Saturday, 10 July 2010

A few numbers

One of the curious aspects of the Palaeography Affair is that it all began because of the management of King's College's insistence that it had to make cuts, and that axeing Professor Ganz's job was the way to do it. Necessary, inevitable and vital.

Now, of course, they have changed direction and decided that Palaeography is indeed essential, and have produced a report on the matter. (

This report suggests (p.5) that employing Professor Ganz cost around £79,000 a year. However, this was partly paid for by interest from a sum set aside for Palaeography, which produced £29,015 in the year to July 2009. Of the remaining sum half was covered by research income from Hefce. The net cost to the college of the Professorship was thus about £25,000.

Axeing the post would presumably involve losing the Hefce grant, and there is a question mark over what might happen to the endowment fund, although I imagine the management will not be writing to the original donors to see if they want their money back.

Be that as it may, King's had a Professor of international reputation for a bargain basement price.

So they got rid of him, and now want another one so much they are prepared to pay more to to get pretty much the same. Page nine of the report says that getting a suitable person -- that is, one with the same level of reputation as the last one -- would cost £119,912 a year. This increases the shortfall to be made up from £25,000 to £65,000. That is a lot of money just to add a few bells and whistles to a job description.

In addition there will be £20,000 hiring costs. Added to this will be the unknown sums paid out to fund Professor Ganz's redundancy -- compensation payments, legal fees and so on. On top of that, there is a question of wasted time, and reputational damage to the college.

I would be surprised if the total cost of evicting Professor Ganz was less than £150,000, possibly more, based on his salary and length of service. If this guess is correct, it represents six years of the shortfall under the current arrangements. But Professor Ganz would have retired in six years' time anyway -- so the cost to the college, in excess of the endowment income and the hefce grants, would have been exactly the same. No savings there, in other words, unless the College intends to collar the endowment and transfer it to other things.

The solution proposed -- renaming a professorship from "palaeography" to "palaeography and manuscript studies" -- will however cost an additional £40,000 a year, plus the one-off costs of £170,000 already mentioned. The annual recurring cost (assuming a long-term average yield of 3.5 pct, which is reasonable) will require an endowment of £3.4 million; Professor Ganz required an endowment of £2.2 million, nearly a million of which was already in place.

(Assuming the Hefce grant continues, the figures would be 2.7 million and £1.5 million; that is to say a need to find £1.7 million under the new arrangements, and £0.6 million under the old arrangements if the current endowment transfers to the new post).

Did no-one in the accountancy department ever wonder whether keeping Professor Ganz, asking him to do a few different things, and launching a fund-raising campaign to raise the extra £0.6 million to complete the existing endowment in the years up to his retirement, might not be a cheaper solution, and one more likely to be successful than trying to raise £1.7 million quickly?

If the college indeed thinks that Palaeography is so vital, then such a procedure would have ensured continuity. It would also have lowered the long-term costs, as the risk premium it will have to pay to attract a suitable replacement would be lessened. I think it highly unlikely that any senior academic would risk his career by working at King's for the sums outlined in the report. Not ones with any sense of self-preservation.

Throughout this whole business I have done my best to understand both sides of this affair; on many occasions I have written critically of the management but with, I hope, some understanding of its predicament, even though it has tried very hard to make itself seem as unsympathetic as possible.

Most of the time I have been able to understand where they were coming from, even though I have often disagreed profoundly.

But this one foxes me completely. Given that the stated object was to save money, I can find no rational explanation why King's was prepared to spend so much to oust the Professor of Palaeography, when keeping him would not only have been a cheaper option, it would also have been much more effective in restoring the college's reputation -- for these latest shenanigans merely do more damage.

-- Iain Pears

Thursday, 8 July 2010

On Statements

The statement put out today by King’s college on the future of Palaeography at the college requires one more contribution on the subject.

The statement is remarkable in that the uninitiated would never know that King's actually has a Professorship of Palaeography already. With a true nod to historical example, the current post has been totally airbrushed out of the story. On the surface, it is as though Professor Ganz never existed.

Look more closely, though, and his ghost is everywhere. The college management states the need for the new and improved Professor of Palaeography to “work closely with teachers and researchers in mediaeval vernaculars.”

As no other reason is given for the replacement of the current incumbent, the clear insinuation is that he does not do this, once you rule out the possibility that the management of King's does not consider Professor Ganz's speciality of Carolingian scripts to be mediaeval. Why specialising in Latin rules out any possibility of working closely with a teacher of medieval French is not explained.

It goes on to state that the changes are required to provide “visionary intellectual leadership that takes full advantage of opportunities to develop teaching and research.” Again, the implication is that, at present, Professor Ganz does not provide such leadership.

Even by the standards of poor behaviour set in the past few months, such a statement is petty and churlish in tone, and amateurish in execution. It is also, as has been the habit of King's management actions lately, undisciplined and unnecessary: Professor Ganz has already signed his voluntary termination agreement. To allow insinuations of this sort to appear in a statement now carries a whiff of self-indulgent spite.

It might be pure carelessness, of course, but King's has a large and experienced PR department, and PR people are supposed to be good at making sure that public statements say exactly what is meant, and are not subject to misinterpretation. It would have been perfectly easy to write a gung-ho statement about the new arrangements without implying any criticism of others.

I assume that Professor Ganz, like the 100 or so others who have been pushed into voluntary redundancy, has signed a gagging deal, linking silence about the conduct of management to his redundancy payments. Personally, I find it appalling that a publicly-funded body should use tax-payers' money to stamp out dissent, but it seems now to be standard practice amongst managements who do not acknowledge that anyone has the right to criticise them in any way.

If this is of the standard variety, the wording will be something along the lines of both sides agreeing not to authorise the making or publishing of any derogatory or disparaging statement intended to or which might be expected to damage or lower the reputation of the other. This, at least, is the standard boilerplate wording offered on legal websites.

It would be interesting to get a legal opinion on whether this statement breaches that agreement, and what the consequences of any breach by King’s might be. Would King's, for example, be liable for loss of earnings if it was judged that the statement "might be expected" to cause damage by making it more difficult to get another job?

Professor Ganz, in contrast, has lived up to his side of the bargain; there has not been a peep out of him, either to me or (as far as I know) to anyone else. Many other people at King’s have a great deal to say on the subject of their managers, but have not done so.

It is a pity that some in the senior management of King’s lack this self-discipline and sense of decorum.

But if the management of King’s is voluntarily rendering this part of the redundancy agreements null and void, and effectively confirms this by not withdrawing the statement, then presumably everyone else will also be free to speak as they wish.

Finally, the statement says that it will look for philanthropic funding for the chair, although presumably it has occurred to someone that finding a donor ready to hand over the large amount for an endowment is a hefty task in current circumstances, not least because of recent history.

Equally problematic is the task of attracting suitable applicants when all will know full well about what happened to their predecessor. Few with a tenured job will be tempted, and most of the best practitioners do have that sort of security. Nor will it be that appealing to anyone who currently enjoys pleasant working conditions, or is free to follow the research of their choice without interference. Clearly someone specialising in mediaeval latin will be leery of the idea as well, and that is most of them.

Which raises an intriguing possibility: what if King's finds the money, advertises the job, and the only senior academic with an international reputation who applies is Professor D. Ganz?

-- Iain Pears

the statement can be found at