Harry McConnell’s report into industrial relations at the NW Regional College (NWRC) has sent a shudder through the college management and Board of Governors. The 84-page document hits at all sides in the bitter saga. Trades unions do not emerge unscathed.
But it is the management team led by CEO Seamus Murphy which takes the brunt of McConnell’s broadside.
McConnell - former Director of Human Resources at Queen’s and ex-member of the Equality Commission - was tasked to compile the report by the Department of Employment and Learning. It is set for publication this week.
The unusually forthright report confirms a “culture of fear” within the college preventing staff voicing concerns about Mr. Murphy’s management style. McConnell tells that “about a dozen” staff members asked to be interviewed away from the college because they feared victimisation if seen talking with him.
The report refers to staff feeling sick with fear before interviews with senior figures, individuals being “humiliated”, meetings with management perceived as “a ‘star chamber’ or ‘going to the Tower.’”
Even generally pro-management staff members “also accepted that (Mr. Murphy’s) behaviour at Course Reviews could be insulting and that he had a reputation for not being transparent, which directly affected trust levels…These behavioural responses by management will have to change if trust is to be rebuilt.”
The report finds that “demeaning comments” about staff by Mr. Murphy and Governors’ chairman Bertie Faulkner “gives (the University and Colleges Union) reasonable grounds to influence their members and the public to believe that they are being treated unfairly.”
The report contains stringent criticism of the Human Resources department for seeming to operate as an arm of management.
In future, McConnell says, the department must “be seen to be prepared to protect its policies and procedures against any abuse by senior management.”
The Board of Governors, too, is sharply criticised for seeming to act as a backstop for management rather than in an oversight role.
Its acceptance of Mr. Murphy’s views as to what issues it could properly discuss and decide on is described as “disingenuous”. The Governors may need “additional support”, McConnell suggests.
The report recommends that “all senior staff stand down from their high profile commitments at regional level”.
Broadly speaking, the Report vindicates the complaints made over a number of years by the lecturers’ union, the University and Colleges Union, and holds management responsible for “the low morale, fear and low trust” found to be prevalent at the college.
It suggests that middle management staff take over from Mr. Murphy and other senior figures in dealing with industrial relations.