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April 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Resolution to retain the BUCU performance management resolution

January 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

Following a prolonged internal debate within BUCU, which was prompted by complaints by the University management over BUCU’s approach to reviewing allegations of unreasonable management behaviour, the following resolution was resoundingly adopted on 21 January 2014. This resolution re-affirms the earlier resolution adopted in November 2013.
This branch resolves that:
· It is free to decide its own internal review procedures, and that these cannot be dictated to it by the University of Birmingham senior management.
This branch notes that:
· Only months after agreeing its performance management agreement, the University of Birmingham management vigorously defended, in an Employment Tribunal, what turned out to be the unfair dismissal of Thelma Lovick, and that Thelma Lovick has not been re-instated despite the University’s decision to sack her being widely condemned by the Employment Tribunal.
· In the very first departmental restructure undertaken since the adoption of our Redundancy Avoidance Agreement, we also saw the first instance in at least ten years where departmental restructuring happened with compulsory redundancies – and that this witnessed serious questions raised by BUCU about the behaviour of the University HR staff – and that BUCU were unable to challenge or avoid that redundancy.
· On REF Day, December 2014, David Eastwood has already begun talking in his University-wide communications about“disappointing” results and “areas for improvement” – and that given the record of Eastwood’s time as Vice Chancellor to date, we do not anticipate a constructive approach to dealing with those ‘disappointments’ or towards those individuals considered by the University management to have under-performed in the REF.
· Only days after BUCU last suspended its resolution on performance management, it was forced to un-suspend the resolution in the light of further complaints from members about their treatment by the University.
· No BUCU members who have gone through the procedures set out in the performance management resolution have complained about the procedures or sought for them to be changed.
· The only complaint received about the performance management resolution is that of the University senior management.
· That reassurances made by the University management following our last local industrial dispute – that there would be a more cooperative attitude by the University of Birmingham senior management, in terms of its approach to performance management, department restructuring, and redundancies – have so far not resulted in improved working conditions for BUCU members or of any staff working at the University of Birmingham.
· That recent events have shown the difficulties BUCU faces in supporting Employment Tribunal claims by staff members who are dismissed by the University, and that the possibility of making ET claims often do not anyway deter attempts to deal with staff through suggestions of disciplinary action and offers of ‘voluntary’ severance.
· That the main mechanism that we have through which to challenge unfair and aggressive management actions is our ability to highlight and publicise unfair and unreasonable management practices, shining a spotlight on malpractices that would otherwise be carried out behind closed doors.
The branch therefore re-affirms its commitment to the performance management resolution adopted in 2013, in particular the commitment to create an independent panel of BUCU members to investigate alleged instances of poor management behaviour in the field of performance management, for that panel to produce a report to be presented to a general members’ meeting setting out its (anonymised) findings and recommendations for action, and for that report (if adopted by the branch) to be circulated amongst all BUCU members.
The existing branch officers must abide by this resolution –or, if they feel unable to, then they should step down from their position as branch officers.

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

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