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RUCU letter to Council

As part of our campaign to save Statutes and protect employment rights and academic freedom at Reading, the RUCU Committee has written to every member of Council in advance of their meeting on 21 November 2014. Below is the text of the email we sent (with some slight differences in wording on the one to members who are university employees).

Dear XX

We, the Reading branch of the University and College Union (UCU), wanted to make you, as member of Council at the University of Reading, aware that staff at the University have serious concerns about the proposed changes to Statutes, Ordinances and procedures.

Both academic and academically-related staff members’ concerns are that these proposed changes are not simply a case of small tweaks and ‘refreshing’ of existing procedures, but a wholesale transformation of employment procedures that will result in less protection for staff and limited powers of appeal, and therefore adversely affect all (both academic and academically-related) staff.

Colleagues are particularly worried about the prospect of governance of staff becoming a matter of policies which can be changed at any time without proper consultation and negotiation with staff and UCU. Either the status of such policies would have to be a lot more binding, permanent and secure and the procedures, including appeals, a lot more sound, or Statutes would need to be retained. Colleagues are unhappy at the prospect of finding themselves having to sign a new employment contract which will strengthen the University’s claims on the outputs of their work, creativity, energy and intellectual endeavor, when in exchange for that they end up with a lot less protection from arbitrary governance on the part of the University.

This month, we conducted a quick-response anonymous online survey. In just one week, 175 members of Reading staff participated, and the results are telling:

· 91% of respondents think that the changes will worsen their job security;
· 86% think they will undermine their academic freedom;
· 97% think they will make it easier to fire academic and academic-related staff;
· 98% think they will make it easier to impose redundancies on academic and academic-related staff;
· 89% do not think they have been adequately explained by the University management;
· 86% do not think they have been proposed for good reasons;
· 67% think they will make them more likely to look for a job elsewhere;
· and
· 91% of respondents are against the proposed removal of Statutes.

The opportunity to add further comments was also taken by staff, and responses include:

· “I am particularly concerned regarding the ill health parts of the Statutes – from personal experience I feel it is vital that a medical professional is involved in discussions regarding fitness to work etc.”
· “Laying down the conditions that enable academics to produce ground breaking research and offer innovative teaching is a delicate business. The importance of academic freedom and job security should not be overlooked. Without these in place, I think will become – despite myself – restrained in my thinking. The changes may well produce a timid and limited workforce. Heavy handed management does not produce world leading research, and does not help young people exceed their perceived potential…”
· “Academic freedom is only meaningful when backed up by proper Statutes. These proposals effectively abolish academic freedom, and are strongly against the long term interests of the university, as well as its academic staff. They are a disgrace and demonstrate that our leaders are out of touch with reality.”
· “I am saddened that the university management seems hell bent on eroding all good will with its staff. There seems a lack of awareness that if good staff are the backbone of a university and a disgruntled staff with low morale and high staff turnover will be the most detrimental thing for this university. I personally think some minor revision of Statutes and simplifying of some procedures is warranted but not what is delivered by the changes that are being imposed.”
· “To me this is all part of the neo-liberal drive to make higher education an obedient producer of ‘skilled’ consumers, not critical thinkers, and with work conditions for staff to boot: that they can be got rid of if their work is too critical or just if this is not about profit-production for the pay of the management.”
· “Senior management’s motivations for attempting to amend Statutes are laughably obvious – it is in order to ease the path to large-scale redundancies in the next couple of years in order to ‘save money’ (and boost their own performance-related pay, no doubt…).”
· “I fully agree that the proposals are not up to scratch and will enable an already bullying HR to treat undesirable staff as though dispensable. Better protections should be added for ALL staff, not just academics. The University should be trying to lead the way in enlightened peoples management, not treating its staff as corporate dogs-bodies.”
· “With morale so low, this proposal will make a bad situation even worse and inevitably impact of students. Reading already has a reputation as a poor employer and this action will further damage its image.”
· “These changes are unconscionable. The protections they mean to take away were put in place for good reason and must be preserved. A 19-day “consultation period” at the start of the academic year is totally and deliberately inadequate. Attempting to pass off these changes as an enhancement to academic freedom is shameful.”
· “The management has given inadequate notice for staff engagement, and together with all the other proposed and in train changes we are experiencing, this is totally unacceptable.”
· “Such changes undermine morale for all staff.”

We feel it is vital that we bring these serious concerns about these fundamental matters to your attention for the meeting of Council on 21 November 2014.

The proposed changes would remove oversight of the procedures by Council in many cases, which is based on assumptions by University management that Council would approve of this and does not wish to be involved in the day-to-day activity of the University. We ask you as a member of Council to consider what your views are on this, and to articulate them on 21 November.

The University’s Statutes have been revised many times over the years, and are by no means antiquated and obsolete. Indeed, the rights and protections enshrined in our Statutes put us in good company; Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Oxford, Queen Mary, UCL and other universities include virtually identical provisions in their Statutes. This is something that University should take pride in, not seek to discard.

We call on Council members to reject the currently proposed changes and to refer them back for reconsideration. We also urge the Council to mandate a proper staff consultation period when any revised proposals are brought forward.

Reading UCU

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