Gone but Not Forgotten: Absent Friends in Life Science and Warwick Medical Schools

Nearly two years ago, management announced that there was to be a whole-scale review of the School of Life Sciences, followed by a whole-scale review of Warwick Medical School. Allegedly, these two departments had failed to generate enough income and staffing costs were to be dramatically reduced. The most shocking aspect of the proposal from UCU’s point of view was the university’s insistence that academic staff should be sacked on the basis of a single financial metric (research grant income) and that this measure should be applied retrospectively for the previous four-year period.

Over 2,000 people signed an online petition[1] calling on the Vice-Chancellor to abandon this “very radical approach” because it was “profoundly damaging to academic life and the quality of research at the University of Warwick”. Did management listen to any of form of dissent or counter-argument? Seemingly not. The review went ahead exactly as intended, and nearly 40 members of staff left the university, including a number of highly-skilled professional staff.

For sure, the university needs to exercise proper financial oversight. We’d be the first to complain if our salaries weren’t paid. BUT, it is unethical and counter-productive to value an academic’s contribution solely in terms of grant income, without reference to any other aspect of their job description. And it is doubly heinous to do so retrospectively. We would like to think that Warwick will never repeat what can only be described as a new low in its treatment of staff.

The picture shows Warwick UCU President, Dr. Justine Mercer, presenting the petition to the Deputy Registrar. We were denied permission to present it directly to the Vice-Chancellor, though we understand it will be reported to Steering and Council.

[1]  The full text of the online petition read:

The University of Warwick is currently undertaking a series of redundancy exercises predicated on the notion that successful grant applications are the key measure of performance and value for research staff.  This is a very radical approach, not widely adopted in the sector, and we believe it is profoundly damaging to academic life and the quality of research at the University of Warwick.  We, the undersigned, call on the Vice-Chancellor to end this damaging and dangerous practice.

UCU Petition
Warwick UCU President, Dr. Justine Mercer, presenting the petition to the Deputy Registrar.

Supporting the Junior Doctors Strike on Wednesday 27 April

Warwick UCU branch sends solidarity to the junior doctors today and tomorrow.

We will be coming along to the picket line at Warwick Hospital ( Warwick Hospital, Lakin Road, Warwick CV34 5BW ) at 08:30 tomorrow morning to show our support in person. As university workers busy resisting the destructive measures proposed by the government Higher Education Green Paper, we are inspired by your actions.

In both education and the NHS we know that protecting working conditions is also about protecting the rights of students and patients and defending our public services for everybody.

Press Release – Friday 11th March 2016 Warwick Assembly

University of Warwick assembly passes motions to condemn Higher Education Green Paper and to do no more than the absolute ‘minimum legal obligation’ to satisfy Prevent

Today a democratic Assembly called by staff at the University of Warwick passed two motions, one condemning Jo Johnson’s Higher Education Green Paper and the second requiring the University do no more than the absolute legal minimum to satisfy the Home Office’s Prevent program.

Green Paper

Speaking for the first motion, Dr. Laura Schwartz, Assistant Professor in Modern British History, stated that “this Green Paper is potentially the death knell of public higher education in this country”, directly threatening the University’s core educational mission.

The ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ (TEF), colloquially described as the ‘Tuition Escalation Framework’, had been torn apart by Warwick’s own consultation submission as being potentially “damaging to the international reputation of our universities”.

Complaints included the possibility of academic rigor being sacrificed in order to promote higher student satisfaction and the burdening of students with unsustainable levels of debt thanks to rising tuition. Dr. Schwartz highlighted that opposition to the Green Paper has been widespread, including the Vice Chancellors at Cambridge, Oxford and other Russell Group institutions.

Prevent

The second motion targeted the Government’s Prevent program which requires University staff to report students they believed to be at risk of ‘radicalisation’, an instruction that has already led to the disproportionate and discriminatory targeting of Muslim and Black and Minority staff and students.

The motion under vote called on the Vice Chancellor to conduct meaningful consultation on prevent, in advance of its April 2016 submission to HEFCE. Experts on counter-terror legislation, policy and practice, voiced their discontent at the insidious nature of the confused prevent policy which had the potential to stifle academic freedom, while contradicting requirements under both the Human Rights and Education Acts.

The Assembly noted the widespread opposition to the policy on campus, with hundreds of University staff and students having signed an open letter to the Vice Chancellor in just over three weeks. The Assembly resolved to make sure that the University did no more than the absolute minimum to satisfy the requirements of Prevent.

As Dr. Jusine Mercer, Associate Professor in the Centre for Education Studies, noted: “The Prevent strategy… damages our community by fostering an environment of surveillance, paranoia and racism. It encourages the continual monitoring of both staff and students. It destroys the trust needed for a safe and supportive learning environment.”

The mood in the Assembly was overwhelmingly supportive of both motions with members of staff from across the university noting the ways in which the changes threaten the University’s public mission, and undermine academic freedom.

The Assembly at Warwick fits into a larger pattern of mobilization against the Green Paper and Prevent occurring at higher education institutions around the country.

Staff coming leaving the assembly were greeted by students who had gathered in solidarity. Both claim that the successful assembly is an important step in support for further action locally and nationally. Warwick for Free Education spokesperson, Hope Worsdale commented that “students are delighted by the outcome of the Assembly, and will continue in their actions alongside staff, to campaign for a free and progressive education system.”

Further information and background on the Green Paper:

Further information and background on Prevent

Obituary: Dwijen Rangnekar

The UCU is saddened to hear of the death of our colleague and friend, Dr Dwijen Rangnekar, Associate Professor at the Warwick Law School. Dwijen passed away in New Delhi, surrounded by his family and friends after a long battle with cancer.  It is really difficult to accept that Dwijen has gone for he met life with irresistible charm, infinite celebration and an irascible humour.

Dwijen was an exemplar of a scholar who crossed cultural and intellectual boundaries in his scholarship and professional life. Trained as an economist he was hired as a joint appointment with Politics and International Studies and the Law School at Warwick and moved later to Warwick Law School. He was not only a scholar but an activist believing in the power of scholarship to effect social and political change. Dwijen’s scholarship challenged conventional understandings of intellectual property and he was particularly concerned with how these legal rights can impact on development prospects and food security of countries in the south.

His work on intellectual property rights, in particular on geographical indicators and the Goan drink of feni, were path breaking.  His ESRC project was titled: Localising Economic Control Through Clubs: Examining the Intellectual Property Protection of Feni in Goa, India. His yet to be published manuscript on Feni cuts across diverse disciplines inaugurating new directions in interdisciplinary research; and brings life to an area of research otherwise colonised by obscure legal language.  The fact that he could also share this drink with his friends and colleagues was as much a cause for hilarity as it was for camaraderie; both underlined Dwijen’s good humour and sharing nature.

Dwijen was a fighter against injustice and supported many causes, academic and non-academic, to make the world a better place. He was very generous with his time, especially with young scholars, fought tirelessly for colleagues as a representative of the UCU, gave lots of advice to new departmental UCU reps and showed his active solidarity for hourly paid tutors in the campaign against Teach Higher in the summer.

Culturally, he was a supporter of the arts, introducing his friends and colleagues to the beautiful sounds of what is popularly termed ‘world music’. In his quiet, unassuming way, Dwijen challenged traditional and Eurocentric constructions of scholarship, arts and popular culture.

Dwijen will be greatly missed by his students and colleagues in the Law School, colleagues in the Union, and in the wider university community.

The words above have been amalgamated from messages from colleagues and friends.

 

A tribute to Dwijen on the School of Law website:

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/people/rangnekar

Professor Jane Hutton appointed as UCU-nominated USS Director

We are delighted that UCU has nominated Jane Hutton, Professor of Statistics, as its USS Director. Jane spoke alongside Professor Dennis Leech at the University Assembly on Pensions in April 2015, and she clearly knows her stuff. Even more importantly, she is relentless in challenging the inaccurate and misleading information peddled by other so-called experts. We’ve always known there is no-one better able to hold the other USS Directors to account. It’s nice to know that UCU has come to the same conclusion.

More information about Jane:

University Staff Page
USS Discussions

 

The Defeat of TeachHigher through Serendipity and Strategic Alliances

The Defeat of TeachHigher through Serendipity and Strategic Alliances

by Warwick UCU Branch Committee

On 2 June 2015, management at the University of Warwick announced that “ongoing scrutiny of TeachHigher has become a distraction and TeachHigher should be disbanded”. Warwick UCU members greeted the announcement with a mixture of joy and disbelief. TeachHigher was set up as an employment agency, in all but name, to try to ameliorate the obvious problems being generated by the university’s extensive use of casualised teachers and researchers. It was disbanded before it had recruited a single worker, and the campaign against it offers some useful lessons about what it takes to persuade university management to do the right thing.

In 2013/14, the University of Warwick directly employed 2,130 academic staff on open-ended or fixed-term contracts. They also used the services of a further 2,725 “atypical” academic members of staff. None of these people had a contract of employment and many had no formal specification of what, exactly, they were being paid to do. Because these arrangements were decided by individual Heads of Department, there were huge inconsistencies and inequalities. The University argued that TeachHigher would address these deficiencies by developing “a fair, transparent and consistent approach” to the recruitment and remuneration of casual staff. Although Warwick UCU was supportive of this broader aim, we organised against TeachHigher for two reasons. Firstly, the Temporary Worker Agreement initially posted on the TeachHigher website threatened to worsen most people’s working conditions, not least by giving the university the right to dismiss them at any time without giving a reason. Secondly, we were worried that, in the longer term, TeachHigher would institutionalise the casualisation of academic work, and thereby facilitate a sector-wide expansion of this type of exploitative contract. We were particularly concerned that Warwick Employment Group, a commercial off-shoot of the University of Warwick, was intending to sell TeachHigher to other universities as a franchise, akin to Unitemps, their existing employment agency.

In Spring 2015,Warwick UCU began to organize against TeachHigher both on campus and around the country. The campaign sought to raise awareness about the negative effects TeachHigher would have on workers nationwide, and to mobilize resistance against its imminent introduction at Warwick. It was greatly helped by two instances of fortuitous timing. Firstly, the 2015 UCU Congress took place a few weeks into the campaign. This meant Congress could pass a motion opposing TeachHigher and that our two Warwick delegates could distribute flyers about an up-coming demonstration and garner support from other UCU branches up and down the country. Secondly, a University of Warwick Open Day was scheduled for two months after the start of the campaign. This gave us just enough time to work with other groups to organise a demonstration for the same day. Shortly before both events were due to take place, management decided to disband TeachHigher. The thought of an unknown number of demonstrators coming face-to-face with prospective students and their parents probably played a part in this decision. The threat of negative publicity can be a powerful lever and it was used to full advantage in this instance.

As well as capitalising on pre-existing events, we also built a wide range of strategic alliances, within and beyond the university. We worked with sessional teaching staff and full-time colleagues as well as student groups to organize across campus. As a result of this work, the Student Union passed a motion opposing TeachHigher, as did a number of academic departments. In one department, 68 people (including several professors) signed an Open Letter to the Head of Department and the Head of Administration protesting at the lack of consultation. In another department, 22 of the 23 Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) signed a letter saying they would boycott TeachHigher in the coming academic year. Some of the GTAs were UCU members; some were part of a self-organising collective called the Hourly-paid Group; some had a foot in both camps, as they put it. Solidarity doesn’t get any stronger than this.

Beyond our own institution, we worked with other groups committed to tackling casualisation, including FACE (Fighting Against Casualisation in Education). We enlisted the support of neighbouring UCU branches who publicised the demonstration and pledged to send delegates. We also drew upon the expertise of staff in the UCU Regional and National Offices. For instance, Michael MacNeil, UCU’s National Head of Bargaining and Negotiations, wrote to the VC saying it was “an issue of national importance for the whole union”. We worked with UCU’s press officers and grassroots activists to orchestrate maximum media coverage, which included articles in outlets from Times Higher Education to Vice.

We deliberately used evidence and detailed argument with just a sprinkling of speculation. Throughout, we offered two concrete alternatives, one deliberately more ambitious than the other. This gave management the opportunity to meet us half-way by agreeing to the first of our requests (“halt the pilot and engage in meaningful discussion”) but not the second (“Place hourly-paid staff on fractional contracts that give them the same pay, conditions and rights as those on open-ended contracts”).

Because of our organisational efforts and the solidarity we received from groups across the country, Teach Higher was disbanded in June. In August, we started what promises to be a series of meetings between local and regional UCU representatives, on the one hand, and the University Registrar and the Director of HR, on the other. We have also been invited to join the User Group which will provide feedback on the pilot being trialled in seven departments during 2015/16. Of course, there is still a long way to go to ensure all workers on campus receive decent wages and fair treatment but, at least, both sides are now taking steps in the right direction.

This article was submitted to UCU Head Office for inclusion in an anti-casualisation magazine to be published this year.

More information on Sessional Teaching Project (Warwick University HR)

Teachhigher to be disbanded

TeachHigher to be disbanded but VAM to be reformed

University management have acknowledged that “ongoing scrutiny of Teach Higher has become a distraction and Teach Higher should be disbanded”.

Full details are available at:

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/insite/news/intnews2/th_update

Warwick UCU and the Hourly-paid Group welcome this latest development. National and local UCU representatives have been invited to a meeting with senior management later this month and we hope to start proper discussions about how best to deliver fair pay for all staff at the university.

A statement from the Student Union can be found here: http://www.warwicksu.com/news/article/warwicksu/Warwick-SU-statement-on-the-disbanding-of-TeachHigher/

An update about TeachHigher

TeachHigher Update – Breaking News
 
Are you up for the demo on Friday 19 June?
(12pm at Library Road)
 
Can you spare an hour to make a poster/banner?
(Wednesday 17 June from 4-7pm)
 
Or distribute flyers?
(Wednesday 3 June at 12pm at Library entrance)

Read about the latest achievements below or in the attachments.

National Support for Warwick UCU’s Campaign against TeachHigher

Last weekend, UCU Congress (the body which decides UCU policy for the whole of the UK) voted to campaign against TeachHigher – see motion 66A.1 here. In a letter to Nigel Thrift, Michael MacNeil, National Head of Bargaining and Negotiations, calls it “an issue of national importance for the whole union”. UCU have reported Warwick’s story here and here.

UCU – University and College Union – University of Warwick under fire for ‘regressive’ change to casual contracts
UCU has called for a rethink of ‘regressive’ plans by the University of Warwick to change the way it manages staff on casual contracts.

Staff and Student Demonstration against Casualisation and TeachHigher

Please support the demonstration on Friday 19 June – further details here. Alongside the usual elements (a march and a rally), there’ll be lots of creative activities highlighting the human cost of casual contracts – watch out for “Sticky Floor”, “Twins” and “The Alternative Campus Guide”. UCU branches from all over the country are coming as are staff from UCU Head Office.

History and Film and TV Studies join English in voting not to use TeachHigher

Two more departments have exercised their democratic right and voted to reject TeachHigher at a departmental meeting. Please try to do the same in your own department. Contact the committee via administrator@warwickucu.org.uk if you need help with this.    

Boycott of pilot by Sociology tutors

22 tutors in the Sociology department emailed Professor Solomos (Head of Department) and Jackie Smith (Director of Administration for Sociology, PAIS and Philosophy) on 27 May saying they won’t apply for sessional work via TeachHigher next academic year. Read the email in the second attachment. About a third of all teaching in Sociology is done by sessional tutors.

Concerns expressed by 68 members of staff in PAIS

68 members of staff have written a series of emails to Professor Chris Hughes (Head of Department) and Jackie Smith (Director of Administration) outlining their concerns. The group includes people from all ranks of the academic ladder showing this is an issue affecting all of us. Approximately 53% of all UG teaching in PAIS is done by sessional tutors, 30% by teaching fellows on temporary contracts, and 17% by permanent staff members.

Student Union overwhelmingly rejects TeachHigher despite  management reassurances

The SU invited management to an Open Meeting about TeachHigher on 14 May. You can hear an audio recording here. The students were not reassured. A week later, they voted overwhelmingly to “reject TeachHigher and demand in its place a universal contract system that values and not exploits hourly-paid teachers”. Read the full motion and result here:

Why are staff and students from all over the country coming together to oppose TeachHigher?

1) There is still a lack of clarity about TeachHigher. The website says it’s “an internal academic recruitment and administration services” and that the pilot will involve seven departments (Sociology, Philosophy, Politics and International Studies, Chemistry, Mathematics, the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, and the Centre for Lifelong Learning). This leaves unanswered important questions about its reporting structures, its business model and its longer-term aims. Similarly, the relationship between TeachHigher and Warwick Employment Group, a University of Warwick subsidiary, remains opaque. TeachHigher used to be listed as the sixth brand on WEG’s webpage, alongside Unitemps and jobs.ac.uk – now there’s just an awkward gap in the bottom right-hand corner. Check it out here. Given how much things keep changing, without any explanation, who could blame us for being sceptical?

2) UCU and the Hourly-paid Working Group have not been consulted at any point.

3) The original terms and conditions were deeply concerning because the “candidate” could be dismissed at any time without reason. We know nothing about the revised terms and conditions because we have been excluded from the drafting process. We believe they will still offer a contract for services, denying hourly-paid staff basic employment rights.

4) Warwick already has one of the highest casualisation rates in the whole sector and TeachHigher will do nothing to ameliorate this dubious distinction. Instead, it will almost certainly make the situation worse in the next five to ten years.

5) TeachHigher makes it possible for HR personnel with no academic training or specialist expertise to recruit teachers and researchers. Potentially, under the new scheme, HR could bypass departmental preferences and take full control of the hiring process and the staffing of modules. This isn’t going to happen this year or next, but who’s to say it won’t happen further down the line?

6) Similarly, TeachHigher makes it easier for Warwick central management to recruit ever larger numbers of hourly-paid and casualised staff to teach modules and do piecemeal research, while continuing to reduce the number of secure, open-ended positions. Again, this isn’t going to happen immediately, but it’s a real concern for the future.

What’s the alternative?

1) Halt the pilot; engage in meaningful discussion with UCU and other groups most affected;

2) Place hourly-paid staff on fractional contracts that give them the same pay, conditions and rights as those on open-ended contracts.

Produced by the Warwick UCU committee and the Hourly-Paid Working Group.
29 May 2015

Newsletter – April 2015

Headlines in this edition include:

·      Big turnout at meeting to counter TeachHigher threat

·      Life’s little ironies

·      Branch action on pensions – what you can do

·      Union victory on DPR

·      Setting the tone

·      Hourly Paid Tutor Group (An hourly-paid tutor speaks)

·      ‘If only’…   Warwick and gender

·      TeachHigher Developments

Download here