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Petition to Lord Mandelson – Claim that University of Leeds broke its own rules

February 2, 2010

The University of Leeds has been hit with a formal challenge that accuses the institution of breaking key rules on how the university is regulated. The challenge, in the form of a Petition to the Visitor* of the university (Lord Mandelson in his capacity as Lord President of the Council), from a member of staff claims the university bypassed the body responsible for the academic mission of the university, the Senate, when it implemented a restructure plan for the Faculty of Biological Sciences (FBS).

The University and College Union (UCU) has confirmed it is acting on behalf a member of staff in FBS. The action calls for an investigation to determine whether the restructuring plans were already too advanced by the time the Senate had the chance to see and influence them and therefore fulfil its regulatory duty.

The Petition, submitted on Friday (29 January), claims the academic mission is the responsibility of the Senate and that the university’s Council and executive were not empowered, under the university’s rules of governance, to alter it without the consent of the Senate which, UCU claims, was not obtained at the proper time, or indeed at all.

UCU has noted that as a consequence the FBS academic mission has been drastically altered by the loss of staff and the impact is already being felt by students who are now struggling to find a supervisor with the specialist knowledge required. The union has highlighted the Petition made to the Visitor at the University of Keele in 2008 in which the Visitor emphasised importance of the role of Senate.

The Petition also calls for all further action related to a current ‘Economies Exercise’ to find savings and axe more jobs to be put on hold while the Visitor investigates the complaint. The Petition argues that a failure to do so risks the same mistakes being made and that the current proposals being considered by Council and the university management will drastically alter the academic mission of the university. These proposals, it says, must be adequately scrutinised by the Senate.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “Our universities spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and it is right and just that there is proper scrutiny of how they spend that money and why certain decisions around their academic missions are taken. The recent shambles at London Metropolitan University is an all-too recent and painful example of what can happen if proper scrutiny is not given to universities’ decisions and actions.

“No institution can, or can be seen to be, circumnavigating its own governance procedures and an urgent investigation needs to happen so everyone can have full confidence in how Leeds is conducting itself. It is quite right and proper that any further job loss exercises should be put on hold until this situation is properly cleared up.”

*Note: The Visitor of the university is responsible for ensuring that the institution conducts its affairs in accordance with its Charter and Statutes.

Update: The University posts the petition on campusweb

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathryn permalink
    February 3, 2010 11:42 PM

    How ironic,

    1) Your union accuses the University of:
    ignoring the role of Senate and circumventing procedures in its action on the Economies Exercise

    2) You are unhappy with Senate’s voting diplomatically not to pause proceedings so you ignore the vote of Senate and seek to circumvent procedures in your action of calling in the visitor.

    Why would it be okay for one party to ignore Senate and not for another?

  2. February 4, 2010 9:22 AM

    You seem to miss the point, Kathryn. UCU accept the agreements of Senate. A member of staff in FBS has taken out a petition to the visitor on the issue of failure to consult Senate (amongst other matters), and UCU support that position. This does not indicate any contradiction.

  3. Peter White permalink
    February 4, 2010 9:25 AM

    I’m not sure Kathryn understands the concept of ‘irony’. But she is not alone in being happy to see the University bypass its own regulations. She must clearly stand in that small minority who think that is acceptable behaviour.

    Has the UCU bypassed its own regulations? Answer: no. If it had, she might actually have the shred of an argument.

  4. Alison Fotheringham permalink
    February 6, 2010 1:52 PM

    I’m guessing this is Kathryn Rose. If it is, will you tell us Kathryn why we should vote for you as Education officer if you repeatedly fail to condemn management for possible breach of rules and law, including here, and whether you will represent the views of the majority of us who want to support UCU?

  5. Kathryn permalink
    February 6, 2010 9:31 PM

    My job is to represent students rather than staff; staff have their own unions. I also think it would be inappropriate for me to make a judgement over whether the university has breached its own regulations or not at the present time, bearing in mind that the judgement on that one is to be made by Lord Mandelson who has far more experience in making such judgements, once his verdict is in it will be possible to ascertain whether there is a case for the university to answer or not.
    I am intrigued by the confidence you have in speaking on the behalf of the majority of students since the majority of students have not been asked yet! I have presented my opinions to the student population but they are my opinions and research alone. I do not believe in stating what the majority of students think on this issue until after the next referendum, where there will be a motion on this issue, after students have told us what they think it will be possible to act on it – asking the student population questions and then acting on the answer is my idea of representation.

  6. Alison Fotheringham permalink
    February 7, 2010 11:41 AM

    Thanks for not hiding Kathryn. It is you. I think it is possible to come to a judgement over whether the uni have breached their own rules, even before Mandelson does. However, if you prefer to wait, what position will you take if he concludes the Uni did breach their rules and UCU was right all along?

    We have been asked – there was a survey on the ‘Education First’ pages after the shameful email form was removed. We’ve filled it in. The word in the union is that 60% of us filing in the form support the strike. Will you ask them to publish those results? If that is the majority view, will you support it?

  7. February 7, 2010 11:50 AM

    Dear Alison and Kathryn

    While it is great that people discuss and debate these issues, I wonder if this is the best forum for you to pursue this. We are happy to continue to post your discussion, and any comments others want to make (we have a policy of not censoring comments) but issues concerning LUU elections and opinions might best be served on LUU blogs.

  8. Alison Fotheringham permalink
    February 12, 2010 12:38 PM

    Given the announcement today (12 February) that Lord Mandelson agrees there is a case to be answered, and has asked the University to put the cuts on hold, does our representative Kathryn still think that a possible breach of Senate by the University is equal in blameworthiness to the UCU arguing that there was a breach of Senate? Will she now call for a full investigation of the possible breach of charter and statutes, or will she continue to hold her doctrinaire ‘anything the UCU says must be wrong’ attitude?

    Will LUU publish the results of the questionnaire that replaced the ignoble email form?

  9. Kathryn permalink
    February 12, 2010 1:17 PM

    The decision that there is a case to be answered is not the same as proclaiming a verdict on that case; you insinuate that bringing a thing to a trial is the akin to a guilty verdict and I must differ from you on this point. I think that any call by me for an investigation would be rather superfluous: since I gather that the effect of the UCU contacting Lord Mandelson will cause an investigation to occur regardless of my calling for one or not. I see little point in calling for that which is already occuring.

    A little point of factual clarification; my comment was on the UCU choosing to circumvent the decision of Senate, not on their decision to argue that there was a breach. I still fail to see why one the university choosing to ignore senate, assuming this is the case, would be more or less justified than the UCU ignoring senate. Either Senate’s decision is the deciding factor on cuts or it is not. If it is the deciding factor then the UCU should not be seeking to circumvent Senate’s decision; if it is not the deciding factor then alleged ignorance of Senate is not grounds for this action. So, is Senate’s decision the final word for the UCU or not?

    I shall now heed the advice of ‘Leeds UCU’ and ask that if you have any further questions you contact me on:

  10. February 12, 2010 1:41 PM

    Thanks to both of you for your continued debate on this issue. For point of clarification, in what way has UCU breached University regulations as regards Senate Kathryn? Happy as ever to discuss such things openly.

  11. Kathryn permalink
    February 12, 2010 1:50 PM

    I am stating, and this is all I am stating, that by putting a motion to senate which requested the pausing of the cuts process and review of it (a motion which fell) the UCU most definitely recieved the decision that Senate did not wish the process to be halted and reviewed. The UCU then appealed to Lord Mandelson that the decision should be halted and reviewed. This is a clear instance of Senate saying that it did not approve of a course of action and the UCU ignoring Senate’s decision by going to Lord Mandelson and asking him to overule the verdict of Senate.

  12. February 12, 2010 1:57 PM

    The facts, for clarification

    The motion in question called for
    a.) a thorough assessment of the academic implications of the economies exercise to be presented to our next meeting of Senate for discussion.
    b.) the setting up of a sub-group to seek the views of the academic community at Leeds, including both staff and students and their representatives.
    c.) To place on hold those processes currently in train until this Senate has had an opportunity to consider the evidence on potential academic impact from the sub-group.
    Senate voted against these measures, and UCU respects that.

    Quite separate to this, a member of staff from FBS had the right to access complaints procedures, including a petition to the visitor. We do not condone people being criticised for accessing the appropriate channel for complaints. As a UCU member, he received our support in making that petition. That petition called for an examination into breaches of Charter and Statutes as regards the function of Senate.

    The request for a pause in the processes is, then very different in the two cases. The first was put as a motion by a member or staff to Senate, the second was put by different member of staff to the visitor.

    We believe that members of staff should have access to the complaints procedures that are in place.

    Had in fact Senate voted on the issue of wether or not there had been a breach of Charter and Statues, and that had fallen, then it would still be within the rights of individual members of staff to complain, just as any decision by any equivalent advisory or executive body can be appealed. However, this was not the case.

  13. Alison Fotheringham permalink
    February 12, 2010 1:59 PM

    Kathryn – do you argue that members of staff should not use the complaints procedures in place just because a different member of staff put a motion on a different subject to Senate that did not succeed?

  14. February 12, 2010 2:02 PM

    We will continue to approve messages here, if you wish to continue, but we hope it is clear now that Kathryn has mistaken two very separate issues, and we hope she respects the rights of members of staff, or students, to use any legitimate complaints procedure, including appealing against any decision.

    Of course, it is correct that Peter Mandelson has yet to make his verdict. Perhaps we might wait until he does so before continuing this discussion.

  15. Kathryn permalink
    February 12, 2010 4:40 PM

    I can see that I have mistakenly assumed that two issues being handled by the same people at pretty similar times which seem contraditory; for being contradictory. I shall, however, follow your advice on witholding comment further until we have a verdict.

  16. February 12, 2010 4:59 PM

    Two different issues handled by completely different people (one a member of Senate, another a member of FBS), yes, that is correct. And at very different times (November 2009 and January 2010). Yes, that’s right.

    The letter from the visitor to the University stated that the visitor would investigate the concern that “Senate has failed to discharge its functions adequately and that decisions have been taken on restructuring without the full knowledge or agreement of the University’s Senate, as required by the Charter and Statutes of the University.”

    I’m sure we can all agree that these are serious concerns. And that if a decision is made in Senate, it is possible for that decision to manifest “a failure to discharge its functions adequately.”

    But, as they say, the jury is still out.

  17. Alison Fotheringham permalink
    February 12, 2010 5:02 PM

    But the LUU position is that we should not ask whether Senate has failed to discharge its duties. We should not complain when we perceive that our rules and regulations have been breached. No, we should be happy with what the University decided and of course everything UCU says has to be wrong, doesn’t it?

    Good grief.

  18. Kathryn permalink
    February 12, 2010 5:12 PM

    Okay, I hold my hands-up, I’ve made a mistake (one of the joys of being human). After going 15 rounds with your communications person and a similar amount on here I am willing to concede a mistake. I still disagree with many of your points but I am taking a break from you and him.

    My final point is this – if the UCU announces that classes are to be rescheduled that were on strike days (so that no learning is missed) then I’ll stay away from uni on the 3 strike days -> if students miss-out on that learning I am crossing the picket line. I am not so big-headed as to think one student’s actions will influence a whole union – I’m just telling you where I stand.

  19. Alison Fotheringham permalink
    February 12, 2010 7:56 PM

    Yeah, I agree. When the bin men were on strike I said I’d support them if they collected my bins, and when the firemen were on strike I said I wouldn’t support them unless they still put out fires, and when the coal miners were on strike I said I’d still support them if they still went down the pits.

    Some people.

    i know you’re a Tory Kathryn, but even the Tories wouldn’t say that!

    Good grief!

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