BUCU work to contract instructions

As you are aware, on the basis of a 77% mandate, UCU began national official industrial action on Monday. As this is official action it comes with legal protection against attempts by employers to undertake disciplinary action.

The first phase of this action is work-to-contract.

Birmingham University UCU have now confirmed at an all-members’ meeting that any performance evaluation schemes going beyond the negotiated Staff Development Review (SDR) constitutes a new performance management regime that has not been agreed to by BUCU and therefore goes beyond our employment contracts. UCU members are therefore instructed as follows:

Any performance evaluation of any UCU member at the University of Birmingham that goes beyond the negotiated Staff Development Review (SDR) should NOT be participated in (either as reviewer or reviewee). Importantly, this includes both any new performance management scheme that might be called something like ‘Performance Development Review’ or ‘Personal Best’. It also includes the Research Development Review taking place across the University, and ‘capabilities’ sections that have been introduced in certain parts of the University. No UCU member should either act as a reviewer or agree to be reviewed by any scheme other than under the contractual Staff Development Review, as part of the work-to-contract action.

The University have been informed that action beyond the SDR is outside of staff’s contractual obligations and that UCU members will therefore not be participating in them as part of the official national work-to-contract action.

We advise all UCU members to reply to any requests to undertake either the Research Development Review or the ‘capabilities’ section of SDR with the advised responses attached.

Any problems associated with these actions should be immediately reported to BUCU.

Please note that if any employer chooses to ignore UCU’s legal advice and threathens punitive deductions against staff who are working to contract, UCU’s response will be to (a) halt the working to contract action and bring forward with immediate effect rotating departmental/faculty/site or unit-based strike action, as agreed with branches; (b) bring test cases on behalf of all members to recover any deductions made unlawfully. In extreme cases where this escalation fails to persuade an employer not to make unfair deductions for working to contract, members will be invited to seek an international academic boycott of their institution by other staff.
BUCU will be in contact with members shortly regarding further instructions associated with the ongoing industrial action.
Pressure thus far has led to employers returning to negotiations.

University of Birmingham threatens BUCU right to strike

Following the November 30 strike, BUCU were sent a confidential document by UoB HR which threatens BUCU through claims that members behaved unlawfully and/or unreasonably during the picketing on 30th November.

This is somewhat surprising given that security guards were waving cars through, encouraging those vehicles coming into the University to speed up as they approached the picket line. This seemed a deliberate attempt by Security guards to undermine the industrial action. This was without due care and attention for any person’s health and safety. Despite attempts by UCU pickets to seek an end to this dangerous practice on the day, University representatives repeatedly refused to consider issues beyond the access of vehicles to the University. Thus, whilst UCU pickets continued to express their concern with the health and safety of both students and pickets in the vicinity of the East Gate, they were repeatedly ignored.

Further, security staff behaved in a threatening and intimidating manner towards people on the picket line, using video equipment in a rather aggressive and ‘close-up’ fashion to ‘capture’ images of BUCU members talking to people.

BUCU’s recent members’ survey found that 68% of our members suffered from high levels of stress as a result of their employment duties at the University of Birmingham, at excessive levels or (for 45% of members) with detrimental effects upon their health and well-being. Given the values that appear to inform the conduct of this University’s management this is perhaps not surprising.  And of course it is not just the employees who feel threatened by the senior staff who seek to fashion the University in their own image.

UoB seemed highly concerned that students would support BUCU in this dispute. Yet, at some point the University’s senior leadership will need to accept that its own actions have mobilised and politicised a generation of students outraged by the injustices created by its own philistine approach to higher education policy. As fees have not yet been levied, we predict that this anger will grow rather than dwindle. The University must find a means other than outright repression to deal with this.

Any attempts to punish, discipline or intimidate UCU members taking official industrial action will not be tolerated by our branch. Such attempts, should they be occur will be met with an extremely robust response from UCU.

After ’11*-or-you’re-out’… UoB now brings you ‘3.5-or-you’re-out!’

After BUCU’s successful campaign to reverse the University’s proposed ’11*-or-you’re-out’ method of assessing staff research performance, the College of Social Science now brings you ‘3.5-or-you’re-out’ teaching evaluation.

As many of you may have noticed, the University appears to be moving to standardised module evaluation questionnaires (MEQs) to assess teacher’s performance. Despite the highly questionable nature of this method of assessment, the College of Social Science has gone one step further, instructing academic staff that the new performance evaluation regime will witness:

“the cessation of contracts of PTVL’s and performance management of permanent staff with scores below 3.5 out of 5 unless there are clear extenuating circumstances.”

This is despite the University’s own Assistant Director of HR distancing himself from the performance evaluation regime. It is also despite the total absence of any consultation whatsover with BUCU. BUCU continues to reject this unilateral and non-negotiated imposition of performance management schemes that go beyond the existing negotiated Staff Development Review in staff contracts.

When questioned about this practice, the Head of College of Social Science stated that he understands BUCU’s position, but disagrees with it, and saw no need to ‘rehearse the same arguments’ again. This, despite his declared fondness for ‘genuine dialogue’.

Is this what they mean by the ‘Student Experience’?

We’ve heard a lot lately about the University of Birmingham ‘student experience’, which is apparently a new buzzword describing what it’s like to be a student at the University.

Whilst it’s not entirely clear what the difference is between the ‘student experience’ and simply being a student, recent developments at UoB have given a somewhat chilling indication.

At the beginning of academic year 2011-12, the elected student representative, Guild Vice President (Education), Edd Bauer, was supended from his post prior to the conclusion of any inquiry whatsoever. This suspension was quickly followed by his suspension from the University, and has already now lasted an entire term. This is despite widespread condemnation of the move, including a letter signed by over 40 NUS sabbatical officers, a letter signed by MPs and trade union leaders, a letter signed by over 100 members of the University’s Department of Political Science and International Studies, a petition with over 900 signatures, and an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons.

More heavy handed treatment was witnessed throughout the term. Director of Academic Services, Brendan Casey, was clearly recorded (at 4.10 in the video below) saying that he was ‘happy’ to have students arrested. This was in response to an occupation that sought to highlight opposition to the Government’s Higher Education White Paper and tuition fees. Given that Brendan Casey oversees all student disciplinary inquiries (as Director of Academic Services), this has led to a number of questions raised about his impartiality.

This was followed by more concerning events still. On November 23 students occupied an unused University building in an attempt to highlight, debate and critique the Higher Education White Paper. This ended with allegations of assault of students by security guards, an attempt by the University to discipline the student who complained about this, and the University taking out a 12 month injunction against ‘occupational protests’. The concerns about freedom of expression that this raised were such that Amnesty International felt it necessary to comment!

This, surely, is not what the University of Birmingham means when it refers to the ‘student experience’!?