The Managing Director of the Union, Jarlath O’Hara, announced on 18th November that he will be stepping down from his role at the end of December. The announcement was made via an email sent internally to ICU staff, and marks the end of Jarlath’s four-year tenure in the role.
In the email, the only reason provided for the decision was that “the time is right for someone new to lead on developing the Union through the years ahead.” The news comes as the Union is developing its new three-year strategy for the 2020-2023 period.
Jarlath’s departure marks the first member of the Union’s Senior Management Group to be caught in the recent wave of resignations from the Union, which has resulted in a severe short-staffing problem. His four-year tenure also marked him as one of the most experienced remaining staff members in the Union, and the second-most experienced in the Senior Management Group.
The resignation notice followed a meeting with Jill Finney, the Chair of the Union’s Board of Trustees – the body which provides oversight to the activities of the Union as a whole – after prior discussions firstly amongst the external Trustees on the Board, and then including the Officer Trustees (the Union President and Deputy Presidents, who are student representatives), who also sit on the Board.
The email was shortly followed by another from Jill on behalf of the Board of Trustees, in which next steps were clarified. Specifically, it was noted that the College would be providing support and that an interim “operations-focused” measure would be put in place while recruitment for a new Managing Director is ongoing.
This was followed on Tuesday 26th with an email from the Union President, Abhijay Sood, on behalf of Jill, containing a confirmation that the interim measure would constitute senior Support Services Directors and their teams from within College, and that Jon Tucker, the Faculty Operating Officer for the Business School, would be acting as lead on providing said support. Faculty Operating Officers generally provide leadership on delivering operational support within faculties, and are often responsible for things such as administrative functions and planning or budgetary activities.
The process of selecting Jon was reportedly managed primarily by Jill, after discussions with the external and Officer Trustees. A request was put in to College for suggestions for which College staff members may be suitable. Out of the candidates, Joe Cooper (formerly staff at the Union who then moved to College HR) endorsed Jon. The Officer Trustees confirmed they were happy with the selection, though they will only be officially meeting with Jon in this capacity for the first time on Monday.
The College is already heavily involved with supporting Union operations after the high staff turnover has left gaps in service provision. Examples include the backlog of room bookings unanswered by the Activities team – who are currently left with only a single staff member – being taken over by College’s Events and Conference team, and College Estates working with the Commercial Services directorate to address hygiene and electrical safety issues in the kitchen in 568.
However, this represents the first time that College staff have stepped in at the most senior level, at which decisions regarding the overall direction and vision of the Union are made.
When queried about whether College’s involvement would interfere with the Union’s remit of advocating for students, which may require an oppositional stance against College decisions, Abhijay said:
“We welcome the support being offered by College. Of course we have to be wary of areas where there might be conflicts of interest, but when it comes to Jon and the other staff members, my understanding is they’re here to help us fix some of the fundamentals (e.g. Health and Safety). They aren’t here to set a new strategic direction for the Union or give input on what stance we take with College in a negotiation. To be clear, Jon isn’t the new Jarlath; while we’ll be getting help for some of Jarlath’s current day-to-day responsibilities, this isn’t us appointing a new Managing Director.”
However, the email distributed by Abhijay on behalf of Jill Finney stated that the working relationship will include long-term strategic advice: “Jon will also be working with the President, the Officer Trustees, the Senior management team and Board of Trustees to help us review our strategy and priorities both in the short term and looking to the longer term.”
As a result, what precise role Jon Tucker and, as an extension, the College will play in the Union’s ongoing strategy and decision-making remains unclear and will reportedly be fleshed out in the coming week.