THE chairman of Glasgow’s Stow College resigned last night amid a furious row with education secretary Mike Russell over a secretly recorded conversation.
Announcing his resignation, Kirk Ramsay accused Mr Russell of making an “unwarranted personal attack” on him, after the minister had called on him to consider his position for taping a private discussion over controversial college
He last night questioned manner in which the matter had been handled, stating that this was “Scotland in the 21st century, not Syria in the 21st century”.
In his statement, Mr Ramsay said: “My passion and commitment for Stow College, and the college education sector as a whole, is too great for me to allow any perceived error on my part to be allowed to inflict damage on the college, its students or staff, executives and board.
“I remain firm in my belief that I have done nothing wrong and intend to clear my name. I especially look forward to meeting with the parliament’s education committee should they decide to launch a formal inquiry, which I sincerely hope they do. I look forward to returning to make useful contributions to college
education in due course.”
He said that his contribution to Stow College and the education had been “both major and undisputed”.
Appearing on Newsnight Scotland last night, Mr Ramsay said the education secretary did not take criticism easily, and in the wake of the controversy Mr Russell had told him that if he had the power to, he would have sacked the former chairman.
He added that many in the college sector were fearful of putting their heads above the parapet.
Mr Ramsay also said that there had been between 80 and 100 people at the original meeting, and insisted that he had recorded proceedings using a pen device because it was about policy and he wanted an accurate note of the discussion.
The acting chairman of the college, Keith McKellar, backed Mr Ramsay’s decision to step down, describing it as, given the circumstances, “the honourable thing to do”.
He added: “It is typical of Kirk to put the college, its students and staff first and by resigning at this time he has, once again, shown his commitment to Stow College.
“There are many challenges facing the further education sector. The board of Stow College is committed to
continuing to play a leading role in the development of the sector.”
When news of the recording emerged last week, a spokesman for Mr Russell accused Mr Ramsay of conduct that “falls well short of that expected” from the chair of a publicly funded college.
Mr Russell sent a letter to those who had also attended the meeting – which had been called with college chiefs concerned about cuts to their budgets – in which he said that Mr Ramsay’s actions had made him question his own confidence in the then chairman’s capacity to do his job.
The education secretary wrote: “I am afraid I do not regard Mr Ramsay’s actions as consistent in any way with the protocol expected at such an event or of the standards I expect [of the chairman of a board of management] of any college.”
He added that it was unprecedented that he should find it necessary to bring to their attention his disappointment concerning the conduct of the chairman of the governing body of a publicly funded institution.
“I do so with deep regret,” he said.
Responding to the resignation, a Scottish Government spokesman last night said: “Mr Russell’s position has been clear throughout this issue.
“This has always been a matter for Mr Ramsay and the board of Stow College. We respect Mr Ramsay’s decision.”
Mr Ramsay had defended his decision to distribute the recording of the discussion about reforms which have led to a wave of college mergers across the country.
Critics of the government have said that the reforms are too hard, with cuts to teaching budgets of £73 million, a reduction in student numbers and more than 1,000 job losses,
A spokesman for Labour said of Mr Ramsay’s resignation: “This is symptomatic of how the SNP government has dealt not just with our colleges but also our broader Scottish life. If those involved in further education disagreed with them, they are bullied and told to shut up. We regret Kirk Ramsay felt the need to resign, but we will be calling for the inquiry that he alludes to because the behaviour of Mike Russell towards further education colleges has been a disgrace.”
Earlier yesterday, Labour education spokesman Hugh Henry told MSPs at Holyrood that staff are “frightened to speak out” against Mr Russell, calling him a “bully” and citing the dispute with Mr Ramsay as evidence.
Mr Russell replied that most of his meetings with the college sector are positive. He said he had “no power to demand any individual’s resignation”, as ministers’ power of direction over the college sector was removed by the previous Labour Scottish Executive.”