What’s In A Legacy?

In a recent blog, our sister Union UCU expressed disappointment at the Chair of Council’s summary of Professor Brian Cantor’s time at the helm of University of Bradford.

With the appointment of Shirley Congdon as the new Vice Chancellor of the University of Bradford, it seems an appropriate time for ourselves to also reflect on the last few years. In a similar vein, then, let us look back at Cantor’s stated aims – in his own words – and decide for ourselves what his legacy is.

Upon being appointed as VC, he made a series of statements, below are some of the more striking ones that we feel he should be judged against:

at Bradford we understand what we’re good at and we’re concentrating on that.

In reality the university has, under Cantor’s leadership, consistently recorded financial deficits. Notwithstanding some creative accounting, the deficit in the last recorded year rose to £11.7m, following on from £3.4m and £1.9m deficits in previous years.

Cantor’s original stated aim was:

to build self confidence in these intrinsic strengths and promote them more effectively beyond the university. And that, I felt I could do.

In reality we ended up with a failed medical school bid (which, again, came at significant financial cost). For reference, see the Heslington East Campus which was built at York to much fanfare, but left the finances of that institution severely depleted.

Cantor also proclaimed that:

we see our management school as a key part of our identity as a technology university.

In reality he systematically dismantled, as a separate entity, this jewel in the university’s crown.

The above statements are revealing enough, however most damning of all, was Cantor’s statement upon appointment of the following:

I look forward to working with the university’s staff, students, alumni, friends and partners, to help build its future strength and success.

In reality, repeated hits to staff morale eventually left it at rock bottom. A year of concerted industrial action, by both UCU and Unison eventually forced his hand and brought Cantor’s reign to an ignominious end.

If we were to be kind, it is possible to believe that Cantor underestimated, or misjudged, the size and / or uniqueness of the problems and issues that afflict Bradford (the university and the city). There were also changes in the sector beyond his control.

However, what is inexcusable, is one man’s intransigence. Bloody mindedness and strength of character are qualities to be admired, when used to best effect, in the right context. When imparted in the wrong way, to the wrong people however, there will only ever be one winner. And, as Jose Mourinho keeps proving, that won’t be The Boss.

It is well known that Cantor came here with designs on a Knighthood; on his white charger he was going to transform the finances, ranking and reputation of an institution on its knees, taking the personal and private acclaim that would bring.

He would have been welcome to the former, if he’d left us with the latter.

Instead, what transpired was that the horse was a bull, and now not only do we have no china, but no money to buy anymore.

So, what will Cantor’s real legacy be?

Repainted toilets, ladies and gentlemen, repainted toilets.
And doesn’t that tell us everything…