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A Christmas insult to the Faculty of Biological Sciences

December 23, 2009

The UCU was disappointed to learn that, even though the University had agreed to meet with UCU through the services of ACAS, it decided to bring forward its job matching process for Professors in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, beginning on 17 December and ending at 9 am on 11 January. The University did this even after committing to ACAS that no action would be taken before our first meeting with them. We were particularly surprised by this choice of dates because (a) without any consultation with UCU, the university foreshortened the consultation period to less than the statutory ten days and (b) the University and UCU had previously jointly agreed hold talks with ACAS, the first meeting of which is scheduled to start on 11 January.

The choice of these dates could hardly have been better chosen to make clear to us the University’s disregard for the processes of consultation and negotiation as set out in the Recognition and Procedure Agreement between the University and the AUT in 1990, an agreement which defines and regulates the relationship between the UCU and the University to this day. The Vice Chancellor told us at the last Joint Committee of the University and the UCU (JCUU) that they intended to work within the terms of our agreement, however some of the University’s actions since belies this, most significantly the issuance of the Job Descriptions within FBS for consultation within two hours of our jointly agreed reference to ACAS.

In addition, the Vice Chancellor told the last Senate meeting (paper S/09/16) that

“A good deal of progress towards the achievement of the staffing reductions has already been made. However, it is now necessary to proceed to a formal restructuring phase, as set out in the University’s “Communication and Consultation During Organisational Change” document. For non-academic staff the job descriptions are sufficiently detailed to allow the necessary “job matching” and appointment procedures to go ahead. For academic posts, because job descriptions are often short and generic, the proposal is that the matching process should include information provided by members of staff about their current academic activities and objectives. This will supplement the job descriptions and avoid the need for an unnecessarily extensive interview process.”

Taking this in the round, what conclusion can we draw other than that the university has at best been economical and ambiguous with the reality when considering what has been said in Senate and what has subsequently been communicated to staff. Under normal circumstances this development would be significant in itself, however what makes this situation so concerning is that members are now under the very real threat of compulsory redundancy. The UCU will respond robustly to defend our members’ interests.

It is the UCU view that the actions of the University go far beyond that presented to the last Senate and are therefore outside the normal Governance of the University. They also run counter to the statutory obligations of the University to protect academic freedom as enshrined in the Education Reform Act, Statute VII Part I para 1. The new job descriptions in the Faculty of Biological Sciences prescribe the absolute areas of work for the academic member of staff and the requirement to obtain research funding in order to be allowed to engage in research at all, thus linking the area of academic research directly to the contract of employment. This de facto places academics ‘in jeopardy of losing their jobs’ for exploring new ideas or moving into new areas of research, particularly if the research is ‘unfunded’ and outside the scope of the job description.

In our view this represents an unprecedented attack on jobs, terms and conditions of employment and academic freedom; taken in totality I believe this is an affront to the idea of the university, its collegiality and a threat to its future.

We want to emphasise that the process of job matching has not been agreed by the UCU. The University is attempting to impose their unsound new system upon staff over the Christmas break.

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