Celebrate the end of this Vice Chancellor!

But let’s get rid of her accomplices as well

Tuesday’s news that Debra Humphris has decided to leave the University in September is an occasion for genuine celebration and will come as a huge relief to most staff.

The 93% Vote of No Confidence last year made her position untenable and it was inevitable that she would have to leave the University before the end of her second five-year term. 

Her tenure has been a disaster. Her arrival marked the point at which University of Brighton’s fortunes began to go downhill and a once-proud institution embarked on a trajectory of decline, demoralisation, and degeneration.

Debra Humphris’s first act was to close the Hastings campus, an ambitious outreach project which sought to extend access to higher education to the communities of East Sussex. That she will leave just as the Eastbourne campus finally closes its doors, ending the existence of higher education in that town since 1947, lends a macabre symmetry to her term of office. 


In between, Debra Humphris has shown disdain for the local community by axing just about every outward-facing project which sought to strengthen links between the institution and Brighton, Hove and Sussex. The most recent victims were the Grand Parade gallery, South East Screen Archive and Cinema City.

She called this ‘consolidation’, but the core activity of teaching undergraduates and postgraduates has also shrunk massively. The language provision is long gone, UoB now no longer has Geology, Archaeology or Chemistry departments, and our MA provision has been slashed. Without asking anyone, Debra Humphris took the University into the University Alliance, the self-styled club of ‘Britain’s technical universities’, a group of ex-polytechnics committed to degrees with minimal theoretical content.

Debra Humphris’s long-term goal of turning Brighton from an institution capable of offering a full academic experience to students unlikely to make it to a pre-92 university into a provider of technical, vocational training has been evident for some time. The pretence of consultation around shared strategic buzzwords exists merely to disguise a trajectory which is anathema to most staff.

Wage bill 

But it’s her contempt for staff that has been the persistent leitmotif of her tenure. From the outset, Debra Humphris made it known that she believed the wage bill was too high, and that too many academic staff had been promoted. She boasted about giving away her annual bonus not realising that this simply highlighted that it was the size of her salary rather than ours that was the problem. 

In 2017 she provoked the institution’s first local strike since 1990 when she scrapped academic promotions and demoted part-time teaching staff (mostly our own PGRs) from HPL to Demonstrator grade. She had to back down then, but has now repeated the effort by scrapping promotions and demoting PGRs to Graduate Teaching Assistants. 

Gas bill

During UCU’s Four Fights campaign, she infamously told a televised parliamentary select committee that paying the University’s gas bill was a higher priority than enabling her staff to pay theirs.

There has been wave after wave of severance schemes, stripping the institution of invaluable expertise and commitment, and piling ever more pressure on remaining staff. Professional departments were made remote and unresponsive through counterproductive centralisation and efficiency drives, seriously undermining the process of recruiting students. At the beginning of the pandemic, when most operations went online, Humphris sacked the majority of the IT technicians and closed the reprographics department, favouring buying in these services over retaining in-house expertise. 


Finally, she bit off more than she could chew, announcing exactly one year ago that 400 academic were at risk of redundancy of whom 80-97 would lose their jobs. Her vindictiveness towards staff was shown when rather than accept the 80 ‘volunteers’ and leave it at that, she insisted on making a further 22 academics compulsorily redundant, thereby exceeding the upper end of the original target. The indefinite UCU strike which followed, the first in UK HE history, lasted four months and seriously damaged the Vice Chancellor. ‘Debra Out! was the persistent cry on picket lines and demonstrations, and that strike is the single most important reason for her departure now. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the fact that, like Paula Vennells of the Post Office, she was awarded a CBE as she attacked her own staff, she would not have survived the devastating 93% Vote of No Confidence last year.

If the University did exceptionally well in the last REF (which it did), it had nothing to do with Debra Humphris. Rather it was due to the willingness of the then Pro-VC for Research to maintain the UCU-negotiated contractual arrangements which encourage academic staff to engage freely in research activity. That excellent REF result will never be repeated if Debra Humphris’s policy of ending self-managed research time is implemented as threatened.


While it is immensely encouraging that Debra Humphris is leaving, there is a problem. It appears that her immediate entourage of accomplices in this regime of vandalism believe they can stay on. Indeed, one of them, the chief architect of the attacks of academic terms and conditions Andrew Lloyd, has already been named as her interim successor.

This is completely unacceptable. Debra Humphris has ruled with an iron hand but has been dependent for the day-to-day implementation of her destructive policies on Andrew Lloyd, Julie Fryatt, Stephen Dudderidge and Rusi Jaspal. Dudderidge has already seen the writing on the wall and jumped ship. Now we need to ensure that the other three understand that there is no place for them here.

If Brighton University is to survive, we need to ditch the Humphris agenda as well.

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