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Shooting the Messenger, Managerialism and Inequalities

RHUL-UCU made equalities a priority for 2018. Equal Pay Audits have shown Royal Holloway with a large and increasing gender pay gap and poor representation of BAME and disabled staff, notably at the most senior levels of management.

Following damaging publicity highlighting senior management’s out-dated attitudes, RHUL-UCU’s current Equalities and Diversity Officer, Professor Jeff Frank, and former Equalities and Diversity Officer, Professor Clare Bradley, were invited by senior management to devise suggestions for reducing the gender pay gap. These included, among others, ensuring that all staff were considered for promotion and professorial banding; greater clarity in appointments to panels; having a diverse panel membership; preventing the same individuals judging colleagues at each assessment stage; and, crucially, an independent appeals process on promotion and banding decisions.

No HR officer attended the meeting, held on 14 March 2018, and senior management failed to follow up discussions despite promising to do so. The flicker of interest in gender and BAME inequality seemingly faded alongside waning damaging national and local publicity.

When, soon afterwards, Times Higher Education reported that Royal Holloway was 5th from the bottom in the gender pay gap league table for all staff in British universities, it was a shaming outcome for an institution founded to promote female education.

As is widely discussed, Human Resources at Royal Holloway has been a troubled department for many years. In more recent times, it has had neither the capacity nor the inclination for constructive engagement with staff, and prefers to suppress justifiable criticism. Managerial authoritarianism and union-bashing are cover for its shortcomings in not setting a creative long-term agenda, and it has so far never put forward any viable plan to address the College’s failures in gender pay and other inequalities.

Jeff has been suspended as a result of his case-work on behalf of other members of staff, and he is not at the moment able to act as the branch Equalities and Diversity Officer. Legally, suspension from work is not a neutral act; it should follow due process; it should not be undertaken so lightly; and it should not be used to stifle dissent or the rights of staff to state their case. HR’s hard-line approach to the pension strike did not reflect an ambition to create a top-rank academic community and institution, and Jeff’s suspension and other recent failings show that the lessons of the strike have not been learnt.

Posted on behalf of members of the RHUL-UCU committee.

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Union Bashing, Managerialism and Academic Freedom

The suspension of Jeff Frank is a quickly worsening situation. For no justifiable reason, management this week ruled that Jeff could not come on to campus to attend the RHUL-UCU Branch Committee meeting.

That decision was further proof of an intent to undermine and attack the local UCU. The College’s HR department would prefer a union that will in future defend its members only in a way that HR deems fit. We can now assume that Jeff will not be able to report as Equalities Officer to our forthcoming AGM, which will also discuss how UCU nationally should respond to HR’s new anti-union attitude.

As you know from the previous blog, Jeff’s suspension as a result of case-work on behalf of members runs counter to the right under College statutes for an academic to express controversial or unpopular opinions without loss of job or any other detriment. Furthermore, the recognition agreement with the College recognizes the right of UCU officers to pursue union duties and policies without ‘in any way affect[ing] their employment with the College‘. Relations between UCU and HR are now somewhere between appalling to even worse.

It is probably true that Jeff may not be too popular with HR or senior management, but, working at a British university, he had not assumed that was a requirement of employment. The attack on Jeff is a very personal one, and a misplaced signal to the local UCU. As well as being a union activist and case-worker, Jeff is known as a campaigner for LGBTQ rights, and took RHUL to an employment tribunal. In our view, it seems that this action and his work on equalities have not been forgotten. One of Jeff’s influential papers was a study of Gay Glass Ceilings, which showed that gay men were not being promoted in British universities, and that lesbians reported high rates of harassment and bullying.

While suspended, Jeff is unable to do casework. He cannot continue with existing cases, much less take on new ones. Given Jeff’s expertise in the workplace experience of BME, disabled, female and LGBTQ employees, this creates a significant gap in the local branch’s casework team. Senior Management should be mindful that strong, expert caseworkers are in everyone’s interest, and can apply the branch’s policy of seeking to resolve workplace issues as quickly and as informally as possible.

Thank you for the many responses to messages. Another reason for this blog was to answer questions about how you might practically help. You should express your concerns about Jeff’s suspension for him personally and for the wider issues it highlights about Royal Holloway.

Under RHUL’s selectively overlooked statutes, College Council retains ultimate responsibility for all matters affecting the appointment, employment, and conditions of service of Members of Academic Staff. You can contact or ask other interested parties to contact the Chair of Council and Council members through David Ashton, the College Secretary.

If you feel uncomfortable doing so, please instead write expressing your concerns to your M.P., other unions or union branches. Raising awareness on social media is another option, for this week, and no doubt in the weeks ahead.

Another practical way to help is to contribute to a legal fund. Details on how to do this will be circulated soon.

Posted on behalf of the RHUL UCU branch committee.

RHUL UCU Annual General Meeting

The branch committee have decided to cancel the Extraordinary General meeting that was to be held on 9th May. After consideration the Committee felt that this meeting would be too close to the Annual General Meeting which was already scheduled for the 23rd May.

You are therefore invited to attend the RHUL UCU Annual General Meeting on 23rd May at 12.30–2.30pm in the Moore Annex Lecture Theatre. The agenda for this meeting will be circulated soon. The elections for next year’s committee members will take place at the meeting.

Please remember that you can subscribe to the blog to keep up with news and announcements from the branch – just click the ‘follow’ button to the top right of this page.

UCU – A union transformed; a report on the recent activists’ assembly for UCU members

Last Saturday around 150 UCU members (representing around 35 universities and 25 FE colleges) met in response to UCU London Region’s call to attend an organising event, distributed in the closing days of the dispute. The assembled discussed worrying developments in the setting up of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) and a wide range of challenges to FE & HE in the UK, before considering organising issues of general relevance.

Presentations revealed disturbing outcomes from both the UCU Higher Education Committee’s and the USS Joint Negotiating Committee’s meetings the previous day. Documents for these meetings were deemed confidential but the crux of them was that calls for elections to form the JEP, calls for accountability of decision making to scheme members, and calls for progress to be transparent were refused – indeed participants must sign a confidentiality clause. Those involved in the HEC meeting were so incensed that the documents were leaked and can now be accessed, with a summary.

The trust that underpinned members’ acceptance of the outline proposal to resolve the pension dispute in April has thus already been betrayed. The time line for formation of the JEP is so tight that the process will be complete before UCU’s annual conference, so it is unclear how members with concerns can influence these plans. The most obvious routes for protest against these three flaws in the establishment of JEP are via Twitter and direct messages to Sally Hunt. Elected representatives were investigating other routes for members to express their dissent, and will no doubt make any promising routes public.

The meeting moved on to more optimistic ground, reflecting on the unexpected strength of the industrial action and the widespread recognition of the strength of our cause. Reports indicate that twenty four thousand members were recruited in February this year. This is truly astounding and represents an increased chance to influence changes locally and nationally. The meeting discussed means to ensure that the momentum generated by the recent campaign is not lost. A state of heightened mobilisation was recommended, both as a means to exert pressure over ongoing pension negotiations but also in preparation for the pay campaign. This year’s pay claim addresses an extremely broad range of problems in HE; from a significant collapse in our real wages to ever increasing, onerous workloads, from the ongoing gender pay gap to the continuing reliance on casualised staff, all are components in this year’s campaign. Whilst many casualised and insecure staff took action recently in support of decent pensions with little hope of drawing one, this campaign allows us to stand in solidarity with one another, to improve a host of our employment conditions. It also provides an opportunity to maintain our level of mobilisation and fight for a better future for HE than the current marketisation of the sector suggests.

A personal view from a member of the Branch Committee.

Academic Freedom, Managerialism and Suspensions

In our previous message, RHUL-UCU let you know that HR with the agreement of senior management had suspended Jeff Frank for acting on behalf of colleagues as a union case-worker and for carrying out his duties as branch Equalities and Diversity Officer. It will soon be three weeks during which Jeff has been suspended for ‘reasons’ that do not withstand any objective scrutiny.

Staffing matters at RHUL have in recent years been marked by a strong managerialism, demanding compliance to bizarre and inconsistent decisions and processes. Jeff’s suspension represents union bashing after a successful strike. Furthermore, Stefan Collini has recently reminded us of how much is at stake. Universities need to be places of free debate and robustly expressed opinions, but, instead, we are witnessing ‘the daily erosion of intellectual integrity’ and ‘the tightening grip of managerialist autocracy’.

Academic freedom requires that lecturers cannot be threatened with dismissal without extremely good cause.

It is not even two years since RHUL introduced its new College statutes and five associated employment policies. Drawn up in the spirit of cooperation and inclusion, they now look very hollow documents. You can make your own judgement with this statute clause:

9.1 Staff engaged in academic activity as part of their employment shall have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or suffering other detriment.

Jeff has been personally very grateful for the many expressions of support he has received. He is at the moment still banned from the College e-mail system, and truly regrets that senior management will not allow him to respond and communicate his feelings of gratitude.

Some of you have asked if he is receiving assistance from UCU national, and we can assure you that their officers are overseeing the case and the next steps.

Many have asked how you might help. The best way to support Jeff right now is to get the word out to friends and colleagues throughout the sector in the UK and abroad. Academic freedom and the integrity of universities are worth fighting for.

We have also decided to open a legal fund. Please look out for further information soon on how to contribute, and for updates on Jeff’s wholly unwarranted suspension.

Posted on behalf of the RHUL UCU branch committee.

RHUL suspends UCU branch Equalities and Diversity Officer

Initially adopting a hard-line stance, Royal Holloway’s HR department with  the support of senior management had sought to break the recent industrial action reluctantly undertaken by staff to defend a decent guaranteed pension. Management also tried to influence the debate by planting question in the principal’s open meeting.

We had hoped that lessons had been learnt during the strike, and that management would develop a cooperative inclusive approach in which honest opinion and disagreement would be respected. We didn’t anticipate being so quickly disappointed.

In the wake of the strike, UCU national reports that several universities are hitting back at UCU branches. We did not expect RHUL to be among this group.

We have to inform the branch that, some two weeks ago, Jeff Frank was suspended from work. A Professor of Economics, Jeff is a former Chair of RHUL-UCU, and currently serves as Equalities and Diversity Officer. In our view, Jeff has been suspended for carrying out his duties as a branch officer. The reasons given for the suspension are related to case-work on behalf of individual members. The decision to suspend is unreasonable and questionable, and RHUL-UCU views this action as a direct attack on its activities.

Jeff is the founding head of the Economics Department, which achieved a top 10 status in the 2014 REF, and he has served two terms as head of department. He is an acknowledged expert on sustained underemployment, the gender pay gap, BME and LGBTQ discrimination, inequality in the university sector, and the UK’s current university funding and fees crisis. Jeff has been Visiting Professor at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, and was very recently awarded a Fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences.

While suspended, Jeff has no access to college emails. As well as not being able to communicate with students or staff, or respond to reference requests, members will need to know that he cannot currently operate as the Equalities Officer or as a case officer.

For procedural and legal reasons, it is not possible for the moment to release further details.

Posted on behalf of UCU and the RHUL branch committee.

Strike fund update

Thanks to the incredible generosity of members (thank you – you know who you are!) we have been able to support all claims made to the strike fund so far. If anyone would like an individual acknowledgement that their donation reached us please email rhulucu2018 at gmail.com . Any further applications for support from the strike fund can be made on the form available here.

Any surplus in the strike fund once all authorised claims have been paid will be retained in a separate account and used to support members undertaking future industrial action.