The Survival Guide For Meetings With Senior Management

In the wake of the Academic Realignment Exercise proposals and the fallout over the last fortnight, we have heard from a number of members who have been tapped on the shoulder for a quiet chat by their Head of Department or Head of School. This post is a guide to what to do if you receive an invitation for one of these ‘chats’.

Don’t go into a meeting unprepared. The branch strongly believes that in the current environment of staff-management relations, no member should attend a meeting with management without knowing what the meeting is for.

Ask for an agenda and attendee list. It is reasonable for you to know what the meeting is about and who else will be there. If a member of HR will also be in attendance, we would recommend caution.

If you are concerned, explain you will be bringing a colleague with you. This is particularly important if the meeting is related to restructuring, changing the terms of your contract (for instance, from research and teaching to teaching-focused), or an encouragement to retire. You are entitled to bring a colleague with you, perhaps because you are under stress and will need an extra person to take notes for you so you can process and recall the meeting properly. You choose this colleague, who could be, but does not have to be, a UCU caseworker.

Get in touch with the branch. Members can e-mail Penelope, our casework coordinator, at PSmith at ucu.org.uk if you decide that you would like to be accompanied to a meeting by a UCU caseworker; we will do our best to arrange one for you.

Remember that all you need to do in a meeting is listen. No-one should agree to anything at an initial meeting, verbally or otherwise, or feel pressured into seeming to agree. You don’t even need to say very much. The meeting is an opportunity to hear what proposals are being made; you can then say that you need to get advice before indicating your feelings one way or the other. You are under no obligation to make decisions on the spot.

If the agenda of the meeting changes, end it. If you have attended a meeting in good faith and the discussion turns out to be about an issue you were not prepared to discuss, you are entitled to end the meeting and ask for it to be rescheduled. This is particularly important if, for instance, you have attended a meeting alone or you find a member of HR is unexpectedly in attendance.

Keep good records. As soon as you start having meetings and e-mails about these kinds of issues, make sure you keep a log of every encounter (verbal or written) and what was said and agreed on each occasion. This record should be factual. You may wish to e-mail SMT after a meeting to confirm what was agreed at it, particularly so you have a written record of proceedings to refer to later if needed.

We have heard news of these ‘cosy chats’ not only from members in the departments which were targeted in the Academic Realignment Exercise, but from departments all over the college. These conversations could happen to anyone. If you are at all concerned about a change in your contract or employment terms being forced upon you, please get in touch with us at once.

Do you want to help? We always need new caseworkers, and we foresee a high level of additional casework over the next year. Formal caseworker training, provided by the UCU, takes place during the year; please keep an eye out for training opportunities, and we can provide ad hoc training as necessary. If you would to support colleagues in this valuable role, please e-mail us at rhulucu2018 at gmail.com.

Posted on behalf of the members of the RHUL UCU branch committee

Last updated on 21st July 2021

Motion of No Confidence passes at another packed General Meeting

Today members again assembled virtually, eager to continue their ruminations over SMT “realignment proposals” and questions around academic governance. It was such a throng that it was lucky we were meeting in the ether and not on campus, given the paucity of large teaching and meeting spaces.

On Wednesday we collaborated, in our customary good-humoured and collegiate fashion, to improve upon the first draft of our motion. Following the bombshells which hit the College on Monday 21st June, this motion expressed no confidence in the realignment proposals and the use of Academic Board (AB). Today we took minimal amendments, to clarify an acronym and to correct a typo, so that we could allow proxy votes for those unable to join us at this time.

Member voted OVERWHELMINGLY to endorse this motion, with over a hundred votes in favour. The motion that we passed is shown below.

So what is the status of the “Realignment Proposals” now?

Members were surprised and dismayed to hear that despite the lack of endorsement for the realignment proposals by Academic Board (AB), and certain assurances which had been made to students, SMT apparently intend to press ahead with targeted encouragement for certain staff to change from research and teaching or open-ended contracts, to teaching-focused or fixed term roles. Social Work remains under the original threat. We wish to be clear that we support the use of teaching-focused contracts for staff who chose to develop their careers based primarily on the pursuit of pedagogic excellence.

There is also a failure on the part of SMT to recognise that they have not received the approval of AB to proceed with  pauses or closures of particular programmes. As our motion highlights, AB is “responsible for the academic work of the College in teaching and examining and in research” (Statute 5), and AB Standing Orders (point 6) state “it may also advise the Council on the general management of the College”. This makes clear that these decisions are the remit of AB! Even staff in affected areas who were keen to work collaboratively, to ensure the continued strength of their Departments and the quality of their teaching and research, were frustrated by the lack of evidence and/or the errors in data that had been used. It is only by using accurate information and data that we can develop robust and successful plans together.

The Branch will be communicating directly with Council so that we can be sure that they understand the damage that has been done to morale with this deeply flawed proposal. We will also be stressing the strong sense of collegiality and solidarity across all Departments and Professional Services, which is such a strength of our College. This collegiality offers scope for future collaboration and innovation to benefit our College community; this is the route forward rather than further attempts at divide and rule of staff.

We intend to pursue the problem of poor industrial relations, flowing from Senior Management’s refusal to negotiate, consult, share data or even respond to letters from RHUL-UCU, at a Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee meeting next week, which we will be attending with a Regional UCU Officer.

The meeting today closed after a brief consideration of the People and 3-year Strategies. While the College is yet to share these strategies, it seems bizarre to be introducing these ahead of the expected Augar review outcomes and the appointment of a new Principal (and, via exclusive headhunters Minerva, new Heads of School). These Strategies will only exacerbate the workload crisis at RHUL, and do not deal explicitly with the issue of the College’s very significant medium term debt burden.

We post regular updates here on the blog to save inundating your email inboxes, but we will email all members with guidance on how to respond should you be tapped on the shoulder and invited for a chat about your terms and conditions. In the meantime, you can subscribe to updates through the ‘follow the blog by e-mail’ function at the top right of this screen; you do not need to use your RHUL e-mail address.

Just in case you may have colleagues who are not yet UCU members, it is a very good time to join.

Posted on behalf of members of the RHUL-UCU Branch Committee

Continue reading “Motion of No Confidence passes at another packed General Meeting”

Standing Room only at the RHUL-UCU Emergency General Meeting on “Realignment”

In olden times we’d have said “it was standing room only”. So many members wanted to join the EGM today that we breached our capacity limit on Zoom, for which we sincerely apologise.  Colleagues also had so much to say about their recent (generally unsettling) experiences, and so many suggestions for improving upon the Branch motion of “no confidence” that we will be holding a follow-up meeting this Friday, 1-2pm. On Friday, after voting on the draft motion below, we will have time to explore the context of the “realignment proposals”, namely the College’s People and 3-Year  Strategies. This meeting will have the capacity for all of our members!

It is vital to stress from the outset that it was clear, as it was during Academic Board on Tuesday, that there is a strong sense of collegiality and solidarity between staff in all Departments and Services of the College. Long may that continue; it is one of the greatest strength and arises from our small and perfectly formed size. Departments under threat due to “realignment proposals” were heartened by the public letters and messages of support from other Departments in the College, as they were lifted by the support of their students, alumni and learned societies. 

Poor Communication

The meeting laid out the situation around the “realignment proposals”, as described in recent Branch Blogs. A clear theme in the subsequent discussion was poor communication. Numerous staff had missed the briefing meetings last week due to annual leave and were left floundering as they tried to catch up. PGR members especially felt their views and needs had not been considered and they had not been invited to briefings. Significant numbers of staff, exhausted after a year of adapting to new working (and living) conditions, felt plans to proceed with significant organisational change over what had been outlined as a “quiet month” were unfair.

Some of our attendees expressed disappointment at the responses they had received during open meetings and felt more information, at an earlier stage, would have been welcome. In today’s open meeting, the Senior Management Team stated that they felt able to change contractual terms of all staff (not just academics) easily, which suggests they do not expect to consult or negotiate over the very contractual terms which can be so fundamental to our working lives. It was also mentioned that our students and those alumni who had contacted the College about the proposals had not received updates.

Equality and Diversity

As a College which likes to emphasise its pioneering history as a women’s university, equality, diversity and inclusion are priorities for many staff and students.  The College has recent EDI and BGM initiatives which are very welcome. Despite these priorities, they are proposing cuts to staff roles and programmes in Social Work. This Department enjoys a very strong concentration of BGM staff and students and its public service mission benefits the most disadvantaged in our society. Members requested UCU consider a dedicated meeting with EDI role holders to explore the impact of the proposals.

The Future

While workloads are a clear and, on this Blog, a well reported problem for all RHUL staff, it was recognised that the position of remaining staff in Departments subject to cuts was going to be more difficult. In the UCU meeting, as at Academic Board, there was a desire for a re-examination of Admissions processes, so that we had a greater chance of capturing and converting applicants. This would certainly help to solve the “apparent” SSR imbalance. Attracting applicants is also going to remain difficult where Departments lack money to invest in equipment or new facilities, so support to offset these challenges would be required.

Although we will discuss the People and 3-Year Strategies in the meeting on Friday, comments were made about the direction of the College. It could appear that the justification of student expansion, to generate economies of scale in a university which has long traded on its smaller scale and reassuringly intimate campus, is driven by the need to pay for a relatively bloated Senior Management Team.  Further concerns were levelled about the actual commitment of the College to dual excellence: comparing RHUL to all HE institutions rather than pre-92 to create SSRs and increasing so significantly the number of teaching-focused staff suggests research will play second fiddle to teaching. We also seem to be chasing the market, in moving to prioritise teaching provision in law, management and computer sciences after many institutions are further along the same path.

Join us on Friday 2nd July to vote on the motion and to consider how much we might contribute to improvements in the proposed People and 3-Year Strategies. Members will be emailed a zoom link on Thursday 1st July.  You may have colleagues who are not yet UCU members, and now is a good time to join.

Draft motion of No Confidence for EGM, Friday 2nd July 2021, 1-2pm

We recognise:

  1. The need to have a dynamic institution that develops entrepreneurially, while maintaining the College’s strong dual excellence in research and teaching.
  2. Analysis of the College’s finances indicates no immediate pressure from current accounts or loan covenants, but a worryingly high level of debt.
  3. Broad discussions of the College’s future plans and themes are welcomed across the College.

However, we are concerned that:

  1. Recent discussions have been carried out in a manner lacking in transparency, and significant staff adjustments may have been made under undue pressure.
  2. Plans have been developed that potentially include the involuntary transfer of individuals from RT to T-only contracts based upon an alleged need for more staff resources to be deployed on teaching, rather than based on the circumstances of individual staff members. We also note that this measure is an expression of a lack of respect for the particular professional skills of staff on teaching-focussed contracts.
  3. Plans have been proposed to move staff from open-ended to fixed-term status which is contrary to the College’s recognition of over reliance on casual staff. 
  4. Plans have been developed that may lead to changes of contracts for non-academic staff being unilaterally imposed.
  5. Plans have been developed that may include involuntary redundancies.
  6. The unions, individuals and departments (staff and students) have not been properly consulted. In so far as academic staff and PhD students have been allowed to participate at all in the development of the aforementioned plans, participation has been restricted to staff and PGR students who have been hand-picked by SMT.
  7. Plans for changes in Social Work is an equalities issue given that Social Work has one of the largest Black and global majority student population in the College. Importantly, the changes would represent around a 10% decrease in Professors of colour across College. This is especially worrying against the backdrop of celebration of EDI and BGM initiatives in the Staff Newsletters.
  8. The plans were presented to Academic Board for consideration without the notice period that is normally required for a robust decision-making process to be possible. The result is that the proposed cuts, along with the recent severances, have not been subjected to proper or meaningful scrutiny prior to their ratification.
  9. The increase in staff workloads, which will be further exacerbated by the proposed cuts to staff numbers and unfilled vacancies across the College, risks increasing the severity of the mental and physical health problems already affecting staff, and which SMT has continued to ignore.  The situation will be further aggravated by the uncertainties that SMT has introduced in relation to the contracts of academic staff and staff in the professional services.
  10. Proposals may challenge the charitable status and aims of the College and the roles of the Council members as stewards of the charity.
  11. The proposed changes are not the result of Government pressures.

As background:

  1. There has been limited discussion of the coherence and validity of the assumptions on which SMT are allegedly basing their 3-year strategy.
  2. The ‘People Strategy’ that is meant to be integral to the 3-year strategy remains unfinished and/or under wraps.
  3. Academic staff were not made aware of the plans until it was unveiled at the ‘Briefing’ on the 21st June, convened with short notice and without an agenda. The ‘briefings took place only one week before Academic Board and the Council would be asked to approve the plans. We further note that SMT’s request for July to be a ‘quiet month’ suggests that they are hoping that the process will be carried out quietly, without transparency, and with minimum resistance and publicity.
  4. SMT has continued to ignore RHUL UCU’s motion of no confidence in senior management’s handling of equality issues, despite this motion having been passed at a general meeting of UCU-RHUL members.
  5. The current and future changes planned by SMT have already had a deleterious effect on staff morale across the institution, including in those departments that SMT claims that they want to strengthen. The damage to the institution and its reputation will be all the greater given the sacrifices staff have made during the pandemic. Unless the plans are paused with immediate effect, the resulting further damage will most likely be irreparable.
  6. The narrative from SMT is that their plans have been subjected to a rigorous process of consultation. Yet, none of the trade unions were consulted before Friday 18th June; that is with not a single working day’s notice before the briefings that were hastily arranged by SMT across College. Furthermore, SMT has consistently ignored UCU’s repeated requests, over a period of several months, for more information on possible redundancies that might form part of the Three-Year Strategy.
  7. AB is “responsible for the academic work of the College in teaching and examining and in research” (Statute 5). AB Standing Orders (point 6) state “it may also advise the Council on the general management of the College”. It is vital that the voice of AB must be involved in shaping proposals affecting our educational mission from the outset and must be allowed to vote on proposals.
  8. As the proposed realignment will not be discussed by AB until October 2021 there can be no immediate decision on the potential pausing or closure of the MSc in Social Work.

Therefore, we declare no confidence in:

  1.  the process followed for developing and implementing the strategic realignment proposal. We object in particular to SMT’s failure to respect the role of Academic Board, as the body that is responsible for the academic work of the College in teaching and research.

Posted on behalf of the RHUL UCU branch committee.

A Pyrrhic Victory at Academic Board?

Members of Academic Board (AB) were alerted to the possibility of “something unpleasant this way” coming when an emergency AB was called for 29th June, just two days before a Council meeting. Despite numerous requests for any further information from both members of AB and local UCU representatives, Senior Management only revealed their hand to staff on Monday 21st June. Staff in departments targeted for job cuts, contractual changes and higher workloads were given a few minutes’ notice before their colleagues received the same briefings. The proposals and the context have been partially deconstructed in Blogs over the last week. Today at AB there was partial, or perhaps temporary, withdrawal of the “realignment proposal”, but threats to colleagues remain. Crucially, the last minute pulling of the plan prevented AB members from holding a robust discussion and offering a critique of Senior Management’s “realignment proposals”.

What happened at AB today?

The “realignment proposal” bundle given to AB members held significantly more detail than was given to staff, perhaps even more detail than was shared with students on the College intranet. Proposals gave information beyond desired job cuts, and included plans to move additional colleagues from research and teaching contracts and from open-ended posts on to teaching-only and fixed-term contracts.

Senior Management announced that they had decided to pull the “realignment proposal” in its current form at the start of the meeting. They then presented some slides to articulate what had changed without circulating the material in advance, despite the documented equalities needs of some AB members. It appeared the deciding factor for pulling the proposal today was that some staff had chosen, or were potentially coerced, to exit voluntarily. This left only the Department of Social Work, who had not been offered the courtesy of a meeting with Senior Management to discuss alternatives, as an intractable Department. Formal consideration by AB of the “realignment proposals” is thus postponed until AB October 2021, which would be followed by Council decision in November. It was argued that this would allow Social Work time to come up with plans to realign comparable to the other affected Departments, and for the other affected Departments to persuade colleagues to move from Teaching and Research to teaching-only contracts and/or from open-ended to fixed-term status.

In the face of these alarming and surprising proposals, colleagues in the affected departments have rallied to develop alternative strategies and to elicit the public support of their alumni and external stakeholders. That they were able to develop exciting and innovative alternatives in so short a time, under such hideous pressure, speaks to the flawed approach of Senior Management. Pursuing voluntary reductions for months in secret and failing to engage with colleagues has put the whole institution through an emotional wringer, with inevitable reputational damage.

What are the implications of this?

It was gratifying to find that almost every Head of Department who spoke at the meeting expressed dismay at the manner in which the “realignment proposals” had been put forward. It was clear that speakers believed Senior Management had missed an opportunity to reconfigure the College with the creative input of colleagues, thereby retaining our strong sense of collegiality and without wrecking staff morale. Head of Departments for the ostensible “winners” from this exercise expressed disquiet and a desire to continue to work in a multi-disciplinary and solidaristic College. And yet, whilst we may have left that meeting with a sense of relief, there remains a huge and critical problem with the “realignment proposal”. The plan has not now been subject to adequate scrutiny, and we have allowed AB to be misused.

The “Realignment Proposal” has not been adequately challenged

The rationale for the proposal has been that student-to-staff ratios (SSRs) are out of kilter across the College. Yet, without definitions and shared data, it is hard to be confident that this analysis is accurate. Apparently, some Departments have this week provided counter evidence, which is significantly different from the data used in the proposal. Without access to vital information on the construction of SSRs, College budgets, marketing plans and the equality impact assessment, there is no opportunity to scrutinise proposals adequately and in the manner which academics expect as part of their normal duties. Still, knowing that we will be reviewing “realignment proposals” in October gives the College time to get its house in order and provide UCU and affected staff with all of the information they need.

This would be a welcome departure from recent practice. We have informed members already this year of the refusal of Senior Management at the College to provide UCU with data and information which is pertinent to collective bargaining – data to which we are entitled under ACAS guidelines and our Recognition Agreement, signed by the employer. Senior Management is increasingly trying to divide union representatives and to distance the Committee from members by saying “UCU has been consulted”, when in fact this is not the case. A cascade of verbal information or inviting one rep to see something while embargoing that information from the Committee is not consultation.

It is suggested that the reduction of staff in certain Departments will alleviate the workload of staff in other Departments.  Of course, staff who remain in Departments subject to staffing cuts and demands to revalidate their programmes are by necessity facing higher workloads. At this point it is useful to remind ourselves of the scale of the workload crisis. In a Joint Trade Union Survey of RHUL staff in May 2020 43% reported working hours had increased, which rose to 86% and 48% in the November UCU follow-up survey, for academic and professional service staff respectively. Were evidence beyond these trade union surveys required, the College’s own Pulse survey of staff produced similarly worrying results. The Pulse survey found 84% reported an increased workload; stress had increased for 78% and wellbeing was worse for 71%. These are not figures which can be brushed aside; these figures suggest a workload crisis, a crisis hardly alleviated by moving twenty-four seats on the Titanic.

The misuse of Academic Board

Senior Management today argued that Academic Board’s role was merely to consider these “realignment proposals” as redundancies are a Statute 9 issue, by which they refer to protection for academics written into College Statues. Further analysis of the Statues shows that the College operates an Academic Board (AB) of academic staff which “shall be responsible for the academic work of the College in teaching and examining and in research” (Statute 5). In addition to its responsibility for the academic work of the College, AB Standing Orders (point 6) state that “it may also advise the Council on the general management of the College”.

This suggests it is legitimate, and in fact essential, for AB to take a much broader role in guiding academic decision making than merely commenting on redundancies.

The relationship between AB and Council functions if the Chair, Secretary and other members of both AB and Council proffer clear and accurate information. To this end the College Council Standing Orders state: “In the case of a division on any matter on which the Academic Board makes representations or recommendations to Council, the report to Council shall record the substance of all motions considered by the Board and the numbers who voted for and against or who abstained from voting on each motion” (point 98). This duty is also recorded in AB Standing Orders, (points 28-29).

We fear, for whatever reasons, that accurate reporting may not always be observed. Today an elected member requested that a short summary of today’s discussion be prepared for Council members, that they could see our sense of distress at how the “realignment proposals” had been handled, alongside the willingness of staff to work collaboratively, at speed, to strengthen the College. We were denied this opportunity for clear communication between AB and Council.

Branch EGM tomorrow

Be in no doubt, colleagues – this issue is not resolved.

The Branch is holding an EGM tomorrow, 1-2pm, to discuss the realignment in the context of the College’s “People Strategy” and its “3-year strategy”. We will be proposing a motion of no confidence in senior management’s handling of the “realignment proposals” and the misuse of Academic Board. 

Posted on behalf of the RHUL-UCU  Branch Committee

Divide, Rule, Fail?

Ten years ago, senior management at Royal Holloway proposed a programme of cuts to academic departments and their staffing. When the proposals were revealed to be based on inaccurate data and short-term calculations, the threat of compulsory redundancies was withdrawn. Yet the effects of lost staff confidence in senior management and the wider reputational damage to the College was very real. It is disappointing to see history needlessly repeating itself once more through challengeable data and myopic proposals. 

The threat of compulsory redundancy, even if presented as a last resort, casts a long shadow across the institution. A number of departments have lost staff over the last year, and now three departments are identified for further cuts and potential compulsory redundancies. But, whatever department you belong to, no academic at Royal Holloway can really see themselves as secure if colleagues can be so easily dismissed – or, more accurately, thanked continuously for their commitment during this emergency COVID-19 year, and then so easily dismissed.

The reputational damage to the College starts from the date the first announcement is made.  We call again on senior management to cancel Tuesday’s Academic Board.

Given that senior management have repeatedly stated that RHUL is financially sound, why have they threatened three departments with redundancies? We do not dispute that there is a workload crisis that needs addressing urgently (and we speak from the front line). But how likely is it that 8 further job losses can really address the difficulties and overstretch of other departments? As the ‘realignment’ proposals state, turnover in personnel and other measures have already generated most of the target savings, and, through discussions with relevant staff, could continue to do so. This is especially important because senior management’s analysis is founded mistakenly on the single measure of student-staff ratios (SSRs), some calculated incorrectly, and, therefore, on a lack of deep knowledge about the departments it aims to cut.     

Staff in the expanding departments under the proposals have expressed their objections to senior management’s ‘divide and rule’ approach. The proposed savings, at such huge reputational and collegial costs, are a drop in the bucket. The College needs to come up with a strategy that better leads with research and teaching. Everything is being staked, in the 3-year Strategy, upon expansion that is by no means guaranteed. Unless everything comes up perfect, we will be in a continual cycle of job cuts, higher SSRs, diminished research, sabbaticals and promotions, and changes in employment contracts.

The Government will issue its response to the Augar Report in the Autumn statement.  There is no doubt that any university will need to think hard and imaginatively.  But following the similarly-termed ‘cut’, ‘restructure’, ‘reshape’, or ‘realignment’ approaches so evident in other universities will not work.  The College needs to build upon its own historical strengths and the loyalty of its staff.  We cannot find any logic in this slapdash rush to lose 8 more colleagues, and only gain short-term savings of a modest amount.  Senior management often tells us that ‘change is hard’.  It seems that it is proper planning and well-thought-out change that is hard.

Secretly, for the last several months, discussions have been occurring about cutting staff at the very moment when senior management were asking everyone to pitch in for the good of the College.  Now the proposals are being rushed through in order to limit questions and discussions. It has become clear that in drawing up its plans senior management has no interest in engaging its staff, and why those proposals have so many errors and misconceptions.

Senior management made great play about the ‘People Strategy’ – but where is it?  The People Strategy was meant, ironically, to reset the culture of our institution and enhance the College as a place in which to research and teach at the highest level. It was meant to be the capstone in senior management’s vision for the future. But, instead of any positive vision, all we have is the negativity of unneeded redundancies.

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