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Cuts at Leeds – The Story so Far in Leeds Student Newspaper

September 24, 2010

Leeds Student Newspaper last week published an abbreviated version of the history of the cuts and the dispute last year. It is a useful, if necessarily cursory, summary of events and can be read here.

Matters have of course progressed from the point at which this article, which covers last academic year, concludes its summary: The UCU continues in dispute with the University management, as it fails to deliver on all aspects of the March 2010 agreement, most notably the failure to implement School and Unit constitutions and the agreement on fixed-term contracts, and the use of the ESRG procedure for ‘reviews’ of over half the University. Leeds UCU registered a procedural dispute over the quantity and scale of the reviews over the summer (half the staff of the university were involved, including all the basic sciences), since it was impossible to carry out the legally required consultation at the speed which the university insisted upon.

School and Unit Constitutions

These are essential if consultation over organisational change is to take place in the collegial manner which is essential if academic freedom is to be protected. Job Losses are the biggest threat to academic freedom; consider that it may take most of a career to establish a new area of study and a heavyweight academic reputation.

At a minimum a School (or unit if a service) Constitution must define who is entitled to attend an academic staff meeting (if the consultation covers academic matters) or a staff meeting (if the consultation involves jobs and conditions of service), how the written report to the ESRG will be agreed and who will convene the meeting. It is a matter of regret that the university has chosen to put half the university into the review process without establishing a correct collegial process for academic consultation.

The current ad hoc process whereby Heads of Schools or Faculty Deans and their nominees fire arguments for organisational change at their staff without first consulting the unions and then without engaging in a collegial and democratic consultation is quite unacceptable. In the view of the UCU, a great deal of the damage done by the current review process, the worst example of which is the one carried out last year in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, can be avoided by addressing organisational change at School and Faculty level in a collegial manner and without the involvement of the Employment Security Review Group.

Fixed Term Contract Agreement

Over the summer, the university issued the first of what are intended to be monthly Section 188 letters of intention to make redundant fixed term contract staff. These notices cover all staff whose contracts are due to terminate within six months of the notice. Remember that part of our dispute earlier in the year was that the university had not followed the required procedures under employment law, and the release of these letters represents an informal acceptance of this argument. We are currently meeting the university, together with the other trade unions, in order to formalise an effective procedure to mitigate redundancies of fixed term contract staff which will hopefully lead to an improvement to the conditions of service of this group of staff.

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