Lecturers Common Interest Group – November 2015
Headlines from Lecturers Common Interest Group 4th November 2015
Effect on academic staff of the administrative restructuring
The administrative restructure has now entered Phase 3 where it will deal with some of the administrative functions that are closest to the day-to-day work of academic staff. The process so far has involved the centralisation and specialisation of administrative roles, and if Phase 3 follows the same pattern will result in the removal of the role of Academic Programme Administrators. This would mean that the administrative role providing all-round student-facing support and liaison with academic staff, which is a key element of the smooth running of many courses and programmes in the university, would no longer exist. The ending of this role would have a major impact on both the workloads and the ways of working of many academic staff.
A planning process for the changes has begun involving meetings between Administration Managers and Martyn Annis who is leading the restructure. UCU has secured agreement in principle from senior management that academic staff should be part of this ‘data collection and design’ phase. Union advice is for members to ensure that they are included in these discussions. Course or programme leaders should contact Martyn Annis, asking to be invited to meetings called to discuss changes to the administrative support for their subject area.
Elections to School Boards
After a period of uncertainty following the abolition of Faculty Academic Boards, new model terms of reference and constitutions for School Boards have been published, and elections are beginning to be announced.
The UCU has been arguing for the last year that School Boards should comprise a majority of elected representatives of staff. The new constitution provides for 50% of the board to be comprised of academic staff, including ‘a representative group of teaching and research staff’, but explicitly allows for only a maximum of three to be elected. We are arguing that, in the interests of democracy, all the representatives of academic staff, apart from those whose membership of the Board is ex-officio, should be elected, rather than appointed. There is, in fact, nothing in the model constitution that precludes that happening, and a precedent for it already exists in the School of Education.
Our advice is that members should make representation to their Head of School to press that the elections to their School Board aim to fill the entire quota of representatives of academic staff, not just three, and that appointment is resorted to only if there have been insufficient nominations to fill all seats.
After a series of about turns and possible stays-of-execution, the University is now told us that it has definitely decided not to continue paying the fees of academic staff for membership of professional organisations.
In response, the UCU made it clear to the Deputy Vice Chancellor that there could be no question under these circumstances of the University making membership of such organisations a requirement of any member of staff, even where the existence of such membership is a condition for the accreditation of University courses. The DVC accepted this position.
The current situation is that existing arrangements will continue to apply for twelve months from the date of the last Joint Negotiating Committee which took place on 10th June 2015. Beyond that, UCU advice to those whose fees the University has been paying is to consider carefully whether to continue in membership of your professional body, especially if your membership has been largely motivated by the requirements of this institution rather than any wider professional consideration. For further advice contact your branch UCU rep. Details can be found here: http://ucu.brighton.ac.uk/contact-us/
The UCU has learned more about the University’s implementation of its statutory duties under the government’s Prevent Agenda. The most significant aspect from the point of view of academic staff to have emerged so far is a plan for research proposals deemed ‘vulnerable’ from Prevent to be considered by the Research Ethics Committee. This means that projects without external participants which would not normally go through the committee would now be required to do so on the grounds that they might fall under the legislation’s concept of ‘non-violent extremism’: ideas which are non-violent but might be deemed ‘part of a terrorist ideology’. This could potentially affect many areas of research, most obviously those dealing with the conflicts and politics of the Middle East, but work on domestic campaigning, such as anti-fracking, have fallen foul of Prevent elsewhere.
The UCU nationally has a position of opposing Prevent as a threat to freedom of speech and academic freedom, as well as encouraging discrimination. It is difficult to see how the University’s new policy to ‘protect’ research from Prevent in this way differs from simply implementing Prevent: certain kinds of research will be singled out for special scrutiny and potential censorship.
Members should contact their UCU rep if they hear of possible infringements of academic freedom as a result of this or any other measure implemented in relation to Prevent. The UCU’s guidelines on Prevent are here: http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/r/t/Prevent_duty_guidance_Sept15.pdf
Teaching Excellence Framework
A proposal for a system of measuring the quality of teaching in Higher Education was published as part of the government’s Green Paper on HE last week. Despite the claims that the TEF is about ‘valuing teaching’, any such scheme would represent an intensification of market forces in HE and entail a considerable threat to the working conditions of academic staff.
You should already have received a communication about the Green Paper from the UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt. For an additional response this week from a group of academics, including some from this university, see this letter to The Guardianat http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/nov/10/the-higher-education-green-paper-will-see-market-forces-permeate-universities