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Leaked emails reveal extraordinary row between Mac chiefs

Professor Tom Inns examines plans of the west wing of the Mackintosh Building

Former Glasgow School of Art (GSA) director Tom Inns was put on sick leave against his wishes just weeks before he resigned from the disaster-struck institution, leaked emails have revealed 

The correspondence, which was forwarded by a GSA whistleblower to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), has revealed details of an extraordinary rift between Inns and chair of the school’s board Muriel Gray.

According to the emails, Inns wrote to colleagues at the school late on the Friday night of 12 October 2018, saying Gray had signed him off as sick ‘despite being completely well’.

Inns contacted fellow staff from a personal email account, saying his access to GSA IT systems had been suspended and he was ‘very, very concerned’ about the position that put the school in.

On Friday 2 November 2018, Inns shocked the profession by handing in his resignation while MSPs were still conducting an inquiry into the fire that destroyed the school’s Mackintosh Building earlier that year.

In his resignation statement, he said it was ‘time for a new director to work with the board to deliver the future vision for GSA’.

But the October email – published in full by The Sunday Post – gives an insight into events at the school in the wake of the 2018 blaze.

Inns wrote: ‘I am very, very concerned about the position the GSA has been put in this evening. I met Muriel Gray yesterday and she told me that, based on her judgement, I was to be signed off on sick leave due to stress … an interesting move when … I am completely well.’

This is a totally bizarre situation to be put in

He added: ‘This is a totally bizarre situation to be put in. Although the last 16 weeks have been stressful, I am totally capable of fulfilling the roles of GSA director.’

He went on to say that the suspension of his GSA email account meant ‘normal communication links had been compromised’, leaving the school ‘vulnerable’ in the event of an emergency.

A second leaked email, from Gray to Inns some six hours before his own, warned he was ‘continuing to work despite being explicitly instructed to stop’.

Gray described this as ‘unacceptable’. She gave Inns until 6pm – just 38 minutes – to reassure her that he had ceased, saying otherwise she would ‘arrange for your IT access to be temporarily removed’.

A letter from the whistleblower to the SFC claimed that ‘complete disregard for good governance’ had ‘continued unchecked’ since Inns departed, and that 70 members of staff had left in the space of nine months.

Glasgow architect Alan Dunlop, who has called for a major investigation into how the 2018 fire was caused and handled, said: ‘With the performance of the GSA board, its attitude toward the local community and now these disturbing new revelations involving Tom Inns and Muriel Gray, I absolutely support the call for a full public inquiry on the causes and aftermath of the fire.’

The school has been through a tough period since the 2018 fire, the second major blaze at the Mac in less than five years.

Local residents and businesses threatened legal action last summer, while former employee Eileen Reid told MSPs the school should step aside from the rebuild and concentrate on teaching students.

Scotland’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee this summer said it was ‘extremely disappointed’ by the school’s response to a report it published on the blaze, saying the GSA sought to undermine witness evidence.

Gray herself took a step back from her role as chair of the school in June, citing family reasons and saying she looked forward to returning during the 2019/20 academic year.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Funding Council said this week: ‘We are engaging regularly with the Glasgow School of Art as it continues to respond to the challenges of the 2018 fire.

‘Our aim is to ensure that high standards of good governance are being maintained and the quality of the learning experience is sustained. Staffing matters are the responsibility of individual institutions. Where there has been a requirement to consult with the Scottish Funding Council, the board of the Glasgow School of Art has done so.’

A spokesperson for Glasgow School of Art said: ’I am sure you will appreciate that we can’t comment on specific circumstances relating to members of staff, past or present.’


Readers' comments (2)

  • I agree with Alan Dunlop..something wrong with the governance here . JIm Cuthbertson (retired Glasgow Architect) still interested at 77! (cuthj@aol.com)

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  • Jim, my comments after the fire, were primarily on what should happen next and in trying to provoke a public debate on the future of the building, with a call to consider a competition for a new building and not to just replicate Mackintosh's original design which cannot be done.

    It was not to discover who was to blame.

    However, the revelations uncovered in the last few months, including the "row" between Tom Inns and Muriel Gray, and questions over his departure, but also the resignation of so many staff and now the the GSA finance director Alistair Milloy, with added questions over funding and insurances still to be fully answered I believe it is time for a full enquiry.

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