University of Limerick review sharply critical of HR practices

College says it has completed ‘root and branch’ reform of governance

University of Limerick: “The president of UL has also been on the record in acknowledging that suspending employees for over two years is not acceptable management practice”

University of Limerick: “The president of UL has also been on the record in acknowledging that suspending employees for over two years is not acceptable management practice”

 

Shortcomings in human resources and management practices at the University of Limerick are sharply criticised in a soon-to-be-published review into alleged misconduct at the institution, it is understood.

The investigation was triggered after concerns were raised over the way the university handled a series of disciplinary proceedings against staff and severance packages as well as its use of confidentiality agreements.

Two staff members who raised concerns about HR and financial practices at UL have been suspended for more than two years.

In addition, at least three former employees at the centre of concerns or complaints were given severance packages worth more than €600,000. Two of these individuals were later re-employed on lucrative contracts.

While the university last year rejected calls for an independent review of allegations of misconduct, the college’s president, Dr Des Fitzgerald, quickly reversed this position when he took over as college president earlier this year.

The review was commissioned by the Department of Education and Higher Education Authority (HEA) and carried out by Dr Richard Thorn, former president of Sligo Institute of Technology.

UL’s unwieldy governing authority – which has had as many as 40 members in the past – has also faced criticism for not properly holding the college to account.

Not fully forthcoming

A spokesman for UL said the university had co-operated with and supported the review process. “UL has not seen the report and so will take time to study its findings and recommendations on it publication,” he said.

Dr Fitzgerald has apologised to both the HEA and the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee for the fact that the university had previously not been fully forthcoming with information it should have made available.

The university, meanwhile, has completed what it describes as “root and branch” changes at senior governance level in advance of the report’s findings.

In recent days, UL’s governing authority has confirmed a number of changes including a reduction in its size from 35 to 29 members and new fixed limits for members.

The spokesman said this reduction means there will be a greater emphasis on external representation among its membership. The new governing authority is scheduled for election by December.

In addition, it says there has been a major restructuring of senior management at the university.

Two suspensions

The university is also assigning an external person to work with the two employees currently suspended with the hope of achieving a resolution.

“The president of UL has also been on the record in acknowledging that suspending employees for over two years is not acceptable management practice, noting that UL has a duty of care to all of its employees. UL hopes the publication of this report will clear the way for a resolution of this issue,” the spokesman said.

An independent audit by Deloitte – commissioned by the university – into a range of issues relating to declarations of interests, HR issues and severance payments has been completed.

The governing authority has directed UL’s executive to implement all these recommendations, which have also fed in Dr Thorn’s review.

A new vice-president for academic affairs and student engagement has been appointed, as has a director of strategic projects and transformation.

This is in addition to new deans of graduate and professional studies, education and health sciences and arts humanities and social sciences

There have also been appointments of special advisers in governance, diversity and equality, and European policy.