Hong Kong University Student Union article on Matthew Evans

I provide translation of an article published by Jason Tsui in Undergrad, HKUSU. The views represented are not mine, however the overall sentiment of this article agrees with my personal view of what a bad idea it was for the University of Hong Kong to offer a position of responsibility to someone with a track-record in dismantling successful academic departments. The article mentions that 30 colleagues were fired by the application of Evans’ restructuring criteria. In reality, 11 members of staff were declared at risk of redundancy (I was one). Possibly there was confusion with parallel recruitment adverts for 30 staff during the sacking of their peers or with voluntary departures to better-managed institutions, which eventually have risen the number of departures to almost 40 (without including departures of new staff that joined the School after 2012). The author also appears to have misunderstood that Prof John Allen’s claim for unfair dismissal was successful. Matthew Evans’ vindictive behaviour against John Allen ammounted to breach of contract. My petition for John Allen’s reinstatement stands.

Evans – A business manager dressed in academic gown

Evans has been criticized for his tyrannical style and lack of credibility and integrity in the management of previous Colleges.

Lack of credibility and integrity

If universities in the UK want to get more government research funding, they need to improve their research rankings. Every three-to-seven years, an investigation report will be published on each of the UK’s universities studies, the last two of which were the one published in 2008 and 2014. The report in 2008 was named “Research Assessment Exercise”. In 2014, “Research Excellence Framework” replaced the “Research Assessment Exercise”. The four higher education foundations of the UK’s Ministry of Education will allocate resources according to the scores of those reports. If the university wants to strive for more resources, raising its ranking is the most important and the first priority, and the situation is in line with the University of Hong Kong. In order to enhance the ranking of Research Excellence Framework in 2014, in the year of 2011, Evans was appointed as the Head of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London.

Evans and his restructuring program of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences judged professors by the number of the publications, and more than 30 staff were fired under these criteria, thus forcing the professors to put too much time in the scientific research rather than keep the teaching quality. The reorganization plan of Evans was openly criticized as unreasonable and less transparent, by two staff, Dr Fanis Missirlis and Professor John Allen. Evans himself was also questioned that the number of the papers he published is not up to the standard. After that, the two staff were fired directly without notice period; Evans later admitted that the dismissal of one was because he did not want the opposite opinion to spread. The two staff then appealed to Employment Tribunals and appealed after losing the case.

Evans declared that all the faculty members in the department including him will be appraised fairly, the exercise wasn’t directed against anyone in particular. However, according to the Employment Tribunal Judgment only 62 faculty members were appraised and several members were not. Actually, some faculty didn’t qualify among the unappraised members. Evans selected the appraisal list partially but declared that all the members have been appraised. Furthermore, according to one of the requirement in paper appraisal, professor must publish 2 “high quality” papers, “high quality” means the paper is published on 5% journals. That is, the journal must have an impact factor at least 7 or rank A in the quality rating system in Australian Research Council (ARC). A “high quality” paper submitted by Evans doesn’t have an impact fact of 7, but only be listed as Editorial Material by Web of Science. According to the requirements and appraisal results of other members, the paper is not qualified and Evans didn’t meet the requirements as well. The flaws of appraisal came from carelessness by the committee in the department, the committee only checked the papers of the potential redundant personnel, but never checked the authenticity of other qualified papers and removed the possibilities of faked reports. Therefore, the fairness of the results of the appraisal is unbelievable.

Otherwise, in order to deny the accusation to putting the opponents down, Evans claimed that he has no idea whether other colleagues would be affected by these disciplines or not. However, he indeed had received the list which included the names of staff at risk, including those who opposed his statements. Faced with this accusation, Evans had concealed the fact and had been double-standard with these facts. Thus his trustworthiness becomes suspicious.

The judgement also indicates that Evans had pushed some undesirable changes when he had been titled with the chief inspector of the center of ecology and conservation in University of Exeter. And these changes actually refer to the dissolution of the entire department of chemistry. The news on the internet show that few incomes can be gained by the department of chemistry as their performance in the research assessment exercise was poor. In fact, the investigation on several related staffs indicates that the deficit financing of the center which Evans worked in is much worse than the department of chemistry. In order to avoid the close of his center, Evans had supported the scheme to shut down the department of chemistry. If this is true, it would suggest that Evans had the experience to shut down the department. So it’s not unexpected that he closed the department of mathematics. And it implies that Evans is a utilitarian person.DeansForum

The failed restructuring

As the result of restructuring, the plan made faculty and staff demoralized and with no inclination to teach. The professors and students jointly criticized the restructuring plan successively for its commercial performance management policy, which pressured academic freedom and led to the hampered academic exchanges caused by colleagues’ competition. With the restructuring plan, the college has cut classes to save resources to put on research, which influenced students’ learning experience. For example, in order to simplify courses, they have used computer teaching to replace experimental course in physiology course. It was criticized for neglecting the training of students’ experiment skill, which is really important in research. Therefore, the restructuring plan was accused of not evaluating the loss of teaching. What is important to note is that Evans has once suggested an inspection of all the courses in faculty of science of the university of Hong Kong should be made next year to evaluate the necessity of continuously offering the course which has little students, indicating that he will simplify courses and the curriculum design for faculty of science will be bad.

As Professor Evans stated, when he worked in Queen Mary University of London, he led the ranking of life science research rose from 34 to 23 on REF 2014 (research excellence framework 2014), and also led the chemistry science research ranked on REF the first time. In fact, if you seriously checked the research papers published in 2008 to 2013, that Queen Mary University of London submitted to the research excellence framework, you could immediately find that the citations of the research papers of life science and chemistry research, which were published in 2011 to 2013 (Evans as the leader during this period), declined from more than 2000 times to less than 600 times (lifescience research), and declined from ~1200 times to ~100 times (chemistry research). Such phenomenon indicates Evans’ achievement in Queen Mary University of London was just due to the achievement from the former people, and he just continued such kind of tendency, instead of his own achievement as his wrong statements and misleading. In fact, we should consider that Evans browbeaten the excellent researchers into going and caused the decline of quality of the research papers, which finally lead to the decline of the citations of the research papers.

We confirmed with Mr. Evans that whether the above charge was real or not. He responded that the five-year plan about improving the student experience and the quality & quantity of researches had been informed to all faculty and staff of Science College, of course, advices were also collected from various sources. A series of Town hall meetings had been convoked before the Christmas in Science College and would be extended to all colleges after the Easter, which gave they chance to discuss the reform schemes in College Committee. All details of the plan were public and it was hoped that all parties gave their opinions follow official channels. Mr. Evans emphasized that all faculty and staff, including himself, were supposed to unbiased evaluations when he worked for Queen Mary University of London, so some people who denied this view told lies. He also contradicted that the restructuring plans led to a serious brain drain for only one stuff left during the period of restructuring, however, he ignored the fact that 35 peoples abdicated after the restructuring accomplished. He insisted that no suspicion spread in the stuffs owing to the policy that employing few short-term lecturers only to give lessons.

When clarifying the effectiveness of the School’s reorganization, Evans acknowledged that his previous research will contribute to the rise in the rankings. But biology and chemistry study won’t have achieved such a big improvement but for the transition after his taking office, including the number of staff increment from 65 to 80, men and women ratio increment from 15% to 30%, and the income improvement, the ratio raise of students to faculty and doctoral, However, according to the research framework of assessment criteria, the reorganization result listed by Evans rift by restructuring the result fall into the category of environment, accounts for only 15% of the assessment. Most of the rest of the proportion is avoided, and Evans still failed to respond to query of the effect of the plan.

The initiator of evil

Then Evans pointed out that HKU knew his individual stories, and the Senior Management Team including the President and all the vice President, have received and responded to the five-year plan of school management and reform, implying that its style and scheme has support by the Senior Management Team. When the Principal Ma Feisen replied our query, he confirmed Evans had submitted scheme of school management and reform, and the group discussed repeatedly, and ultimately decided to support the scheme and believe Evans will make the best decisions. Ma Feisen added that reports of reform are not accurate, and reminded that not all the decisions were welcome, and declined to comment further about Evans’s reply.

Evans also pointed out that Hong Kong has made clear his personal record, and the senior management team, including principals and vice-principals, has received and responded to the five-year program of its reform of Faculty of Science, suggesting that its style and program are supported by the team. President Ma Feisen replied to the inquiry, confirmed that Evans had submitted to the Institute of the reform program, and repeated discussions by the team, finally the team supported the program and believed that Evans can make the best decision. Ma Feisen also said that the report of reform program is not accurate, but reminded not all decisions are the most popular, and finally refused to further comment on Evans’s reply.

Although Ma Feisen refers to the University has been in accordance with the procedures to recruit the Dean of the Faculty of Science, but the school committee actually based on the recommendations of the president to appoint the president, Ma Feisen played a very important role in the hiring process. Ma Feisen knew that Evans had been criticized in the past, but Evans was still employed, and the senior management team accepted its program, which has two possibilities: First, Mayfair cares about the university academic rankings from beginning to end, as long as Evans promised to produce the actual results, he will not interfere with Evans to hard work to clean up the Faculty of Science; Second, the University of Hong Kong principals and dean are two British fellow, Evans was Ma Feisen ‘s personal support, Aihong tried to keep in place before the end of Mayfair to implement the program. If it is the latter, it means that Ma Feisen and Evans hang together, ignoring the reputation of the University of Hong Kong. Have such a good future principals, really congratulations to Edinburgh University students!

Finally, Evans pointed out that Math and Statistics were classified as a category in rank of University Grants Committee, and University of Hong Kong was last one at president’s forum of Faculty of Science. Also he said he will lead University of Hong Kong as the first of Hong Kong. It is not difficult to see Faculty of Science maybe incorporate mathematics into statistics and actuarial science if student understand study will increase university funding. Maybe faculty will distinguish departments according to study category of University Grants Committee, not the subject characteristics. In addition, Evans showed very open in public. He ensured that he will not cancel the course of astronomy when he talked with students at president’s forum. But the court verdict of Labour Tribunal showed that the faculty already prepared screening condition before opposition groups responded. This condition reflects Evans may not be open like they seem. So students should supervise trends of Faculty of Science, beware the faculty act first and report afterwards and announce the decision like canceling the major subjects.

The development of the Faculty of Science at the University of Hong Kong is similar to the background of the reorganization of the Queen Mary University in London. Mathew Evans attaches great importance to performance, the staff did not hesitate to cut the footwork, but also good at using data and indicators to maintain their own strategy, its role is actually similar to business managers. The University of Hong Kong hired Mathew Evans, reflecting the University of Hong Kong also believes that the University to use the enterprise management model to meet the tastes of the UGC. The question is whether the University of Hong Kong has entrusted wrong person and has hired a speculator. Matthew Evans charge up the future of University to win personal achievements, but the consequences of this academic gamble is to bear by the University and students. Even if the reform failed a mess, Mathew Evans can still never return just like when he was at Queen Mary University of London.

Considering the means of Mathew Evans, the five-year reform program is not optimistic, cutting discipline is probably only a prelude to the storm. If the Faculty of Science followed the footsteps of Queen Mary University of London, it will persuade professors to leave. The worst case of the Faculty of Science is the occurrence of a fault, wasting time in administrative mistakes, and the academic achievements established over the years will be destroyed. So the College of Science to struggle, we must monitor the reform of the trend, forcing Mathew Evans thinking positive response to question, cutting off its destructive reorganization program, to eliminate the possibility that the College of Science to be placed in danger.


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