Published: 15th December, 2016
15 December 2016
It’s been quite a year at the University of Leicester! We’ve no doubt all been transformed by the experience – though whether institutionally so is another question.
For some of our colleagues – notably those at the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning the months of uncertainty and anxiety have not ended well. (However, the Vaughan Centre has not shut yet, and we see no reason why Paul Boyle and his ‘university leadership team’ (ULT) cannot reverse their short-sighted decision. We fear it’s too late for the University’s award-winning bookshop – we have lost the years of expertise accumulated by its staff.) We wish we had been more successful in defending these colleagues and their important contributions.
But we also have reason to celebrate. In Maths and Criminology departments, colleagues successfully organised to prevent compulsory redundancies. The Save Vaughan campaign mobilised opposition to President Boyle’s elitist vision for the University of Leicester, while Leicester UCU debunked the financial case for sacking staff and closing departments. We demonstrated that the ‘financial crisis’ had, in effect, been manufactured. (You can read our briefing here or view one of our presentations here.) Almost 4,000 people signed our petition, ‘no cuts, no confidence at University of Leicester’. It was fascinating to observe the shifting demographic of signatories. The Vaughan Centre is perhaps the part of the University that is best-known and most highly regarded within Leicester and Leicestershire and many of the early signers were local. When President Boyle shifted his attack to the University’s maths department, international censure of his ‘strategic plan’ exploded as hundreds of mathematicians from every populated continent added their names.
As a result of this, and other instances of opposition, President Boyle’s desired ‘Institutional Transformation’ seems to have been downgraded to ‘transformation with a small t’. In their financial presentation two weeks ago, the financial director Martyn Riddleston, flanked by the Provost Mark Peel, admitted that the University’s financial position wasn’t quite as bad as they had forecast – a validation of Leicester UCU’s analysis and an acknowledge that he had got his figures wrong.
None of this means the danger has passed. The ULT is still pushing ahead with punitive attempts to sack some colleagues in Physics, Natural Sciences, Chemistry, History of Art and Cancer Studies. The University and College Union rejects the idea that institutional change can only come about by wrecking people’s working lives; and creating anxiety and fear. In all the affected departments we are doing everything we can to achieve the same outcome as in Maths and Criminology – we hope that as many colleagues as possible will get involved in some of our planned new year actions, inspired by the Save Vaughan campaign.
Several other disputes are ongoing – not least that over Pro-VC Jon Scott’s crude attempt to impose the flawed Panopto system of ‘lecture capture’ on academics – and 2017 will bring new challenges. We do not believe President Boyle has abandoned his ambitions to ‘transform’ our university and he will be desperate to salvage his reputation as a higher education leader. Two flashpoints might be the University’s responses to the new ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ (TEF), part of the government’s wider plans for further marketisation of HE, and to the UK’s imminent withdrawal from the EU. We suspect that Paul Boyle’s vision for HE will differ from that of many academics and students.
On the issue of TEF, it is interesting to see how quickly the National Union of Students’ NSS boycott campaign is gathering pace: already 20 students’ unions have voted to join this boycott. And without the National Student Survey, the TEF is, of course, useless. In keeping with national UCU policy, Leicester UCU looks forwards to working as closely as possible with University of Leicester Students’ Union on this matter.
We acknowledge that there are some areas where Leicester UCU shares common ground with the ULT. One of these is HeForShe. We commend President Boyle’s genuine commitment to live up to the ‘Beacon of Excellence’ the University enjoys as a HeForShe Ambassor and, in particular, his commitment to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy regarding gender-based violence and to addressing the gender pay gap. We look forwards to developing fresh initiatives with President Boyle and his ULT so that this beacon can burn more brightly.
In his end-of-year talk last week, President Boyle appeared to accept that he and his ‘leadership team’ should be accountable. We agree! Leicester UCU believes that he and other senior managers have been responsible for several serious failures of leadership – moreover failures that have resulted in many University of Leicester employees suffering material disadvantage – in 2016. In 2017 he will need to do better.
Look out for a new issue of Transformational Times in the new year. There we will try and offer more in-depth news and analysis of what’s been happening at the University of Leicester and what the future might hold. If you there is anything you think we should include in that, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also get in touch if you would like to become more involved in Leicester UCU – we always need more people! And please forward this email to other non-UCU colleagues if you think they might be interested – and encourage them to join here.
Have a good holiday!
Leicester UCU Committee