Univer­sity of Lim­er­ick re­view sharply crit­i­cal of HR prac­tices

The Irish Times - - Home News - CARL O’BRIEN Ed­u­ca­tion Ed­i­tor

Short­com­ings in hu­man re­sources and man­age­ment prac­tices at the Univer­sity of Lim­er­ick are sharply crit­i­cised in a soon-to-be-pub­lished re­view into al­leged mis­con­duct at the in­sti­tu­tion, it is un­der­stood.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion was trig­gered af­ter con­cerns were raised over the way the univer­sity han­dled a se­ries of dis­ci­plinary pro­ceed­ings against staff and sev­er­ance pack­ages as well as its use of con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments. Two staff mem­bers who raised con­cerns about HR and fi­nan­cial prac­tices at UL have been sus­pended for more than two years.

In ad­di­tion, at least three for­mer em­ploy­ees at the cen­tre of con­cerns or com­plaints were given sev­er­ance pack­ages worth more than ¤600,000. Two of th­ese in­di­vid­u­als were later re-em­ployed on lu­cra­tive con­tracts.

While the univer­sity last year re­jected calls for an in­de­pen­dent re­view of al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct, the col­lege’s pres­i­dent, Dr Des Fitzger­ald, quickly re­versed this po­si­tion when he took over as col­lege pres­i­dent ear­lier this year.

The re­view was com­mis­sioned by the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion and Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Author­ity (HEA) and car­ried out by Dr Richard Thorn, for­mer pres­i­dent of Sligo In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

UL’s un­wieldy gov­ern­ing author­ity – which has had as many as 40 mem­bers in the past – has also faced crit­i­cism for not prop­erly hold­ing the col­lege to ac­count.

A spokesman for UL said the univer­sity had co-op­er­ated with and sup­ported the re­view process. “UL has not seen the re­port and so will take time to study its find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions on it publi­ca­tion,” he said.

Dr Fitzger­ald has apol­o­gised to both the HEA and the Dáil’s Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee for the fact that the univer­sity had pre­vi­ously not been fully forth­com­ing with in­for­ma­tion it should have made avail­able.

The univer­sity, mean­while, has com­pleted what it de­scribes as “root and branch” changes at se­nior gov­er­nance level in ad­vance of the re­port’s find­ings. In re­cent days, UL’s gov­ern­ing author­ity has con­firmed a num­ber of changes in­clud­ing a re­duc­tion in its size from 35 to 29 mem­bers and new fixed lim­its for mem­bers.

The spokesman said this re­duc­tion means there will be a greater em­pha­sis on ex­ter­nal rep­re­sen­ta­tion among its mem­ber­ship. The new gov­ern­ing author­ity is sched­uled for elec­tion by De­cem­ber.

In ad­di­tion, it says there has been a ma­jor re­struc­tur­ing of se­nior man­age­ment at the univer­sity.

Two sus­pen­sions

The univer­sity is also as­sign­ing an ex­ter­nal per­son to work with the two em­ploy­ees cur­rently sus­pended with the hope of achiev­ing a res­o­lu­tion.

“The pres­i­dent of UL has also been on the record in ac­knowl­edg­ing that sus­pend­ing em­ploy­ees for over two years is not ac­cept­able man­age­ment prac­tice, not­ing that UL has a duty of care to all of its em­ploy­ees. UL hopes the publi­ca­tion of this re­port will clear the way for a res­o­lu­tion of this is­sue,” the spokesman said.

An in­de­pen­dent au­dit by Deloitte – com­mis­sioned by the univer­sity – into a range of is­sues re­lat­ing to dec­la­ra­tions of in­ter­ests, HR is­sues and sev­er­ance pay­ments has been com­pleted.

The gov­ern­ing author­ity has di­rected UL’s ex­ec­u­tive to im­ple­ment all th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions, which have also fed in Dr Thorn’s re­view.

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