Performance management – An open letter to the Director of Human Resources, University of Birmingham, from the Branch Committee of University of Birmingham UCU

Dear [Director, Human Resources, University of Birmingham]

We are sharing this letter to you with our members, in an effort to improve communication and relations between senior managers and academic staff at the University.

As you know, in the past few months there has been an alarming increase in the volume of cases affecting our members to which we have drawn your attention. We have repeatedly alerted you to our concerns about the growing stress experienced by our members as a result of the introduction by the University’s senior management of methods of performance management that have not been negotiated or agreed with its employees. You have provided assurances that you would look into instances of unreasonable behaviour regarding performance management, but we have seen little evidence of any progress.

You have repeatedly insisted that our general claims about such practices must be supported with details of individual cases. Our members are understandably reluctant to identify themselves as examples to be exhibited to the University management, but some have bravely come forward. However, when they do, these examples are rejected as evidence of a general pattern on the grounds that they can only be considered in the context of official University procedures. Thus general claims are dismissed with a request for individual examples, and individual examples are dismissed on the grounds that they are covered by separate University procedures!

We are disappointed that we have not as yet had any response to the letter we sent to you about related matters on 18 September 2012, and we are now bringing to your attention yet another specific example of unreasonable pressure being put on our members. This is the apparent attempt to force members of staff to transfer from standard, ‘3-legged’ academic contracts, to ‘teaching-focused’ contracts, in contravention of assurances we were given that no such pressure would be exerted, and of the agreement reached with Professor Tickell last year.

Specifically, we have seen several requests by one Head of School and, quite inexplicably, one former Head of School (names supplied in confidential version of this letter), for members of staff to submit their CVs, within a tight deadline, so that they can be considered for a move to a teaching-focused contract. This is despite the fact that the members of staff in question are either unwilling to make such a move, or are still undecided – partly because the implications of doing so remain unclear and the terms and conditions of any such contract have not been negotiated with the recognised union, University of Birmingham UCU.

As noted above, this is just one further example of a deeply disturbing trend in the deteriorating relations between managers and academics here, which is reflected in two recent stories in the press, one about precisely this issue, and also a survey which places this university among the twenty worst in the country for stress, conflicting management demands, workloads and time pressures.

We fear that such negative publicity will only increase, and staff morale continue to decline, unless our members are given concrete evidence that our legitimate concerns are being properly addressed. We look forward to hearing your response to the specific cases summarised above, as well as to the wider issues which they represent.


University of Birmingham branch, UCU, executive committee

CC: Vice Chancellor

PVC (Research)

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