that such behaviour can be stopped.
PS Please read what follows for an example of the sheer, unadulterated bullshit which Morgan Wortham regularly pens for the edification of his long-suffering staff:
Sent: 31 August 2017 09:32
Subject: Message from the Dean – All Faculty Autumn Newsletter
I know all of us are now preparing for the new academic year, having gone through a period of change over the past twelve months that has been demanding and sometimes painful. As everyone knows, rapid changes in national H.E. policy and sector trends affecting the student market have caused a great deal of instability, and the University has needed to accelerate the pace of change to respond effectively to the new set of conditions we face. I am aware that, one way or another, the first two phases of Plan 2020 impacted on FASS more than any other part of the University, and I do appreciate the pressures this has placed on both academic and professional support staff right across the Faculty. Equally, through such a difficult year, I have been hugely impressed by, and very grateful for, the great professionalism shown by FASS staff in continuing to work in collegiate ways, continuing to build a good student experience, taking seriously the need to consider and implement improvements where necessary, and engaging with new initiatives and developments in a constructive spirit.
Towards the end of the academic year, we have seen some positive results in the NSS, including some notable achievements at the very top of the scale, but also steady improvement against university and sector norms in many of our subject areas. We are now much less susceptible than in the past to wide variations and swings in scoring, and this is a testament to the work that has been done to establish better consistency right across the different elements of the student experience. There is still more to do, and targeted action plans will need to be carefully devised by subject areas where improvement is needed, but I do feel the changes we have made—and are continuing to make—are beginning to deliver the right results. Equally, the recruitment effort through clearing has produced a pleasing result. It looks as though the Faculty will achieve and possibly exceed the targets set for undergraduate and postgraduate student intake, again with certain subject areas achieving notable successes. Certainly, we have had a much better clearing than last year, and thanks are due to all those who worked so hard to make the process a success. Our targets are necessarily much smaller than they once were, given changes in market demand, and this continues to create challenges in terms of managing the levels of resource needed to deliver our courses. Trends in recruitment also make timely further portfolio review to ensure we have the right courses to attract students at sustainable levels. With a new school and departmental landscape now in place across FASS, from very early in the new academic year the Faculty will be working with every subject area to establish a credible plan in each subject area, designed to ensure academic and financial health in the interests of future stability and sustainability. There is more work to do in some areas than in others, but I am committed this year to taking the Faculty forward to a position whereby, at the start of 2018/19, we will be in the best shape possible: in terms of the quality and reputation of our academic offer; in terms of the market ‘fit’ of our portfolio; and in terms of the alignment we can demonstrate between the income we derive predominantly from student fees, and the resources we need to deliver the academic offer.
In terms of the new ‘look’ of FASS at school and departmental level, let me take this opportunity to welcome Law to the Faculty. We are delighted to be able to include Law in the range of courses we teach, to explore opportunities to develop our Law provision in the context of its new location, and to support Law as it continues to build its academic reputation, its teaching and its research. I know that all staff in FASS will do their utmost to make colleagues in Law welcome, and work hard to help successfully integrate this subject area within the Faculty. It is also important to note that from 2017/18, Film will be consolidated in KSA. I know this has been a long and difficult process. I am grateful to staff in Film for the enormous contribution they have made to the Faculty, and mindful of the pressures that have faced them in recent months. I am sure we wish colleagues transferring to KSA all the best for the future, and I am certain that future collaboration can only be productive.
Over the summer, through my PVC role I have taken on responsibility for Plan 2020. While the next phase does not impact directly on FASS, nevertheless there are a number of change initiatives in the University that will call for staff engagement in every part of the institution, and indeed the SMT are working hard to ensure that all aspects of change in the University fully join up: that we ourselves understand how they interact with one another, but also—and just as importantly—that this makes sense to everybody at Kingston. Improvements to the quality of our courses, review and development of the portfolio in relation to the student market of today and tomorrow, as well as broader changes in the ways we work together across the University, will require everyone to demonstrate real commitment and hard work in taking Kingston forward. I feel very confident that we are capable of rising to the challenges we face. In the autumn the Vice-Chancellor will lead an institution-wide conversation about our vision and mission. In discussing this within the SMT just before the summer, I was struck by the extent to which a real passion for the values and goals shared by many staff throughout the University were unanimously voiced by members the senior team. That may surprise some people, and others may not be convinced. If, in the past, Kingston has suffered from a rather fragmented and disconnected institutional environment, with silos of activity sometimes not fully joining up in terms of a single University culture, it is important for the SMT to play its part—working alongside the wider leadership team in the University as well as all staff in our academic and support departments—to ensure that we build a future that is genuinely a shared one. The University needs to reach out to its staff, and listen to them. It asks more of them than ever before, but it also needs to support them better than ever before. I hope the discussions we will have right across the campus this autumn will be conducted in that spirit, and will have positive results for everybody.
Lastly, I want to announce some changes in the Faculty Management Team and in other FASS roles. Prof. Phil Terry will be taking up responsibility for the research and enterprise brief on an interim basis as a consequence of Prof. Peter Buse acting up as PVC Research and Enterprise until a permanent appointment is made. Prof. Adrian Coyle is taking over as Chair of Faculty Ethics Committee as Prof. Frederic Vallee-Tourangeau stands down from his Faculty responsibilities. I want to take this opportunity to thank Fred for all his hard work in supporting postgraduate research in FASS in recent years. Having seen great progress during this time in the way we deliver and support PGR, Faculty oversight of this area will now revert to the Associate Dean role.
The coming year will undoubtedly be a busy one. Alongside all the other things we will be doing, the Faculty will also need to go through a mock REF run by the University in preparation for the next national exercise. The ‘pipeline’ we have established for research funding bids, as well as the output review process we ran last year, demonstrate our commitment to research and our desire to be in the best shape possible for future assessment. So, a busy year all round, but I am sure a productive one. Welcome back to everybody.
Professor Simon Morgan Wortham
Pro Vice Chancellor and Dean
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
EM Building (PR EM 3003)
Kingston KT1 2EE
The London Graduate School