Published: 13th October, 2020
We have been told repeatedly by Vice Chancellor Canagarajah and by other members of University executive board that our community is the University of Leicester’s most valuable asset. We have been told that the health and wellbeing of staff and students is the University’s top priority.
But today staff are anxious and upset; our community is under threat. And from whom? The very people who told us how important we were and how much they cared.
The University’s executive board has announced what it calls “Shaping for Excellence”: a restructuring programme that will mean “disinvesting in certain areas of the university” and “may lead to compulsory redundancies”. The Vice-Chancellor’s all-staff email identified five academic schools and seven professional services divisions that will be directly impacted by these plans.
Leicester UCU received no prior notice of these plans. We are opposed to all compulsory redundancies.
Make no mistake. We are angry. We are angry because…
And how were staff informed of these changes? Staff in targeted departments/teams were sent group emails advising that they may be in line for redundancy, a full ten to thirty minutes before the whole University knew. Some members from affected teams have reported that their line managers learned about these plans at the same time as they did, so Professor Canagarajah’s reassurance in his email that “Your line manager will also be available if you have any questions” was perhaps premature. Such a careless approach to announcing plans that threaten staff jobs does not inspire confidence in the “pre-change engagement sessions” to which staff in impacted areas have been invited.
The University even put out a press release, about 90 minutes after staff in affected teams received their emails, so proud it is of its plans to jeopardise the livelihoods of yet further loyal, hard-working staff in the midst of a global pandemic. Although it hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that the words “disinvesting” and “compulsory redundancies” do not appear in this public announcement of the executive board’s “strategic case for change”.
And why now? We already have many colleagues who are sick with stress because of the University’s attempts to force them into undertaking face-to-face teaching, despite the risks that have been highlighted by UCU, by SAGE and Independent SAGE.
Yet, Professor Canagarajah’s email to all staff proclaims this to be the “perfect moment” for such change.
What does he mean? The moment when staff are stretched to breaking point with the university’s emergency workload model, supporting students and colleagues working in radically different ways in the first weeks of term? The moment when staff have spent months learning new skills, new systems, new ways of working, only to be told they are in areas of the University that are not “excellent” enough? The moment when the global pandemic that has already demanded so much of us is spiralling out of control once more, aided and abetted by Vice Chancellors like him promising students “business as usual” on UK campuses?
Or is it simply that Professor Canagarajah has been at the University of Leicester for almost a year now, and he can no longer let such inconvenient circumstances get in the way of unravelling the “strategic plan” that all new Vice Chancellors must ultimately produce, to justify their existence?
Our message to the Vice Chancellor is this: