Cutting edge science: college plays beat the clock

David Boy and friend

Time-warp: Imperial’s director of estates, Mr David Brooks Wilson, and deputy rector Prof Leszek Borysiewicz. Is the Concordat limping along on three wheels already?

Yesterday we showed you how Imperial College’s views were able to shift radically — from no job losses in Wye, to lots, possibly compulsory — in four years. Now we demonstrate another marvellous trick, surely beyond the grasp of mere mortals.

Read on to discover the college’s amazing control over the time-space continuum.

Professor Boris January 06

What Wye was told in public on January 9, 2006

Above is Imperial deputy rector and chief Concordat-wallah Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, recorded in the official college report of the infamous January 9 meeting in Wye. Locals may have thought this a disaster in public relations, but not Imperial. Mr David Brooks Wilson, its estates director, was heard to remark happily afterwards, ‘That went rather well.’ Among the many questions residents wanted answered was why they heard nothing of the £1billion Concordat until December 6, 2005. Prof Boris had a straight answer. The college ‘has not yet developed plans’.

Now take a look at this extract from the internal ‘briefing note’ produced after a monthly meeting of the Imperial College management board, its most senior decision-making body, and the one that ultimately decides what happens and what doesn’t.

Management board November 05

What the private college board meeting was told… but when?

All clear? This was a meeting at which one assumes a long and apparently detailed discussion took place on the Wye Park project, since it represents the biggest single financial project on Imperial’s current horizon. You can find the note in full, along with the college’s version of the January meeting at the foot of this story. To those of us used to private management meetings the phrase ‘presentation’ usually means that mind-numbing blend of graphics, tables and… yes, plans, as it says here, all wrapped up in PowerPoint. After all, would you want to stand up in front of the most senior governing body of an institution with an annual turnover of £434 million (2003-4) and say, ‘I have this great idea, see… just give me the go-ahead and don’t ask for any details’?

Quite. And when did this meeting take place? On November 24, 2005, six weeks before Prof Boris, with Mr Brooks Wilson at his side, was standing up in Wye in a world where no such plans existed.

Science always did baffle me. It’s amazing what they can do these days.

PS. A quick word to any Imperial staff out there. The college has adopted a policy on what is known in some quarters, certainly among members of the management board, since this is how they refer to it, as the ‘whistle blowers’ charter’. This means that if you believe you have encountered malpractice or impropriety you can make confidential information about that public without fear of reprisal (though like any other news organisation, we would never, ever disclose the source of a story, naturally). You can read the details of Imperial’s policy here.

One possible defence for public interest disclosure would be if someone felt Imperial had failed to live up to the standards outlined in its own preamble: the College is committed to the highest standards of openness, probity and accountability. There would be a lot of ‘public interest’ in a copy of that presentation.

Imperial management board notes November 24 2005

Imperial report on the Wye meeting

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About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome. Most recent book the novel of the Danish TV series, The Killing.
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