Matthew Evans quits Queen Mary

With two tweets, Prof Matthew Evans announced his notice to Queen Mary University of London, standing down on July 1st, 2016. His departure follows that of Prof Jeremy Kilburn. I once shared with the Principal of Queen Mary my view that because managers (like politicians) change all the time, the incentive to build an improved department (which in former times would mean personal recognition) appears to be lacking. Indeed, this pair of managers deeply transformed the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences: in a blink of an eye they recruited over 50 new academics who joined 40 members of staff surviving since 2011, while effecting 35 departures of active researchers. Was it for the better? I think Prof Evans would say so:

April 19, 2016

“A thought from a building site but highly relevant for this day”

Therefore, when we build,

let us think that we build forever.

Let it not be for present delight,

nor present use alone;

let it be such work

as our descendants will thanks us for,

and let us think,

as we lay stone on stone,

that a time is to come

when those stones will be held sacred

because our hands have touched them,

and that men will say

as they look upon the labour

and wrought substance of them,

"See! This our fathers did for us."

John Ruskin, “The Seven Lamps of Architecture” (1849)

April 20, 2016

“After just five years it is time to move on from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. What can I say? It’s been eventful.”

Going back a few months to January 27, 2016, a public announcement had been made in a different part of the world:

“The Council of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has at its meeting on January 26 (Tuesday) approved the appointment of Professor Matthew Evans as the next Dean of the Faculty of Science, for a term of five years.”

We read:

“His appointment was made after a worldwide search of candidates. Professor Evans is a highly accomplished scholar specialised in ecology, evolutionary biology, and conservation biology. He possesses a track record of significant senior leadership experience at University of Exeter and Queen Mary University of London, where he held several Headship and Provost (of a campus) roles, and has proved himself a dedicated and successful administrator.”


“Professor Evans is a communicative leader with strong problem-solving skills, and a bold reformer with the ability to build capability and academic excellence. With his excellent leadership, interpersonal, communication and team-building skills, I trust that he has the right set of attributes for the position of the Dean of Science, and will be able to take the Faculty of Science to a higher level and to lead the Faculty to excel academically both in the region and globally.”

I do not consider that the above statements require commentary. It might be considered inappropriate or biased from someone who opposed Prof Evans’ restructuring proposals and challenged his integrity.

Prof Peter Mathieson is apparently aware of the task that was handled by the newly appointed Dean of Science at the University of Hong Kong, when he was a manager at the University of Exeter. The truly eventful times at Queen Mary led me to coin the term ‘restruction‘. If events in 2011-2016 resulted in an improved School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary, one might expect science to fair better at the University of Hong Kong, under the new Dean.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 10.25.38 PM__One learns from mistakes.__

11 thoughts on “Matthew Evans quits Queen Mary

  1. Dear Fanis, it saddens me to think what has become of our university. I am seeing similar challenges in schools as well so this problem seems to be affecting education in general. It appears that staying in one’s current job for more than a decade is seen as some kind of weakness and not strength of character. Management wants to come in, make their mark and leave much like Michael Gove did or Nicky Morgan will do (just as you point out here).

    At our school which was in deep trouble 3 years ago, the new head came in and turned it around but instead of staying and seeing his reforms through, he has decided to take the headline (‘Head turns struggling school around’) and walk away. The school is now heading towards exactly the same kind of problems that made it a special measures school in the first place. A lot of good, experiences staff are again worried for their position in school and the reforms new management is likely to bring.

    Hope voices like yours and other passionate academics is not left in the wilderness for too long. It only takes a few selfish individuals with myopic thinking to destroy a system which has taken generations to build.

    1. Thank you Adam. I wrote something today, following my visit to the School. I may post it tomorrow after I sleep over thinking about the details. Meanwhile, I was made aware of this letter that was posted today:

      “Dear Colleague

      I am writing to inform you that Professor Matthew Evans, Head of School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (SBCS), will be leaving QMUL this summer to take up the post of Dean of Science at Hong Kong University. Matthew has overseen significant change and much progress within the School, and I thank him for his many contributions. I’m sure I speak on behalf of the institution when I congratulate him on his prestigious new post and wish him well for the future.

      The search for a permanent replacement as Head will begin imminently, starting with a consultation within the School. Professor Richard Pickersgill, currently Head of Chemistry and Biochemistry within SBCS, has kindly agreed to act as Interim Head while this process is undertaken, with effect from 1 August. Richard will be acting Head during June and July, while Matthew is on leave but still formally Head of School.

      I will inform colleagues once a permanent Head is identified.

      Kind regards

      Simon Gaskell

  2. Hi Sir, I am an undergraduate student from the University of Hong Kong. Recently, Prof. Matthew Evans is trying to ‘restructure’ the Department of Mathematics by decomposing the courses into other Department under the Faculty of Science, which we consider this a very serious issue and seems to be an outrageous and reckless decision. To let more students of HKU understand the matter comprehensively, would it be able for you to explain more about what he had done during his terms of office in QMUL?

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