That Faculty Communication email: one student’s response

Last week, students received an email from Professor Gregory (yes, really) in which he told us that “we are now in a much stronger position and [he looks] forward to working with colleagues to ensure [we] all have the best possible experience.” Though many of us were tempted to immediately hit reply and say how those feelings were certainly not mutual, we think everyone managed to step away from the mailbox and calm down. However since then, students have started to pen considered responses to the Pro-Vice Chancellor, pointing out the huge problems with his version of events post-Arts Portfolio Review. A PG student from the department of Theology and Religious Studies, Alan Darley, wrote this particularly brilliant reply:

Dear Professor Gregory,

Thank you for your email communication. I do not, however, accept the justification for these cuts, nor the fait accompli means by which we have been informed.

How will the loss of world-class scholars in their fields possibly progress the stated goal of being ‘relevant to student needs’? Such language sounds Orwellian! I have not met any student who believes that these cuts serve their interest in any way whatsoever.

It is argued that departments have been saved by these cuts. But I do not accept that in a wealthy university like Nottingham’s, that there was any crisis in the first place, to make these cuts inevitable. But there is now; as a loss of world class scholars will clearly devastate student recruitment for both undergraduate and higher level degrees, leading to a manufactured loss of ‘viability’ in the future. So even on the business leaders’ own crass economic criteria, these decisions are self-defeating.

It is indeed ominous that Manchester subsumed discreet departments into a single School of Arts, Languages and Cultures and that this has already been partly reproduced by the destructive restructuring of the languages and cultural studies in Nottingham. The writing is on the wall for Theology and other discreet humanities subjects.

If wisdom, as Thomas Aquinas observed, is related to final causes (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, chapter 1), then the university has forgotten about wisdom. It has forgotten its telos, replacing it with market utilitarianism.

Voluntary redundancies are indeed preferable to compulsory ones (which have not been altogether avoided), but we all know that ‘voluntary’ does not necessarily entail that staff involved wanted to lose their jobs, only that they faced the Hobson’s choice of leaving with or without some compensation.

I also note that ‘Professor Jeremy Gregory’ now appears as a member of faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. Shouldn’t someone who played a key role in decisions of redundancy and of their communication have also declared a conflict of interest?

Alan Darley


If you have, or plan to, reply to the Faculty Communication email, then we’d love to share it. Let us know if you’d be happy for us to do that! resistrestructuringnottingham@gmail.com or message on http://www.facebook.com/resistnotts. Thanks!

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Arts Portfolio Review Outcome: An Official Announcement

This week has been tense, not least for staff who were finally given a date for the outcome of the Arts Portfolio Review. There are lots of mixed feelings: after all of the stress and disruption that this process has caused, celebrations seem a little out of place, and as students we will always feel extremely sorry that respected members of staff were  put through this process over an extended period of time. However, there has been some very positive news this week and we don’t want to downplay everyone’s efforts in achieving this outcome. We have shown that by working together, across individual language departments and across the undergraduate and postgraduate communities, we can stand up to those whose short-sighted policies threaten to damage the world-class reputation that our Faculty of Arts has earned. We’re sure over the next week there will be many more thoughts, reactions, considerations – but for now, this is the letter sent out today by the Nottingham UCU President, Dr. Matt Green, detailing the outcome of the Review:

I write with news that all of the hard work put in over the past months is beginning to bear fruit. Yesterday, the Arts Faculty PVC formally announced that the number of compulsory redundancies planned has dropped from 11.5 FTE to 0.5 FTE. This comes as a partial relief to staff in the affected areas and is a testament to the unwavering efforts of staff and students in the Faculty, of UCU members and officers from across the institution and our Regional Officials. It also indicates that Management are listening to our collective voice and that small individual acts, when taken together, can make a difference.
I am more hopeful than ever that our local dispute can be resolved without the need for further disruption to our working lives, to our students or to the University more broadly. But, it is essential that our discussions are undertaken with a strong mandate from you, our members. If you haven’t yet voted in the ballot, please vote today and remember that the Branch Committee recommends you to vote yes to both questions.
Yesterday’s announcement is good news, but this dispute is about more than just one faculty. Even as we have come together to support colleagues in the Arts at this difficult time, it is clear that the underlying driver for the review was the combination of financial targets (the budget surplus) and the financial model (contribution ratings) implemented to help achieve these.
The end result of the Arts Portfolio Review is better than it might have been; however, considerable damage has been done to staff morale and there will still be a very large number of redundancies — we are awaiting the final figure but believe this to be the biggest reduction in staff from a single Faculty in the University’s history. Though the redundancies are technically voluntary, we will still see staff leaving who would otherwise have remained productive members of our community. And it is important to note that the Faculty is still planning to make one post redundant, which — as in similar cases elsewhere — we will continue to oppose through casework support.

You couldn’t make this up.

 

We’re all tired, it’s exam time, we’re totally fed up with this repeated farcical exchange where we spend our time organising together, gathering as wide a range of student opinion as we can, to present it to management, who then either haven’t responded, or who have given an answer which doesn’t even engage with the question. If their responses were student essays, they’d be first in line for a re-sit, with a big ‘DOES NOT ANSWER THE QUESTION’ in red biro.

But to keep reminding each other that no, we’re not going crazy, and yes, this is the ridiculous situation we find ourselves in where people at the top aren’t being honest with staff or students, and sometimes can’t even get their story straight and barely manage to pretend that they’ve got the interests of our departments at heart, we want to keep sharing some snippets of evidence that show just how disgraceful this whole ‘process’ has been.

So, for starters, here is one of the things that the Vice Chancellor said on his recent blog update, dated 9th May 2016:

It is worth noting that the funding streams for staffing and for capital investment are entirely separate: it is simply not the case that changes in staffing levels in one School or Faculty will release funding for new infrastructure. Finally, some infrastructure investment only takes place when we can secure external funding to support it.” (http://exchange.nottingham.ac.uk/blog/update-from-the-vice-chancellor/)

And then here is an explanation that students were given in the first meeting that took place between them and the Pro-Vice Chancellor and Registrar, back on the 18th March 2016:

One of our PG reps asks if either the PVC or Registrar can clarify what the ‘surplus’ actually means, and why the University needs to make savings with redundancies if there is a £25million surplus left at the end of the financial year (as the University’s 2015 financial statement shows). The Registrar replies:

“We’ve got targets in terms of our future surpluses which are around the £25-30 million mark…. And if we don’t make a surplus then we’re in a deficit position. So we have to find some other way of either cutting or borrowing money in order to make that… So, in order to build a new building, or to refurbish a current one, or to invest in a particular area, or to buy new IT kit, or whatever it might be, we have to generate that income ourselves, that’s what the surplus does, it’s about investment in the estate, about investment in our staff. [..] And redundancies happen from time to time all around the University as particular areas respond to the financial challenges that they have. So that’s part of the context.”

So, are they separate or are they not? That doesn’t really sound like ‘entirely separate’ streams of money to us. As the UCU has stated, and as we have tried to make clear throughout all of our communications, we see these proposed redundancies as part of a wider restructuring process where the University is targeting staff costs as a way of meeting their financial targets. Ok, so you might be able to argue the toss about which precise pot of money is which, but ultimately, please don’t be so insulting: we are saying that the redundancies of academic staff are not an appropriate solution to your self-imposed financial challenges in a University. Some of us have been in Union meetings where it’s been reported that the University has outright refused to consider alternative methods to addressing its financial shortcomings. So if they won’t consider making savings from sources other than staff costs, and if they’re planning redundancies to ‘respond to the financial challenges that they have’, how can the funding streams for staffing and capital investment be entirely separate?

If there is a reason, fine, be more transparent about it. But don’t claim that you’re responding to students when you provide answers like that which are blatant contradictions of information that we’ve already been given by members of your own Executive Board. Perhaps initially it was presumed that students wouldn’t ask questions and this could be slipped through quietly whilst everyone was away revising over Easter. Maybe that’s why you’ve not taken the time to notice these inconsistencies. But surely now, after so much dissatisfaction has been voiced, the UEB might at least decide to provide open, honest responses. It might at least hold its hands up and say ‘yes, we messed up big time here.’ But we haven’t even had that. At the last meeting students were told that they had been listened to, that there had been communication. The arrogance of it all is unbelievable.


Have you found any glaring contradictions in correspondence that you might have received during your queries about the Arts Portfolio Review? Or have you spotted anything in the University’s own publications? If you take a revision break and think of anything, let us know. We’d love to share. Email resistrestructuringnottingham@gmail.com or comment below, or on our FB page (facebook.com/resistnotts) or on Twitter (@resistnotts)

*Update* Our response to the VC’s “response”

We have just noticed that on May 9, the Vice Chancellor (quietly!) updated his previous blog post to address some of the comments we made under the update. Firstly, BIG WELL DONE TO ALL OUR SUPPORTERS! The fact that the VC has chosen to reply illustrates that our demands for accountability and communication have been recognised as justifiable. This also means that we must continue fighting our corner to protect our staff.

However, the VC’s replies do VERY LITTLE to quell our concerns about the reasoning behind the redundancies, particularly as he has chosen to respond so selectively to the comments – clearly some have rattled him more than others! Many of these issues are veiled by a curtain of confidentiality and therefore remain as difficult to understand as ever. Moreover, some answers are completely contradictory to what we and staff have been told about changes. So, seeing as we language/culture students LOVE a bit of analysis, we thought we would provide you with some context for the seemingly comprehensible answers the VC has given:

Q1 – “It is worth noting that the funding streams for staffing and for capital investment are entirely separate: it is simply not the case that changes in staffing levels in one School or Faculty will release funding for new infrastructure. Finally, some infrastructure investment only takes place when we can secure external funding to support it.”

A: Emphasis on “some infrastructure investment” here is the first point. Secondly, how can the funding streams for staffing and capital investment be “entirely separate” when we know that our redundancies are projected to add an extra approx. £900,000 to the £30million savings surplus the Uni wants next year…to fund capital investment…it sounds like either the VC is uninformed or is bending this truth. These savings from redundancies will go into capital investment and therefore will fund these projects. Unless of course they have decided to remodel Mooch for us. Again.

Q2 – “Project Transform and the Portfolio Review in the Faculty of Arts are separate and distinct projects – it is not the case to say that the former is being funded by the latter.”

A: So how exactly is this vast Project to Transform the infrastructure of the University being funded – by external funding…? Either way, they are both about the “streamlining” or “slimming down” of certain areas to save money. Some of this is indeed positive and we support efficiency, but the scale of restructuring has not been thought out. And the Arts have been asked to streamline themselves more than once over the past few years. So, no, they might be separate, but they are inter-connected. Word choices and inference are important to linguists.

Q3 – “Each Faculty of the University has a large degree of autonomy over its own budget, and a responsibility to balance the books. It is not the case that changes in one Faculty are channelled into new courses in another.”

A: Again, then how are these new Faculties being paid for? Using the capital investment fund, that has reduced staffing costs in CLAS to boost the surplus…? Or perhaps there are money trees after all. The Faculty was indeed known for balancing its books so far, what has changed we wonder. This is something we’ll never know because it is “confidential”.

Q4 – “We have worked hard to find a solution in which we could maintain all the current core languages – Russian, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese – rather than discontinuing some or all of these subjects, as other universities have done.”

A: Right, so, while we have repeatedly been told that language provision will be protected by the changes, we are now being told that there are core languages that need to be protected. Dutch has already been discontinued, and therefore this entails that Serbian/Croatian and Slovene are now at risk for not being core enough. Also, we’ve heard this “other unis” argument before – this is not about other universities, this is about OUR University and OUR lecturers.

Q5 – “The proposal to create a single Department of Modern Languages and Cultures will mean a more coordinated approach in related subject areas, and will mean we can capitalise on existing strengths in Cultural Theory and Linguistics which are currently spread among different Departments.”

A: Ok, so before it was just redundancies, now they are openly admitting that the ultimate aim is to turn the School into a Department. Because, obviously, all our individual departments “do” at the moment is “Cultural Theory” and “Linguistics”. This is what we theorists might call “extremely derivative”.

Q6 –“The founding principles of learning, excellence, discovery, longevity and partnership are as crucial to us today as they were when the first Nottingham degrees were awarded more than a century ago.”

A: Might we add that, among those first degrees awarded a century ago, were from Russian Studies – WHICH IS CELEBRATING ITS CENTENARY THIS YEAR and which is also celebrating being forced to get rid of a third of its lecturers. Way to support longevity and excellence Sir David!!
But right, sorry, you’re ensuring Russian will stay open, not dismantling it to the point where it can’t function anymore and offers only modules in language.

Q7 – “Responses are being sent to all letters, from the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor. The large majority of correspondents have already received replies.”

A: Yes, sorry, but when you first wrote this update, neither you or PVC Gregory had responded to the letters, and many of them had been sent a month before. Obviously now you’re back on track! We’ll allow you this though. Your actions resulted in such an outpouring of outrage from across the world that you probably needed a few days to recover.

Anyway, you can read all the jargon yourself on the newly-updated letter on the link provided below. Might we suggest that some return comments might well be justified…:

http://exchange.nottingham.ac.uk/…/update-from-the-vice-ch…/

“We haven’t formally written to students”: the lack of meaningful consultation, and where proceedings stand with the Arts Portfolio Review

Last Tuesday 3rd May, undergraduate student Jake McLellan and postgraduate student Olivia Hellewell attended a second meeting with Pro-Vice Chancellor Jeremy Gregory and Registrar Paul Greatrix, accompanied by SU Education Rep Dan Rattigan and Postgraduate Officer Elliott Denham. This is an overview of the meeting based on notes the students were able to give us. A quick word of warning: if you’re already sick of the words “formal”, “consultation”, “process”, you probably shouldn’t read on.

The meeting began with an update from the Registrar, who gave some details about where the decision-making process was at, saying that it was really important to understand that they were going through a formal consultation process. We are now currently at a point where the University Executive Board (UEB) are considering the responses to the Arts Portfolio Review proposals. The students weren’t given a date of when a decision could be expected (and it is our understanding that staff have been given a similarly vague response). Jeremy Gregory was keen to point out that things had to be highly confidential at this stage because some of the responses are about choices that individuals may want to make.

The students presented a document containing over 20 letters of student and alumni opposition to the Arts Portfolio Review, as well as the collective statements that undergraduate, postgraduate, and the students of Dutch have put together. In total, there were 11,600 words of support for the staff and subjects taught in the Faculty of Arts, and everyone who contributed to this should be really proud of their efforts. The Registrar stated that they will “absolutely” look at it, that they will consider it alongside the other responses they have received, and that it will be taken “very seriously indeed.”

The discussion then moved to the question of student consultation, and whether or not the students felt that they had been listened to during the consultation process. The students queried the term ‘consultation’; at no point have students ever received a formal statement from the University, informing them of the changes which may take place within their school as of the next academic year. The Registrar said that even though students may not feel that they had been listened to, they definitely had been. The students responded to this by saying that they wouldn’t know if they were being listened to our not, because there had been no acknowledgement of the efforts that they had put in to communicating their objections to the redundancies. The students argued that the way the process had been handled meant that decisions were already underway before they even had a chance to be aware of what was happening. They also pointed out, as did the SU Education rep, that there are still large numbers of students, who may not yet have been engaged with our Facebook group, that do not know what is happening. The students stated that they were spending large amounts of time communicating the details of the proposals to other students: in other words, picking up the pieces of management’s failings to communicate with the student body. This was not their job. The Registrar and PVC’s defence was that the consultation process was a highly confidential process, and until they knew exactly what was going to happen, they didn’t feel it would be helpful to communicate. The formality around the process did not allow for that. Both students pointed out that there was a lot of space in between no communication at all and a detailed explanation of everything that was going to happen. Nothing that students had requested, they said,  would constitute a breach of confidentiality: one of the things that students feel has been strongly lacking is some kind of comprehensive statement detailing the changes that this could bring to their degrees – and there has been no communication at all. The Registrar disagreed with this, and said that he didn’t think that was quite true – but the PVC corrected him and said that there hadn’t been a formal announcement, and that they had not formally written to students.

The Registrar suggested that before things got to a stage where a final decision was made, they would welcome another meeting with the students. It was also said, however, that the meeting would not mean that anything students said at that stage would turn the situation around. The students are keen to take up the third meeting and arrangements are being made.

One thing that we all – all of the students who have so far been working together as Resist Restructuring Nottingham – are keen to avoid is this issue turning into an exercise in “what can we learn from this” for the University’s Executive Board. Of course, there are things that they absolutely should have done and have still not done – but this is not just an issue of student communication. This is about individuals at the top taking rushed, uninformed decisions which affect the jobs and livelihoods of staff, as well as the degree programmes and educational experience of students at the University of Nottingham. From all of the evidence we have seen, collected by scholars working in the field of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies (unlike those on the UEB, we hasten to add) – there is no evidence to suggest that these changes have the interests of staff, students, or the academic discipline as a whole, at heart. They will cause irreparable damage to our school if we let these changes go ahead.

So for now we really hope that the feedback which students have voiced will be listened to. We’re really hopeful that everyone’s efforts will have gone some way to influencing the final decisions that are made. For now everyone is essentially at their mercy of the Faculty of Arts management as they consider the feedback. In the meantime, the UCU has opened a ballot for union members to vote on whether or not staff will strike over this issue. The ballot closes on the 25th of May, so there will be no news on any potential industrial action before then. Students can help by keeping up the pressure (get in touch with us if there’s anything you’d like us to share) and by being as informed as possible about the reasons behind the strike. It may not come to it – but if it does, students will understandably be concerned. It’s important that as a group we do as much as we can to support our members of staff who have been placed in this very difficult position.

If anyone has any questions about this meeting or the stages that may follow, then please get in touch with us either by commenting below, emailing us at resistrestructuringnottingham@gmail.com, on FB at facebook.com/resistnotts or on Twitter at @resistnotts. As always, we want to stress that we’re just a group of students working together, and no question is too simple and no contribution is too small!

Employment conditions are a student issue too

Redundancies are a small part of a much wider problem stalking UK universities. The University and College Union (UCU) has published a report revealing the ‘endemic’ use of insecure contracts in UK universities. According to their research, 54% of all academic staff and 49% of all teaching staff are employed on insecure contracts (fixed-term or zero hours). This is just a tiny picture of a wider problem as 4 out of 5 universities refused to even provide information on their use of insecure contracts.

You may wonder what kind of effect this has on teaching quality. Staff on insecure contracts often have poor access to basic equipment and facilities, can only achieve the minimum work required by working a number of unpaid hours, and find themselves living constantly in the shadow of stress over the future availability of work. Meanwhile, undergraduates find themselves unable to tell what teaching staff will be available for help and guidance in later years. A number of such teachers are postgraduate students, in need of money and work experience, who are used to fill the gaps. This is why we stand with staff in our departments. We recognise that their working conditions affect the quality of teaching we receive. The University argues that staff can leave at any time and the availability of certain teaching or modules is always uncertain, but the situation is made demonstrably worse by this job insecurity. It is not satisfactory for the university to dismiss our concerns in this way. This is not an issue limited to the Faculty of Arts, but this is something that effects all Faculties at the University of Nottingham. They may be limiting their redundancies to Arts now, but this does not represent the end of job insecurity at Nottingham or in Higher Education more generally. 

Read the UCU report on insecure contracts here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/8165/New-report-lays-bare-endemic-use-of-insecure-contracts-in-UK-universities


 

Any questions or comments? Would you like to see how you can get involved with Resist Restructuring Nottingham? You can see other posts for more information, and you can speak to us in confidence by emailing resistrestructuringnottingham@gmail.com or messaging us on Facebook or Twitter.

Meeting with PVC Jeremy Gregory and Registrar Paul Greatrix

EDIT: Unfortunately students were asked to take their meeting transcript down by the University Registrar. We’re sure if you didn’t read it (though with the amount of hits it got, you probably did) there will be ways and means. 

On Friday 18th March 2016 undergraduate and postgraduate students, along with two representatives from the Students’ Union, met with Pro-Vice Chancellor Jeremy Gregory and Registrar Paul Greatrix to discuss their concerns over the proposed Arts Portfolio Review redundancies. All parties consented to the recording of the meeting and it was not deemed confidential. In the interests of transparency we are therefore publishing the contents of this meeting so that students are as well informed as possible about the proposed changes to their degrees and working environment. It’s a long post, and as it’s a transcript it can be at times hard to follow – but if there are any aspects of the meeting that students would like to discuss further, then please feel free to get in touch. Similarly, if there are any points which you feel the UGs and PGs did not get a chance to cover and you’d like them brought forward at another meeting, then please email resistrestructuringnottingham@gmail.com in confidence.

Read the full meeting transcript here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/306181631/Meeting-between-Students-PVC-and-Registrar