People Before Buildings & Education Before Profits: How the UCU is Successfully Organising Another Fight-Back at the University of Leicester

Professor Paul Boyle, it seems, is a busy man. His university biography notes that he “enjoys running, swimming, cycling and spending time at the coast,” and since 2014 he has been the Vice Chancellor at the University of Leicester.

During his well-remunerated time heading up the University of Leicester, Prof Boyle has overseen an interesting drop in his university’s positioning in the much-vaunted national rankings (from 16 to 34), while simultaneously increasing his own pay. As the Leicester Mercury (July 14) reported last year: “Prof Boyle’s overall financial package [for the year] was £295,000, including £32,000 in pension contributions.”

So, it is not without much irony that last month the greedy professor emailed all University of Leicester employees with his very troubling “financial planning update”. In this update Prof Boyle pointed out how the University Leadership Team was aiming to attack their workforce by “reducing the proportion of income spent on staff salaries, from its current level, which is one of the highest in the sector, to a level closer to that of our peers.”

The University and College Union (UCU) provided an immediate response to this latest round of nonsense, stating: “Another instance of trying to achieve excellence by aiming for the average!”

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Moreover, after a quick look at the university’s figures, the union was able to immediately contradict Prof Boyle’s rationale for his proposed cuts. This led the union to the conclusion that “there is nothing to be concerned about: staff costs now (as proportion of income) are in line with historical norms. University of Leicester is pretty boring really: it is a beacon of stability!” (“Disquiet in the ranks,” UCU statement, May 17.)

(Also see the union’s detailed response to Prof Boyle’s letter here http://www.uculeicester.org.uk/ucu/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/ULT-17-May-2018-rebuttal.pdf)

Jumping into action, the union immediately organised an Extraordinary General Meeting of their members (which was held on May 22) to discuss their collective response to the University Leadership Team’slatest aggression.”

Reporting on the outcome of this brilliantly attended democratic meeting of more than eighty UCU members, the branch explained how they had unanimously passed a motion that rejected the University Leadership Team’s (ULT) “case for a significant cut in the staffing budget over a two-year period.” They summed up:

“In a nutshell, the mood was angry, but upbeat. We are furious at the way our University is being (mis-)managed by its current leadership. Many of us are worried about our own jobs, but we are also worried about our students and the university’s future. But we remember how easy we found it to pull apart the ULT’s financial arguments in 2016 and how they were forced to quietly backtrack. We remember how quickly our petition of no-confidence in the vice-chancellor gained almost 4,000 signatures. The memory of the recent strikes is even fresher. As we all know – and as most of us experienced – our branch was one of the most active in the country during the pension strikes. We gained several hundred new members. So we know that we are stronger now – and university management in even more disarray – than two years ago. The motion we passed calls for a (written) commitment from ULT that there will be no compulsory redundancies and that all short-term contracts will be renewed (unless a bona fide ‘business case’ can be made). If no such guarantee is provided, then the motion commits us to ballot for sustained industrial action that would commence from mid-September.” (“People vs. the digital campus and investors,” UCU statement, May 24.)

On June 1st the union then received a “shameful” mealy-mouthed response from the university management, which led the leadership of the UCU branch to correctly advise their members that: “We will now begin the activities to oppose the University’s plans and begin the process of consulting with the branch membership over strike action.” (“Redundancies & shameful treatment of fixed-term contract staff – email to all members 5 June 2018,” UCU statement, June 7.)

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Determined to maintain pressure on the University (mis)management, UCU co-chair, Sarah Seaton, wrote to Prof Boyle on behalf of her members (on June 14) to remind him that he was taking their university “in the wrong direction.” She patiently explained:

“We have repeatedly warned over the last two years of the damage being done to the reputation of the University of Leicester, due to poor decisions by senior management. Examples include the closure of Vaughan and most recently, the budget cuts announcement.

“The senior management of this institution seem to have forgotten that a university is made of its staff: from cleaners to professors. Repeated budget cuts and staff redundancies that have taken place on your watch have battered and bruised the morale of staff. The cuts and repercussions have subsequently impacted on our students.

“We believe that the university will continue to decline until our concerns are listened to. Morale is low, and continues to fall. We ask that ULT share with us their plan to see Leicester’s place in the league table rise back to where it once was in the past. If this is not tackled quickly, we believe the damage will be irreversible.” (“Letter to VC Paul Boyle re University of Leicester decline,” UCU statement, June 14.)

The following day, UCU chair, Christine Vie, then lodged a formal “Declaration of dispute” letter with Prof Boyle, and on the same day the unionregretfully report[ed]” to their members “that the University is continuing with its devastating plans to enter into a programme of redundancies affecting all areas of the University.”  The members’ letter went on:

“Meetings with the Registrar and the Director of Human Resources have proved frustrating; we have been presented with limited information, a continued justification of “buildings over jobs” and little appreciation that alternative approaches are possible. They seem genuinely incredulous that we are willing to take a stance against redundancies – they are truly out of touch with members’ strength of feeling on this matter.

“We have been told that we should expect a large number of business cases for potential redundancies, starting on Monday. There are 18 business cases already prepared, and more are to follow. In total these may well involve 70–100 potential redundancies – clearly far more destructive to academic and professional services departments than the “small number of targeted redundancies” outlined by Paul Boyle in his email of 17/5/18 and his subsequent presentation.

“This is in addition to the non-renewal of fixed term contract staff despite the work continuing, and the de facto recruitment freeze which has increased the workload on many.” (“We can stop redundancies! – Email to all members 15 June 2018,” UCU statement, June 17.)

Critically the letter to the members highlighted the unions positive position, noting how their “membership is large and strong,” and totally “unified” in their resolve to fight for justice: “We can stop this” the UCU leadership explained. The UCU therefore notified their members that (as a first step) they were now balloting for strike action which — following Britain’s regressive anti-trade union laws — meant that an indicative ballot of members was being launched on June 18, which would remain open for three weeks (until 6th July). The letter to their members concluded:

“Voting in the indicative ballot is the only way we can stop these redundancies. We need to demonstrate strength now and show solidarity with our colleagues.”

Great stuff! I just wish every union in this country was as well-organised as the Leicester UCU!

If you want to find out more about the ongoing dispute then follow Leicester UCU’s regular online updates here http://www.uculeicester.org.uk/ucu/news/ and on twitter @leicesterucu

Why not also consider sending UCU Leicester a message of solidarity from your local trade union branch; and if you want to find out more about other successful trade union disputes then book a place on the mini-bus that will be travelling from Leicester to London to attend the annual conference of the National Shop Stewards Network on Saturday (July 7). Email me at michaelb8@excite.com

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Leicester NSSN

https://www.facebook.com/groups/224859931637097/

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One comment

  1. Paul Boyle jumped before he was sacked at St Andrews due to his dodgy grip of financial processes. He managed to get his wife a job on the teaching staff at Leicester though!!

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