In 2007, I started on my first independent position in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London. Two years later Sir Nicholas Montagu was appointed Chairman of Council and Simon Gaskell was appointed Principal of the University. They formulated a strategic plan with the explicit aim to rank QMUL in the UK’s top-ten list according to the Government’s Research Excellence Framework assessment.
Simon Gaskell appointed Jeremy Kilburn to head the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Jeremy Kilburn took controversial decisions leading to a sharp change of culture in the Faculty and using invariably as a singular justification the ranking ambition of the University. In response to the proposals to “refocus” (sic) our School of Biological and Chemical Sciences John Allen commented:In a few days we will know the broad outcomes of the REF exercise (the detailed outcomes, more meaningful for how departments fared, will be released in the Spring). That Jeremy Kilburn has chosen this week to announce his departure from the institution raised eyebrows.
Jeremy Kilburn may or may not be missed at Queen Mary, but his departure demonstrates a blatant unaccountability, especially given how many scientists saw their careers derailed or destroyed because of his decisions. Before receiving news of how the faculty he led was assessed, Jeremy departs.
This is a problem of University Governance and Sir Nicholas Montagu’s words “A key function of the Council is to hold the Principal and his team to account for the delivery of their major objectives” sound very hollow.