The problem we face
Academic staff at the University of Birmingham are increasingly becoming the targets of various unagreed and surreptitiously introduced ‘performance management’ processes. These are damaging the careers, health, performance and academic freedom of staff members across UoB. They are far more punitive, target-focused, and inclined to follow the formal disciplinary procedure than any that have been in existence at this University to date. In order to oppose the introduction of these measures we have decided to hold an open meeting to raise awareness, share experiences and consider ways in which we can respond.
DATE: 26 September
This performance management system, being surreptitiously introduced across the University, potentially contravenes our employment contract and is being implemented in such a way that there is no means of redress for those who are unreasonably targeted. This has led to a number of serious incidents of illnesses across the University. We have sought to alert the University senior management to the unreasonableness of their actions and the deleterious effects it is having upon staff members’ health, careers, performance and morale – but we have been consistently ignored and/or our concerns have been dismissed. We have therefore taken the decision to alert the University community and call this open meeting for UCU members to discuss their own experiences and concerns, and consider ways that we can obstruct this development.
There is currently no agreed performance management system in place at the University of Birmingham. Despite this, senior management have begun to impose on staff members ‘targets’ and ‘performance measures’ (in many cases, retrospectively) that are often unachievable and appear designed to ensure that people will fail. Targets and performance measures include those that for many staff members are either unreachable or unmeasurable. This behaviour potentially contravenes University legislation (and therefore our Conditions of Service) and is being implemented in such a way that there is no means of redress for those who are unreasonably targeted.
Examples from recent specific cases which we know of include:
- Heads of College informing staff (out of the blue) that their career is effectively over.
- requirements to publish in journals favoured by Heads of School (regardless of citation factors), within time-frames outside of the control of the staff members concerned.
- teaching performance negatively assessed according to the apparent personal prejudices of University managers, despite excellent student performance.
- Lecturers being disciplined for their teaching performance, despite achieving exceptionally high grades – with the explanation that ‘students can teach themselves’ and therefore high grades do not exempt a lecturer from being disciplined!
- student feedback that is over 5 years old being used against staff.
- convenors of multi-teacher modules being held accountable for the teaching of entire modules.
- staff members being informed, without warning, that they are unlikely to meet (unrealistic) targets – and being advised to take ‘teaching-focused’ contracts, with time limits imposed on their decisions.
- unreasonable and unagreed research income generation targets.
- demands to attend disciplinary meetings despite medical advice that this will be detrimental.
- Staff members being placed on ‘Advice and Guidance’ measures where there is no clear concern about the staff member’s performance and no advice and guidance is provided.
This is largely done through a peculiar reading of Ordinance 3.21.5 – which was designed to support staff members performing way below minimum satisfactory standards and to avoid them being caught up in inappropriate disciplinary procedures whose performance had fallen below the minimum standard. Rather than its intended purpose, senior management are using this Ordinance paragraph to impose targets on all staff about whom they have ‘concern’. Very rarely, if ever, is any support provided to help staff members achieve imposed targets. The only criterion used to determine whether there are legitimate grounds for this concern is that the manager in question expresses concern! This is thus a licence for unreasonable targeting, bullying, and the abuse of office by Heads of School and Colleges.
Unprecedentedly, academic teaching staff are now being routinely subjected to disciplinary investigations and hearings for failure to meet these targets or measures (in many cases retrospectively applied). These disciplinary hearings can result in formal warnings and/or dismissal.
No means for redress
The University senior management have begun to refuse any attempts to object to this targeting. In a number of instances, grievances raised by staff members have been ignored (again through a peculiar reading of the Ordinances (3.27.2)) – sometimes resulting in the perpetrator of alleged unreasonable target-setting being the person assigned to investigate their own alleged acts of unreasonableness!
Further, attempts to seek redress through the raising of formal grievances have led to the alleged perpetrator invoking a disciplinary procedure against the staff member, in an apparent attempt to deter grievances being raised. In such instances, the grievance in question tends not to even be investigated.
How can we respond?
We have so far sought to alert the University senior managers to our objections. We have met the University senior managers on a large number of occasions and have sent a number of letters highlighting the most alarming cases. Our concerns have largely been dismissed. The University senior managers deny that our claims are genuine, and insist that we must give examples of individual cases. Our members are understandably reluctant to step forward as examples to be exhibited to the University management – but even more worryingly those that do come forward are also rejected by management on the grounds that they should go through the official University procedure. Our claims about general practices are thus dismissed with a request for individual examples, and individual examples are ignored on the grounds that they need to follow University procedure!
BUCU members need, therefore, to consider alternative ways to oppose these measures – including raising awareness and registering our collective dissent across the University community, as well as more publicly.
We encourage UCU members to attend this Performance Management meeting in order to share experiences, raise concerns, and consider ways in which we as a union can respond.
DATE: 26 September
We urge all BUCU members to attend.