Published: 22nd February, 2022
In this next edition of our new series of Picket blog posts, one Leicester UCU member reflects on why they feel so devalued, demotivated, and have been pushed to breaking point.
If you would like to contribute to this ongoing series, please forward any pieces to Cara Dobbing, Communications Officer (email@example.com). This may be a reflection of a particular day’s picketing, or a wider reflection on how you feel about the current disputes.
The news of the Four Fights dispute, and ensuing industrial action brought me hope. Hope that something could change at the University of Leicester. The last two years have been the most challenging, and have pushed me, and many of my colleagues, to breaking point. The pandemic aside, the behaviour of our senior leadership, the increasing pressure across all departments of the institution, and the overall ethos that has emerged at Leicester is one that is not sustainable, or healthy for staff and students alike.
I was one of the 145 put up for redundancy in January 2021, as part of the “Shaping for Excellence” strategy. The disdain from management towards it’s staff during that period was nothing short of appalling. It really opened my eyes to the blatant disregard for staff wellbeing, and, actually, for the overall respect for the institution that is the University of Leicester. It opened my eyes to the fact that our University leaders do not want to listen to the views of the people who ensure the day-to-day running of this institution. We are the people that make this University what it is. We ensure buildings are open, students are taught, visitors welcomed, and facilities maintained.
The plans that have been rolled out over the last twelve months have damaged this institution. They have damaged its reputation. They have damaged the resolve and goodwill of us, it’s staff. And they have damaged the experience for our current and prospective students. Look around campus and all you see are overpriced, unhealthy, catering outlets that most students and staff cannot afford. This isn’t a campus with the best interests of the staff and students in mind.
Instead, what we have are exhausted colleagues in both academic and non-academic roles. We have barely any front-facing help points for students to get vital assistance. Very few departments now have the capacity to have a reception desk, and barely any have the workforce to maintain telephone lines: key routes of communication for students when they are in crisis, and in need of specialist assistance. Instead we have generic email addresses to reach particular help. But because of staff cuts and increasing workloads, these inboxes are overflowing, and students must wait days, weeks, and even months for the assistance they need. Is this what shaping for excellence looks like?
On a personal level, due to “Shaping for Excellence”, I am expected to do two job roles and get paid for one. I am expected to deal with enquiries that I have been told there is no time to train me on. I said goodbye to colleagues who were made redundant, as they were told there were no jobs for them. In a matter of weeks, I then welcomed new members of our team who were recruited as we were so short staffed. The logic is absent. The flaws are obvious, and all ones myself and colleagues pointed out to the Executive Board, but they refused to listen and plough on with their financial mismanagement of this institution.
On a daily basis I am faced with students I cannot help. I have to apologise for not having the answers, and I have to apologise for not being able to do my job, and none of it is my fault. It is my employer’s fault that they make me feel so useless, and make me feel embarrassed that there is no one available to help.
What has pushed me to breaking point the most is the widespread sense of disrespect. There is no recognition for hard work. There are no routes for promotion and advancement. There are no incentives to go above and beyond and use your own initiative. Instead, brilliant, hard working people are stifled, not listened to, and not valued. Many of my colleagues have had to seek help from mental health services due to work stress. Despite all the help from counselling and occupational health, nothing will change until the value of staff at this University is realised, recognised and applauded.
I’m at breaking point, and it’s really quite a statement that the only hope I feel is gained by going out on strike. I want to work, I want to help students. I cannot do this, and have been pushed to walk out on strike.
Something has to change before more of us are pushed to breaking point.