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First statement on threatened compulsory redundancies

Published: 25th January, 2021

Image of Leicester UCU banner. The text says "Leicester UCU – in excellent shape"

On date 18 January – the first day of second semester teaching and also ‘Blue Monday’ – senior managers at the University of Leicester wrote to 145 members of staff informing them that their jobs were at risk of redundancy. Managers are calling their plans Shaping for Excellence.The affected staff are in five academic departments – English; Business; Informatics; Mathematics & Actuarial Science; and Neuroscience, Psychology & Behaviour – and three professional services units – Education Services; Library User Services (frontline library staff); and Estates & Digital Services.

Leicester UCU – which is already in excellent shape – is opposed to all compulsory redundancies at the University of Leicester

Branch members will make plans to oppose the University leadership’s plans at an extraordinary general meeting on Monday 25 January.

  1. Staff are already facing a triple workload crisis. One year ago, our workloads were unmanageable – to the extent we took sustained industrial action on this question. For 10 months we have continued educating and supporting our students in the midst of a global pandemic. At the beginning of this pandemic the University’s vice-chancellor Nishan Canagarajah and his executive board cancelled the contracts of hundreds of casualised staff, shunting additional work onto the remaining employees. There is a freeze on the recruitment of new staff. Student numbers have increased. Everyone is working around the clock. To make staff redundant now makes no sense. No One is Redundant.
  2. We believe Professor Canagarajah has abdicated his responsibility as a guardian of scholarship. He has betrayed our University’s history and mission and is not fit to lead it. A few examples illustrate this. (For more see our ongoing commentary on our website.) Prof. Canagarajah wants to eliminate pure maths research and most pure maths teaching. This intention has eerie similarities to 2016 plans that failed after international outcry, including from Sir Michael Atiyah, Chancellor of our University between 1995 and 2005 and ‘widely regarded as Britain’s greatest mathematician’, according to the University’s own obituary. In the School of Business, leaders want to ‘disinvest’ from scholarship in ‘critical management studies’ and political economy: in the midst of a global pandemic, which has both exposed and exacerbated inequalities (a core concern of both CMS and political economy) and laid bare management failures of the most life-and-death kind, we believe these approaches are more necessary than ever. In the English Department, the attempt to force out Early Modernists and Medievalists will mean students enrolled at the university that is rightly proud of discovering the remains of Richard III will be unable to study the literature of that period. The English Association which is hosted by the University of Leicester decried the planned closures.
  3. We are utterly opposed to the narrative being peddled in quarters of the media, which seeks to ridicule the University’s plans by attacking the movement to decolonise the curriculum. As a branch we fully support such attempts. In fact, many of the staff now at risk of redundancy are amongst those doing most to decolonise the curriculum. We note, for instance, the efforts of educationalists in Leicester Learning Institute (now threatened with redundancy) to identify and address the factors behind the BAME awarding gap, through inclusive approaches such as decolonising assessments, developing dialogues around feedback, and enhancing teaching through student-staff partnerships. We recognise the efforts of critical management scholars and political economists (threatened in the School of Business), to uncover the roots of much modern management in the slave trade, plantation economy and, more generally, the plunder of Africa and the Americas. We applaud the Medievalists and Early Modernists in the English department (jobs at risk), who are exploring the literature of those periods through lenses of race and gender – scholarship that is essential to understanding contemporary relations of domination. As Professor Priyamvada Gopal, the acclaimed Cambridge university scholar of race and colonialism, has pointed out in direct response the Leicester leadership’s plans, ‘Decolonisation requires Chaucer to be present in class’.
  4. We believe that many of the executive board’s plans are based on reports provided by external consultants, such as dataHE and The Knowledge Partnership. The executive board has refused to share these reports with us, making it impossible for us to check their working. (Professor Canagarajah and his deputy Professor Edmund Burke both pride themselves on being scientists, yet such refusal to share data and methodology goes directly against standard scientific method.) What we have discovered about both consultancies suggests their methods are highly problematic to say the least.
  5. Professor Canagarajah and his deputies have repeatedly insisted that redundancies are necessary to secure the University’s long-term future. Simultaneously we are told of short-term financial fragility. When so many livelihoods are at stake – and the future of the University itself – such contradictory messaging is disrespectful to everyone affected – which is all staff and students – and raises questions about the executive board’s competence to lead the institution. 
  6. The University leadership attempted similarly misguided ‘transformations’ involving mass redundancies in 2016 (which led to the closure of the respected Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning) and in 2018. Professor Canagarajah, who arrived in late 2019, has insisted that he should not be judged by the failures of the previous managerial regime. Yet, he has retained and even promoted at least three members that previous, discredited regime
  7. Professor Canagarajah insists his plans are about the University’s future (see point 5). He also insists that the post-pandemic world will be completely different. But if the post-pandemic world will be completely different, why are his decisions driven by old-world data (see point 4)? Why are he and his executives acting as though nothing has changed. The University of Leicester will celebrate its centenary this year. It was founded on the basis of optimism in the wake of the horror of World War I, on the basis that it might be possible to shape the future. Professor Canagarjah’s vision for the University he claims to care for is underpinned by pessimism.