20 May 2010
'Truth: lies open to all'
Every fortnight during term-time.
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CONTENTS: Editorial, Outreach, Redundancies, Statute 20, Committees, Ideas Festival, IAS, Turbines, Capital Programme, Roses, REF, Flowers, Learning Zone, Employment Tribunal, Letters.
You will have noticed (we hope) that subtext hasn't been around since
Christmas. This was due to several things; dry rot in the subtext underground
warehouse, a strike amongst the subtext drones, and the complete collapse
through exhaustion of the management. All that has now changed. The decorators
have been in, the ringleaders of the strike have been removed under the
new statute 20 while the remaining drones have been interviewed for their
own jobs and employed under spanking new temporary contracts; and new
managers have been appointed. (In keeping with present University policy,
these managers have been chosen especially for their unfamiliarity with
many of the duties they may be required to perform.) Phoenix-like, subtext
arises from the ashes.
Back at Christmas time, when it seemed that subtext might disappear, we received many kind emails, all suggesting that subtext performs a very necessary function, and offering support. This was much appreciated. If any subscribers have any information they think we might be able to use, or events that we've missed, we'd love to hear from you.
NEWS IN BRIEF
Continuing Education has now been reduced to a rump, against a background of just about no sympathy at all from University House. The re-introduction of the ancient Town / Gown divide, which so many worked so hard for so long to break down, is now almost complete. But hey, we're involved with India and Poland, so don't say the University isn't interested in outreach. And while we're on that subject, let's not forget that frank scepticism persists about the viability of some of our more far-flung projects. In particular, subtext will continue to be interested in the relationship with Goenka.
Redundancies in University House
Compulsory Redundancies are now being enforced in University House, notably in Publications and Admissions. The rationale behind them is difficult to discern, beyond a short-term saving in salaries. The Redeployment List has often been presented as a guarantee of favourable treatment; now we are finding out the truth of that assertion. Certain managers are about to start experiencing what happens when, through negligence, carelessness or a lack of appreciation, you lose the goodwill and accumulated knowledge of key staff members. Postgraduate and Undergraduate Admissions are to be brought under the same Head. Anyone who thinks that Postgraduate Admissions and Undergraduate Admissions are the same thing knows nothing about how such things are done. These changes will have a direct impact on academic activity, but we are not aware of any academic who has been consulted, or even notified. When managers know little about the areas that they are required to manage, bungling is inevitable and a disaster probable; both will cost the University dear, though it is unlikely that it will affect the financial well-being of the managers, or those who appointed them.
A nice Catch 22 has already been unearthed during these changes. If the University makes you redundant, then of course you will get Redundancy Pay. (Which is probably a lot less than you might think, but moving on.) However, if you are not actually made redundant but instead are asked to re-interview for your own job, and you decide you don't want it because, say, the job description has been rewritten in a way you don't think is do-able and involves a lot more work for less money, and you turn it down, you are deemed to have left your employment voluntarily. No redundancy money, no problem. Nice. So we were right to accept management's dictum that we didn't need to worry about ancient history like Statute 20, because we can all trust the University to take care of us.
Subscribers with an interest in such things might like to check the article in Scan (issue of April 20th) giving the interesting and provocative views of the Director of Marketing and External Linkages.
Statute 20 - a brief refresher course
For those subscribers whose memory of exactly what Statute 20 was and did are a little hazy, Statute 20 is Lancaster's version of the 'model statute' imposed on universities following the abolition of academic tenure by the 1988 Education Reform Act. It was designed to give academic and academic-related staff (in Oldspeak) extra protection - on top of the existing employment legislation - from being made redundant or dismissed on other grounds. It didn't make it impossible to make these staff redundant, but it did make it difficult - as a partial quid pro quo for the abolition of tenure.
One of the main arguments used by the university's management against Statute 20 in recent years has been that this special protection for one category of staff was unfair. In any case, it was also argued, the university made people redundant all the time, when they came to the end of fixed term contracts, and no-one made a great deal of fuss about that: the people concerned accepted their lot, and, if they were lucky, moved on to other jobs. In the summer of 2008 an employment tribunal judgement in a case from the University of Aberdeen called into question whether it was lawful to make fixed term staff redundant without going through an elaborate process such as that specified by Statute 20. The preferred solution was not to extend Statute 20-style protection to other groups of staff, but to remove it from those to whom it had previously applied. The University therefore began to negotiate with the unions with a view to establishing new procedures - which would be simpler and more 'modern' - to cover redundancy and other grounds for dismissal. These negotiations are continuing.
Though Statute 20 is still formally in place - pending Privy Council approval of its abolition - it is hard not to see the proposed redundancies of 'permanent', core-funded staff covered by the Statute as a sign of what may follow its abolition. Redundancies at Lancaster are no longer a technical matter affecting only people at the end of fixed term contracts.
This item is placed immediately after the item above on redundancies as a deliberate and unsubtle reminder to Senators and others that This Is Exactly What Everyone Said Would Happen.
Slaughter of the Committees
The Senate Steering Committee has been 'laid down', on the recommendation of the University Secretary to Senate on 21 April. This committee had existed almost as long as the university, but in recent months or even years had become increasingly sparsely populated. It used to meet before Senate meetings to agree the agenda and allocate items to 'For information' and 'For discussion' sections. It thus provided some opportunity for members of Senate to determine what its business should be and what mattered most. Accompanying the papers for the February meeting of Senate was an invitation to members from the University Secretary to volunteer for the several vacant positions on the committee. Nobody put their names forward. So, arguably, a small but potentially useful avenue to more democratic involvement in Senate affairs has been lost. Formally, means still exist for senators to propose changes to the agenda set by the top table, but experience does not suggest that these will be very actively used. So, once again, Senate has colluded in moving itself towards irrelevance.
And while we're on the subject of how we are governed... Subscribers who are less than assiduous readers of Senate agendas may also miss the forthcoming proposal to Senate on 26 May about the proposed annihilation of the of the Graduate School Committee, the Undergraduate Studies Committee, and the Learning and Teaching Assessment Committee. Removing these committees may well undermine the teaching quality operation, as this function is now almost wholly dependent on the faculties, who are keen to tell anyone who'll listen that they are already too busy and have too few resources to perform the functions already allotted to them.
The recent Ideas Festival apparently went quite well. Ed Miliband dropped in briefly, for a talk entitled 'A Manifesto for Soil'. (Presumably because he's a Son of it.) The Speaker, John Quinton, was rather thrown, watchers thought, by his presence. Such is the charisma of potential new Leaders of the Labour Party.
Institute for Advanced Studies
It now seems certain that, after FASS's recent review of the Institute
for Advanced Studies, this 'flagship institution' of FASS and LUMS will
be quietly wound up during the summer vacation. Officially, its fate has
yet to be determined, but budget lines after 31 July have been frozen,
administrative staff have been redeployed and discussions are underway
about the future location of Director Michael Kraetke. Many commentators
have been stunned by the rapidity of its demise, and have criticised the
lack of wider discussion over such an important decision. The IAS was
created by founder Director Bob Jessop in 2003, and moved into its refurbished
building with dedicated meeting rooms on the North Spine in 2005. Over
the years it has received praise (including in its mid-term review) for
its many successes in generating new interdisciplinary and postdisciplinary
research collaborations in the host faculties and beyond, and raising
Lancaster's international profile - despite receiving far less funding
from the University than comparable institutions elsewhere. It has also
been singled out by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as
a model to be emulated. Yet, especially in the arts and humanities, there
have also been those more committed to disciplinary models of learning
who have regarded it merely as an unwelcome drain on Faculty resources.
It seems that, despite strong support for the IAS from LUMS and University
House, the balance of forces in FASS has shifted sufficiently to seal
the Institute's fate.
The City Council Planning Committee met last Monday about the turbines, at which the Vice-Chancellor and Michael Payne (LUSU President) spoke on the same side! (We do indeed live in times where necessity - and politics - make strange bedfellows.) On the advice of its planning officers, the Committee voted to reject the turbine proposal, which was apparently supported only by the three Green Party members. The Vice-Chancellor said that the University would consider an appeal, as well as looking at other ways of taking the project forward. According to the Lancaster Guardian, the turbines were also opposed by the Environment Agency and the County Council's landscape officer, although the ecological and landscape impacts they raised were deemed as appropriately mitigated in the proposal by the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty representative and the Planning Officer himself. The proposal fell on the basis of 'residential amenity impact', but at least it seems that the decision doesn't seem to have been motivated by anti-University sentiment on the City Council.
There is a growing expectation amongst those who know about such things that the capital programme at Lancaster will simply complete the projects already in train and then stop. If this be true, then Health and Medicine will be particularly affected - if it doesn't get a new building, one might well wonder where it will go? Meantime, the Waterside project continues to be behind schedule. (The Waterside is the large black stone and glass box being built next to Grizedale Avenue. You won't have noticed it, as it doesn't stand out at all amongst all the other black stone and glass boxes that surround it.)
Many hearty congratulations to the mighty Lancaster Roses teams, for delivering a comprehensive victory over the House of York after a four year drought. And a heartfelt raspberry from a lot of puzzled visiting car drivers to the person who decided that Roses weekend would be a good choice of time to shut down most of the University perimeter road. Whatever Lancaster is paying you, it's too much.
Uncertainty continues about the timing of the REF, and the importance of impact, new definitions of which seem to appear almost monthly. Latest predictions are 2014. David Willetts was recently interviewed in the Times (see below for link). He commented that;
'I do understand the importance of blue skies research. Scientific activity can't all be reduced to a utilitarian calculation. We can have lively debate about how to ensure that's possible, the freedom to do blue skies science. I think Paul Nurse's ideas on this are very interesting. That's why I myself am very sceptical of this rush to bring this impact measurement into the REF. It's something scientists are very worried about and I understand their concerns. You cannot reduce science to an economic balance sheet. One of the challenges I face is how to ensure protection for blue skies research while at the same time trying to support funding for science, partly drawing on arguments about its economic value.'
The remark about Sir Paul Nurse is particularly interesting. See Nurse's ideas about reforming science funding. For the Times report, see http://bit.ly/timeswilletts
The new coalition government may provide either unexpected surprises or misfortunes for the future of university funding. Vince Cable, when taking over the BIS (Department of Business Innovation and Skills), a department that has had more name changes than people with brains in it, joked in his first speech that before his appointment he had always wanted to have this department abolished. This is surely a great start? But at least the department now has someone with 'two brains', for the price of one, with David Willetts in charge of Universities and Science, a cost saving George Osborne will be proud of.
Flowers in the rain
The tulips on the west roundabout and elsewhere have been truly splendid. Thanks to whoever thought of that, and we hope there will be many more such displays.
Overheard comment from a student this week; 'I think the Learning Zone is an excellent idea. All the nutters, posers and time-wasters go there, which leaves plenty of space and peace and quiet in the Library for people who want to do some proper work.' Fair enough then, subtext is now officially converted to the idea that the Learning Zone is a Good Thing. Though not, perhaps, entirely for the reasons its proponents suggested. And a shade under £3million still seems a lot to pay - it would surely have been cheaper to employ some more librarians, preferably with fierce expressions, to go around saying 'Sssssh!'?
In June 2009, UCU brought a case against the University, based on section 189 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992 (TULRA), which is helpfully summarised at paragraph 4 of the Tribunal's judgment. Very briefly, where an employer is proposing to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees at one establishment in a period of 90 days or less, the employer is required to consult appropriate employee representatives at least 30 days before the first of the dismissals takes effect. For academic and academic-related staff, the appropriate representative is the union, UCU.
Anyone who read the account in LU Text 474 of the recent Employment Tribunal involving the University, and also read UCU's own description of it in the Union's May Newsletter, may have wondered if they were reading about the same case. It is enlightening to read the two reports side by side, and to compare them with the (surprisingly readable and direct) 19-page judgment of the Tribunal. For anyone interested in the University's current attitude to employee relations, all three are most instructive.
LU Text says that 'the ruling stated that although legal collective consultation requirements were not fully met between 31 March and 30 June last year, substantial mitigating factors were present.' UCU points out that 'the Tribunal unanimously ruled that University management had failed to collectively consult on the proposals for 89 fixed term dismissals ... and that the University had breached its statutory duty to consult with the union if planning to make 20 or more people redundant.' The Tribunal judgment on this is that 'the burden is upon [the University] to collectively consult and provide adequate notification ... it did not do so.' This is straightforward. The requirement placed upon the University to consult collectively was simply not met.
In the LU Text article, it is said that 'the Tribunal expressly notes in its judgment that a 'significant mitigating factor' was that UCU had condoned the University's established practices for 12 years prior to the claim.' On the facts, this is correct; but the judgment continues from this point to say 'however ... the burden was upon [the University] to collectively consult ... and [it] was notified of the need to do so in relation to the redundancies with which we are concerned.' It was the UCU Regional Support Officer, Marie Monaghan, who alerted the University to its obligations to carry out a collective consultation under section 189 of TULRA soon after her appointment in autumn 2008. It ignored her advice. Again, it is clear where the legal burden of responsibility lay, and that it was not fulfilled.
A farcical aspect was introduced into the case by the University's attempt to argue that it was not a 'single establishment' for consultation purposes, a point that was also taken up by the University's solicitors. Perhaps wisely, the University's counsel did not pursue this particular point, as it might well have been (literally) laughed out of court.
The LU Text report suggests that the UCU case was only partially successful. However, the first paragraph of the Tribunal judgment states unequivocally that UCU's complaint under TULRA of a failure by the University to comply with the requirements of the Act 'is well founded', and it orders the University to pay all academic and academic-related staff who were dismissed for redundancy between 31 March 2009 and 30 June 2009 remuneration for a period of 60 days. (The maximum penalty is 90 days.) This was clearly intended to be a punitive sanction on the University, because of its failure to carry out the consultation. If this is a 'partial success', then Chelsea were only partially successful in beating Portsmouth last week because they only scored two goals and not three.
While it is not surprising that the LU Text report seeks to present the University's actions in the best possible light, sometimes it is best to just hold your hand up. The Tribunal decided that the University got it wrong. To claim otherwise is at best disingenuous and actually misleading. If the self-satisfied and triumphalist tone and partial content of the LU Text report are indicative of the attitude that the University's HR Department is now taking towards academic and academic-related staff, then it should not be surprised if staff interpret it as confrontational and react accordingly.
Even though this is my fourth year since my departure from Lancaster, where I taught for twelve years, I still read not only subtext but also LU NEWS. I doubt that I am the only reader of LU NEWS who tires of being informed that every attainment by anyone affiliated with Lancaster is 'prestigious', 'world class' or 'unrivalled'. I recognize that those who compile the news are instructed to hype everything in order to make Lancaster seem outstanding. But the sad truth, to use a cliché, is that on the one hand 99% of the achievements touted are commonplace and on the other hand real achievements do not have to be labelled as exceptional. No one labels a Nobel Prize a 'prestigious' award. The publication of a poem in a magazine edited by the poet's spouse may win one a chair at Lancaster, where everyone gets a chair, but it will not make one the rival to Eliot. Publishing a letter to the local press tabulating the pickup times of rubbish collections on one's street may count as a submission to the RAE, but it does not constitute a revolution in the field of statistics.
Four or five years ago, the Times Higher published a letter by someone outside of Lancaster who showed that the Lancaster V-C's piece on some topic displayed a botched grasp of statistics. I'd expected at least an allusion to that public mention of Lancaster in LU NEWS. Alas, nothing appeared. I e-mailed the editor, who explained that, after all, LU NEWS did not have the space to note every bit of news about the university.
Robert Segal, University of Aberdeen
[This letter arrived back in December too late to be included in subtext 61, so we print it here - Eds]
The editorial collective of subtext currently consists (in alphabetical order) of: Noel Cass, Rachel Cooper (Philosophy), Catherine Fritz, George Green, Gavin Hyman, Peter Morris, David Smith, Bronislaw Szerszynski and Martin Widden.