University of Birmingham management suspends leading student activists

September 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

The management of the University of Birmingham appear to have been plunging new depths these last few weeks. Not content with having disciplined and suspended a larger amount of students this academic year for political protest than anyone can remember, and despite an open letter signed by over 200 members of staff the last time that these students were suspended, the University management have now opted to suspend 2 of the University’s leading student activists in what has been described as a “kangaroo court”.

This is a particularly vindictive act as the students in question each have only a few weeks remaining of their registration at the University of Birmingham – or, rather, they would have done if they hadn’t now been suspended for 9 months each.

In each case, the evidence provided to support these suspensions was, at best, flimsy and the sanctions imposed were entirely disproportionate. We should bear in mind that a previous court case making similar claims was thrown out of court on the grounds of insufficient evidence. We should also bear in mind that the last staff member at the University of Birmingham who was dismissed through the University’s disciplinary procedure – Thelma Lovick – was successful in bringing a claim for unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal. In that tribunal the judge determined that “no reasonable employer in the circumstances of this case” would have reached the conclusions reached by the University management, and that there was “no reasonable basis in the evidence” for the conclusions reached.

The actions taken by the University management have also tarnished the name of the University, with national newspapers reporting on how poorly acts of student dissent are treated, and the heavy-handed and disproportionate forms of repression that have been meted out.

Articles have appeared in:

The Independent

Guardian

Times Higher

Birmingham Mail

Students have also only very recently re-occupied parts of the University building, calling for the immediate re-instatement of the suspended students – and subsequently suffered another heavy-handed eviction.

BUCU is committed to opposing all attempts by the University to outlaw or prevent non-violent protest at the University of Birmingham. We believe that the actions taken by the University of Birmingham management towards students this year have been draconian and contravene principles of natural justice and the presumption of innocence. The branch stands in solidarity with and will actively campaign to support any student who is targeted by the University leadership for expressing legitimate dissent. UCU Congress (Higher Education sector) also adopted a resolution this year in which it condemned the increasingly brutal tactics being used to silence student activists, noting those tactics adopted at the University of Birmingham as being especially severe. These developments appear to be worrying signs of the direction in which higher education is being led by university managers, and signals attempts to prevent student dissent and to hinder free and open criticism within universities.

We will continue to support all students expressing legitimate dissent in the current context of damaging reforms to higher education.

BUCU statement on suspended students

February 9, 2014 § 1 Comment

At Wednesday’s emergency members’ meeting we heard concerning reports of how the events of last week’s students demonstration have been dealt with.

The branch meeting adopted the following resolution, drafted from the floor during the meeting:

“BUCU deplores the suspension of 5 University of Birmingham students who took part in a recent demonstration on campus.

BUCU calls on the the University management to lift the suspensions, and calls on West Midlands police to lift the draconian bail conditions imposed on those students who were arrested. Both the suspensions and the bail conditions contravene the presumption of innocence and principles of natural justice.

BUCU instructs its Branch Administrator to keep BUCU members informed of these issues.

BUCU calls for all UCU members to give all possible support within the law to the suspended students.”

Details of the events can be found in many media reports, including this one: http://london-student.net/news/02/01/university-of-birmingham-suspends-6-students-following-protest-and-arrests/

A petition, with over 5000 signatures, is also being circulated and BUCU members are encouraged to sign: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/prof-david-eastwood-unibirmingham-reinstate-the-students-at-birmingham-university-whose-only-crime-has-been-to-defend-education

BUCU analysis: Sex and governance at the University of Birmingham in comparative perspective

February 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

BUCU have long been concerned with issues of equality and diversity at the University of Birmingham, particular in relation to senior management and the governance of our university. After having raised concerns at both College and University-level about the lack of female presence on both College Boards and the University Executive Board, BUCU decided to carry out some research to compare the situation at the University of Birmingham with other Russell Group universities. BUCU compared the Senate, Council and Executive Boards (or equivalents) of the 24 universities in the Russell Group for the academic year 2012-13. It found:

  • Birmingham was ranked 24/24 in terms of the percentage of female members of Russell Group Senates (or equivalent) for the academic year 2012-13 (81% male; 19% female);
    • Birmingham is notable as having fewer women on Senate than would be expected given its size and the percentage of academics at Birmingham who are female (a predicted figure of 33% against an actual figure of 19%);
    • This difference is almost entirely accounted for by the low percentage of female Senate members in the Ex-Officio, Pro-VC, Heads of College, Heads of College Nominees, and VC Co-Opted categories (7% combined; 2 out of 29 in total);
    • Birmingham was ranked 24/24 in terms of the percentage of female members of Russell Group Councils (or equivalent) for the academic year 2012-13 (83% male; 17% female);
      • Birmingham was ranked 18/24 in terms of the percentage of female members of Russell Group Executive Boards (or equivalent) for the academic year 2012-13 (77% male; 23% female);
        • Since this research was undertaken, the only female academic member of the University of Birmingham’s Executive Board has left the university. The current balance of UEB is 85% male and 15% female.

For the full report see here.

Student protests

January 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

In light of yesterday’s national student protest held at the University of Birmingham, UCU at a national level have released the following statement:

UCU strongly supports the right of students to peaceful protest and welcomes the support of students and their unions for our current industrial action which is aimed at securing fair pay for staff. Universities should respond positively to requests by protesting students and staff for dialogue rather than adopt heavy-handed responses. Universities should recognise that students have a right to protest as long as it is peaceful. We urge protesters to ensure that staff at work during protests are safe and are not unwittingly made to feel intimidated and university authorities not to use such staff as pawns in a wider game.

For further information about the protest, see: http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/police-accused-of-kettling-student-protesters-at-a-national-demonstration-in-birmingham-9095907.html

University disciplinary procedures

December 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

There has been – and continues to be – frequent questioning of University disciplinary procedures over the past few years.

This was recently highlighted by the University management’s recent defeat in an Employment Tribunal.

The full verdict – including lengthy details of the poorly conducted disciplinary procedure – can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/mv824g5

A Times Higher report can be found here – www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/neuroscientist-thelma-lovick-wins-tribunal-victory-over-birmingham/2009741.article

The judge for the tribunal criticised the University management for being too ready to sack a member of University staff – who had 39 years of unblemished service to the University of Birmingham – and for relying on ‘scanty and inadequately investigated’ evidence. The judge stated that the University disciplinary panel, chaired by Professor Edward Peck, and the dismissal of the staff member, had been unreasonable, unfair and breached natural justice.

This is a truly appalling treatment of a member of University staff and clearly requires a major rethink by the University management regarding how they interpret their role. The response by the University spokesperson – that the decision to dismiss this member of staff was ‘reached after a detailed process’ – comes in the face of an Employment Tribunal ruling that this precisely was not sufficiently the case, and therefore suggests an inability to revise behaviour, even when a legal ruling states that poor practice has taken place.

This is especially alarming as the University management have now begun a series of disciplinary proceedings against students who took part in protests earlier this term. The proceedings were cynically initiated during vacation, making student support for the accused more difficult to mobilise than it would be during term time. This latest round of attacks on our students also includes a complaint made by Lee Sanders, University Registrar, against elected student representative, Guild Vice-President (Education) Hattie Craig. In the complaint Lee Sanders makes a number of exaggerated accusations, including that Hattie disrupted student education, caused health and safety risks, and intimidated and harassed staff. He also claims that Hattie is part of a ‘tiny unrepresentative minority’, whereas the University management represents the interests of 28,000 students. The fact that Hattie is an elected representative – and Lee Sanders is decidedly not – seems to have escaped the University Registrar. BUCU committee support Hattie in entirely rejecting these exaggerated accusations, designed clearly to intimidate students as part of an ill-informed strategy to repress legitimate student dissent. We also note that this is the third elected Guild Vice President in three years to be targeted for disciplinary action by the University.

BUCU will continue to support the right to non-violent legitimate dissent – and to highlight and oppose the intimidatory and heavy-handed responses regularly meted out by the University of Birmingham management.

More updates to follow.

BUCU committee

Solidarity with occupying students

November 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

On behalf of BUCU, we would like to send our solidarity to the students taking non-violent action at the University of Birmingham.

We note your insightful press release, in which you rightly lament that the historic academic control of the Senate has been eroded so that it is now run only by the senior management.

We share your claims, “that staff and students should have more power in every level of university decision making. Currently a small class of senior managers benefit disproportionately from the fees and work of staff and students. They have total unaccountable power to harm our interests within the university and lobby against our interests outside it”.

We agree with your specific demands regarding the functioning of the University, staff salaries, student facilities and student bursaries but, more broadly, the importance of raising awareness of the degeneration of the University functioning and the erosion of democratic power and representation. We welcome your statement that, you “wish to start a debate and dialogue among students and workers at the University about the kind of institution we want it to be and how we can bring this about.”

Our higher education system is under a sustained attack that will turn the clock back on generations of social progress, democratic advance and educational achievement. This action is therefore an inspiration to staff and students seeking to oppose these vicious attacks.

BUCU welcomes the debate started by Defend Education, and give you our wholehearted support in fighting for change. We stand in support of the occupation and your demands for increased democracy, against fees and cuts, and in support of Nursing and the living wage at UoB.

The interests of students and staff are one and the same. The occupiers should be congratulated for their courage and determination to raise these important issues in the time-held tradition of student action and non-violent civil disobedience. Such methods of political dissent have been instrumental in bringing about some of the most basic – and now accepted as core – values in society. It is only sad that we live in times when such values as democracy, equality and job security are so severely threatened.

BUCU urges the University not to engage in any moves to victimise those involved in the occupation – and will actively campaign to support any member of the University community (staff or student) who is targeted by the University leadership for expressing legitimate dissent.

In solidarity with the students of the University of Birmingham.

BUCU committee

The Future of Higher Education. Week of Activities w/c Monday October 28th

October 22, 2013 § 1 Comment

A week of meetings, debates, protests and stalls around the issues of Democracy, Access, Academic Freedom, Social Responsibility and Equality

Corporatisation and commercialisation of University life, the ‘Student Experience’, course fees, grand building projects and a cut in wages for all teaching and support staff, increased workloads and threats to contracts, restructuring and redundancies….

Are all these the inevitable reality of the Future of Higher Education or can there be another way…a better way to run the University of Birmingham and for the Future of Higher Education as a whole?

A week of meetings, debates, protests and stalls around the issues of Democracy, Access, Academic Freedom, Social Responsibility and Equality


Monday Oct 28   UoB and DEMOCRACY

Stall outside the Library promoting a Charter For Higher Education at UoB

7:00pm Question Time Style Debate with Professor Adam Tickell (Provost and Vice Principal, University of Birmingham), Professor John Holmwood (Campaign for the Public University) and others. Lecture Theatre A, Watson Building


Tuesday 29th Oct    UoB and ACCESS TO EDUCATION

1:00 People and Planet display and protest  ‘Hypocrisy Exposed’ in the University Square

Charter stall outside the Student Guild

7:00pm Disinvestment of Fossil Fuels Meeting in Great Hall with Bill McKibben of  Greenpeace and guests.

   

Wednesday 30th Oct   ACADEMIC FREEDOM

1:00 – 1.15 UCU Members’ meeting – to discuss next day’s strike action

Followed by 1.15-3.00: Open Meeting with Andrew McGettigan author of ‘The Great University Gamble’ in Arts Lecture Room 7 (Room 223).

Charter stall outside Arts building


Thursday 31st Oct  UCU Strike

UCU will be on strike all day on Thursday 31 October. No members should work on this day.

The strike is supported by the Guild of Students.

12:00 midday: East Gate (outside Guild of Students) – rally and street theatre in support of the strike action


Friday 1st Nov    UoB and EQUALITIES

UNISON display of worker profile placards around campus highlighting the pay and conditions of support staff.  

The week is being organised by BUCU, Guild of Students and UNISON

For further information contact admin@birminghamucu.org or ring ext 46895

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