Peter Armstrong, 81, has been critical of management’s financial competence and ‘bullying’ tactics
The University of Leicester has threatened to strip an 81-year-old professor emeritus of his title after he posted comments on social media criticising the institution, which is currently facing a strike ballot over redundancies.
Peter Armstrong, who accepted the offer of emeritus status when he retired from the university in 2010, told followers on Twitter that management had threatened to rescind the honorary title because his comments breached the university’s “dignity at work” policy.
Armstrong, a leading scholar in the field of critical accounting, is one of multiple academics to publicly criticise developments at Leicester University, where staff are holding a ballot for strike action over plans for up to 145 redundancies across five academic departments and three professional services units.
Criticism has focused not only on the way in which the redundancies have been handled, but also on governance of the university’s finances and broader concerns about restructuring and the direction in which the university is being steered. The university has also been accused of attempting to “intimidate and silence staff” who speak out.
The University and College Union, which is balloting its Leicester members over industrial action, says management have denied that there are financial reasons for the planned redundancies and have therefore refused to share data on finances with unions.
According to the UCU, however, the 2019-20 financial statements show the university’s finances are fragile. Leicester is one of a small number of universities to have accessed the Bank of England’s Covid corporate financing facility, borrowing £60m.
Armstrong, who has amended his profile page to read “former professor emeritus”, has posted numerous highly critical, often irreverent, comments on Twitter. On governance at the university, he posted: “There’s something drastically wrong with the governance @uniofleicester when a small cabal of no more than half a dozen people can steer it into near insolvency, then wreck cultures of research and teaching decades in the making to cover up their mistakes.”
In another, a follow-up to an earlier tweet, he said: “I accept that I should not have said that the @uniofleicester managers who were bullying a clearly distressed young academic ‘should be slapped across the neck with a stocking full of diarrhea’. I am sure that readers can suggest an appropriate alternative.”
Armstrong has since posted extracts from a letter from university management which stated: “If [your] social media activity continues in the same manner as I have outlined, the university will recommend to council that the title of professor emeritus conferred in you by council be removed.
“If approved, we would no longer support the privileges associated with the title, which include access to the library and the provision of an IT account.” According to the tweet, the letter was signed by Prof Henrietta O’Connor, pro vice-chancellor at Leicester.
Asked about Armstrong, the University of Leicester refused to comment on individual cases, but in a statement said: “All members of the university community are expected to behave with respect and courtesy at all times, and adhere to the values and behaviours outlined in our dignity and respect policy.
“We are firmly committed to creating an inclusive learning, working and research environment characterised by respect and dignity, and free from harassment, bullying, abuse and discrimination. We take any reports of unacceptable behaviours seriously and will investigate any concerns raised, taking action where necessary.”
On redundancies and criticism of management, a spokesperson said: “The proposed changes we are consulting on are not driven by the need for financial savings but focus on our long-term strategy for the university.
“Our decision to participate in the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) from the Bank of England was a precautionary measure in a year where we have made capital investment in projects which will significantly improve the student experience, and contribute to the university’s pioneering work in space research.
“Pre-change engagement with staff and unions has been underpinned by the University’s Leading and Managing Change Principles, which were developed in consultation with, and then agreed by, the three recognised trade unions in 2018.”
Dr Sarah Seaton, chair of Leicester UCU, said: “Our leaders’ behaviour over the past months and years betrays the poverty of their vision and their abdication of moral responsibility. Our university celebrates its centenary this year. But if we are to flourish in our second 100 years as we did in our first, we need new leadership.”