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


  1. Our recent experiences at Middlesex were precisely that in fact HEFCE grants continue regardless of the axing of the personnel that won said grants, and indeed led us to suspect that the retention of such grants without overheads was precisely the rationale for the axing of staff. One might further suspect that a similar rationale could apply to endowments, depending of course on the specific conditions of such funds.

  2. Nothing of strict relevance to add; I just wanted to point out that you have to separate labels with commas for them to work properly.

  3. Asking *and* expecting an advanced academic to "do a few different things"? Hahahahahahaha!

  4. Eric Schliesser12 July 2010 at 09:12

    Thank you for this!