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No place for racism at our University

We are sad to have to use this blog to remind members about the distribution of potentially offensive/intimidating posters on our campuses. Our Estates and Security teams are aware of this and are doing their best to remove these.

Staff and students should not approach anyone seen distributing these posters, but should report this to Security on ext 22811 and email Diverse@soton.ac.uk with details. Please don’t attempt to remove the posters yourself.

These posters appear to be from Generation Identity, a far right and white nationalist movement. This movement and these posters have no place on our campuses.

The TUC developed the Migration Messaging project with Hope not Hate and Migrant Voice as a way to promote progressive messages which shift the blame for workplace and social problems away from migrant communities. Some of the case studies supporting the TUC work were taken from the campaign in Southampton against the screening of the Channel 4 documentary ‘Immigration Street’ in 2014, and some of our members were involved in this work. The appearance of vile posters on our campuses is a reminder that our community cannot and must not stop fighting racism. So please do let Security know if you see any of these posters around campus.

We also remind members that there is a stand up to racism march in London this Saturday 16th March linked to the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 

Following the news on 15 March we have added the following link to the NEC statement on the New Zealand terror attack.

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International women’s day: when do women start working for free?

The theme of this year’s International Women’s day was ‘balance for better’. Here at the University of Southampton we still have a lot of balancing to do. The majority of our highest paid staff are men (62% of all staff in the upper quartile of pay).

UCU is holding the University to account to ensure that they take sufficient steps to eliminate the gender pay gap and to create a more diverse leadership team. (We note that research has suggested that quotas for diversity might be a way to ‘weed out incompetent men’ and this could be a strategy for a University where 75% of staff do not have confidence in a largely male senior management team).

For International Women’s Day your UCU reps hosted a stall on Highfield campus to highlight some of the work the branch is currently doing to fight gender inequality at the University. We asked people to take part in a quiz to ‘guess the date from which female staff will work for free?”

After lots of hard thinking, and some sneaky use of calculators, you cast your votes. The answer: this year women at University of Southampton will start working free from 18th October 2019.

The people we spoke with were shocked that our gender pay gap is so high (20.2%, which is above the average for the Higher Education sector), and wanted the University to have a stronger plan to tackle this pay gap, especially as other Universities appear to have made more progress in eliminating their gender pay gaps (e.g. University of Essex).

As we’ve previously noted, there seems to be a ‘glass ceiling’ or promotion bar for women at our University. Senior managers and HR have tried to overcome this by encouraging women to take up training courses to help improve their success rates at promotion. Underpinning such strategies is the idea that women need to change: they need to become bolder, more confident, more self-promotional, more career driven. Yet in order to ensure gender equality in our workplace we don’t need women to change, we need the institution to change. Gender inequality stems from workplace cultures that value over-work, competition and long working hours. Ideas of ‘excellence’, ‘esteem’, and ‘meritocracy’ are never neutral—they uphold values that are often associated with masculine ideals. UCU have been working hard to try and improve the appraisal process at the University, in order to create appraisals that give value to the demanding but de-valued roles that many women play in this institution—such as pastoral roles, mentoring, and other forms of emotional labour. Above all we need to change the culture here for everyone.

For International Women’s Day our University celebrated women who are ‘everyday superheroes’ ‘who hide in plain sight’. But women should not have to be superheroes to receive recognition or equal pay. Furthermore, UCU recognises that many of our everyday superheroes are on the most precarious contracts. Women make up 67.5% of those in the lowest quartile for pay and their over-representation on casualised, fixed-term contracts exacerbates gender inequalities.

 

Gender inequality cannot be addressed in isolation, it is entwined with other forms of discrimination about disability, race, trans, age, and class. Inequality can only be tackled by working together, all the more reason to join UCU in fighting for equality & better rights in the workplace!

International Women’s Day 2019 – our embarrassing gender pay gap

Another one bites the dust (but the top team is still the problem)

Staff and students here at University of Southampton say goodbye to another VC this week. This one didn’t last as long as the last, but managed to oversee a period of great turbulence, poor morale, and cuts to frontline staff.

We are not alone – University of Leicester announced this week that their VC Paul Boyle is departing. Reading their branch blog we feel, again, that sense of déjà vu. As at Leicester, one of the first acts by Sir Christopher was to rename his role ‘President and VC’. This led, naturally, to the creation of Vice-President roles, and not long after, to the expansion of their number and the senior salary pay bill.

While we were promised no more destructive organisational change it took a mere 18 months for a series of projects to unfold – each with more *hilarious* monikers: we had the Wellington Project – the voluntary severance scheme that accompanied – yes, you’ve guessed it – the reorganisation of the University (from 8 Faculties to 5). We wondered if the senior management were having a laugh (Wellington being a type of boot, and so many staff being ‘given the boot’). We also had a Hartley project that entailed, what we considered to be quite heart-less, voluntary redundancies. Like so many other Universities, we endured these losses from a live building site. The slogan “Buildings not Brains” seems to accurately summarise the situation.

The delayed staff survey results, discussed in a previous blog, confirmed what most already knew, that this University has some serious problems. The survey showed that staff lack confidence and trust in the highest levels of leadership here. Staff feel that senior managers are not honest or open, and do not respond to feedback. Southampton UCU and our Senate have responded robustly, calling for serious and meaningful action by senior managers to address this disastrous staff survey.

With Sir Christopher’s departure there is a danger that the organisational narrative will become “It was the last guy’s fault”. We feel a need to push back on this, now, before it takes hold. Yes, Sir Christopher was part of the problem; he oversaw and agreed to many of the negative changes and processes enacted in recent years. But he was not alone. The University strategy, the direction of travel and the tactics employed, are owned by the senior management team. This group, all earning excessive salaries, seem out of touch with frontline staff and the real work of higher education. They have consistently failed to listen to staff and students. Instead of working collectively and supportively with us to defend higher education they have been seduced by metrics, league tables, bonds, and marketization.

With the VC’s departure we have a chance to reclaim the university. We ask the senior managers, especially the Vice-Presidents and Deans, who will be ‘in charge’ in this interim period to remember what higher education really is.  This is their moment to engage properly with frontline staff and students to address the real problems we face.

Visa concerns, and pushing back against the hostile environment

Southampton UCU has been responding to concerns from members this week about University communications with staff and students about the UKVI audit and visa status. We are well aware that many in our community are negatively affected by national policies on migration, as well as the Brexit process, and we have been urging senior managers to ensure that the University does not follow the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ agenda, or feed people’s stress and anxiety about these issues.

We asked the senior managers what the VC has done to support our international colleagues and students, and we were directed to the press statement from the Russell Group, and told that the VC has helped influence the debate through this group and UUK. We were also informed that “the VP International, Winnie Eley has plans to engage this issue systematically in the coming months as an integral part of our international strategy.” We welcome moves by the VC and senior managers to support our diverse community and remind members that UCU has teamed up with Thompsons Solicitors to publish this guidance for EU workers applying for settled status which explains the current legal rights of EU workers and how this might change post-Brexit.

It doesn’t mean we aren’t angry.

Members will have seen the result of the HE ballot, which saw a turnout of 41%, with a 70% vote in favour of a strike and 80% for action short of a strike (80.5%). The turnout was disappointingly short of 50% threshold required by the current legislation.

Our employers will no doubt be relieved that they will not be faced with strike action (some members may feel the same, especially those still paying debts incurred from the USS strike action this time last year).

But this does not mean that staff are not angry about the issues at the heart of the ballot.

Talking to members here we know just how furious staff are about successive below inflation pay rises (and the prospect of paying more for our USS pension despite the recommendations of the JEP). We share your outrage at the casualization of the sector. We too are infuriated with the failure of employers to take meaningful action to address inequalities. We also know how overloaded everyone is due to increasing workloads and performance expectations.

Staff here have sent a clear message, via the recent staff survey, to senior management about their dissatisfaction with their leadership of the University. Staff reported a lack of confidence, a lack of trust and a sense that the senior managers do not listen or respond to feedback. Over the past few years staff and students have also repeatedly spoken out against excessive pay at the top of our University. And in the recent ballot many staff here also voted for strike action over pay and equalities.

Our employers should take note.

The message from the national ballot is that a significant number of UCU members are very angry about Pay, Precarity, Inequalities and Workloads. Locally, the staff survey signals problems at the top of the University of Southampton.

This is a moment for the senior managers to show that they can listen and respond.

The University Executive Board could seize this opportunity to work with staff and students. They could stand with staff on Pay and defend our pensions. They could take meaningful action on equalities. They could work towards ending the over-use of casual contracts. They could tackle excessive workloads, presenteeism and bullying. We believe they should.

Senate and the Staff survey – update

Following an additional request from Senators, the Vice Chancellor shortened the formal Senate agenda for this Wednesday’s meeting, to enable an early adjournment. Most Senators (including those from the University Executive Board) remained for an informal ‘no agenda’ discussion from 3pm on the staff survey and its implications. They were joined by some additional staff and the VC chaired the session.

This discussion was broad ranging and enabled staff to raise concerns about the survey and what will have motivated staff to give the answers they did. It also touched upon the difficult context of higher education and the current economic climate.

There was an acknowledgement of the lack of trust and confidence between staff and senior management, and various suggestions were made about how to rebuild that. UCU welcomes the commitment of senior managers (including the University Executive Board) to explore ways of improving communications. We look forward to further action to address the key issues raised in our blog from 13th February.

It was agreed that there would be similar space for discussions of this type following future Senate meetings – at least for as long as Professor Spearing will be in the role of Interim Vice Chancellor. This is to be welcomed and we look forward to better communication resulting in a better working environment for all.

What is wrong with ‘the University’ (senior managers’) reaction to the 2019 staff survey

Over 4200 staff completed the staff engagement survey (69%) and the strength of feeling, particularly about the senior management of the University must be acknowledged and acted on. ‘The University’ needs to find ways to meaningfully engage with staff, and this means that senior managers must change their approach.

UCU members are particularly disappointed for the following reasons:

1. Senators requested the opportunity to discuss the staff survey at Senate and were told ‘The role of Senate is in Academic Governance and as such the Staff Survey would not fall within this remit’. Given what the survey results imply for staff retention and organisational leadership this seems surprising – unhappy staff who lack trust in senior managers may find it hard to deliver academic excellence. After further correspondence a hasty ‘informal’ (presumably un-minuted) meeting is to be convened, after a shorter Senate, to discuss concerns. We hope that all Senators, especially those who are University Executive Board members, will attend, and participate in this meeting.

2. The text comments provided in the survey will clarify why staff gave low positive responses to questions, in particular, those about ‘the University’ and senior management. However, we understand that these are not being shared with School/ Department Heads. Yet these comments could be anonymised and depersonalised and shared, especially as staff have taken the time to write them. Responses to Q31 suggest that only 19% of staff agree that ‘the University’ acts on staff feedback. Discussing the text comments is an opportunity to reverse this.

3. Staff are expected to ‘engage’ in conversation in their departments about the survey, with their line manager and their Head of unit. The answers to Q27 suggest staff feel that it is not safe to speak up, so this may not result in open discussion and debate. Senior managers will need to equip staff to engage actively, facilitating equal participation and critical conversations.

4. The survey suggests that staff are relatively content with local line management arrangements, and the teams they work in, but are very disillusioned with the senior management. Staff urgently need to be reassured that senior managers have understood the survey results and see that action is being taken, at the highest levels, to address their concerns.

We propose some immediate actions:

a) Senior managers must commit to resourcing a serious and meaningful reaction to this disastrous staff survey. This means as a first step organising external, independent facilitators for focus groups (where confidentiality and anonymity is guaranteed) to understand the problems and consider how to address them.

b) To be seen as ‘open and honest in their communication’ (Q26) the senior managers must engage Senate properly and openly in the critique and development of the response to the survey and the wider university strategy. This would help the Executive Board and Council to begin to make more consensual decisions, taking staff with them to rebuild ‘confidence in the leadership of the University’ (Q25).

c) Given the rates of experienced or witnessed bullying (shockingly high in some areas) senior managers should introduce as a matter of urgency compulsory training in areas where rates are highest and a hotline to report bullying in confidence.

Staff survey confirms substantial collapse in confidence in senior leadership of the University

UCU members will remember that the staff engagement survey was postponed from April to October 2018 until “after the university has undergone its reshaping exercises from 8 Faculties to 5.”

Yesterday, summary results from the survey (which had a 69% response rate) were cascaded to staff; these make for very grim reading indeed.

Confidence in the leadership of the University has always been shaky, but the 2018 result shows a significant drop in confidence to 25%; in other words, three quarters of the 4284 colleagues responding to the survey do not have confidence in the senior leadership team. We here at UCU are not surprised. For months and months, UCU have been saying that staff and students have serious concerns about the senior leadership of the University, and about poorly managed organisational change. The staff (dis)engagement survey provides a critical and very clear indication of what staff think of the senior team and their strategic leadership.

When we look a bit deeper into detail of the responses, it is clear that many of our staff love the work they do and, for the most part, have good relationships with colleagues and local line managers. But, it all falls apart when we look at the results for senior leadership of the University. On key questions (Qu 24-25) about whether the University is well placed to meet opportunities and challenges of the future, and confidence in the leadership, less than one third express support for the senior team.

When asked if the Executive Board are open and honest (Qu 26), staff report a mere 24% agreement and this plummets to as low as 16% in Arts and Humanities, 18% in Engineering and Physical Sciences and 19% in Social Sciences; these are truly alarming figures.

In a previous blog we noted the steep rise over recent years in the number of senior leaders, notably the increase in Vice President and associated roles. Like many in the higher education sector we have long been concerned at the pay and remuneration of our Vice Chancellor (who receives a salary of £423,000), and at the more than doubling of the number of staff earning over £100k per annum (from 66 in 2010 to around 140 in 2017*). The staff survey results invite serious assessment of whether the University is receiving value for money from these senior leaders.

The survey also included questions about experiencing bullying and witnessing bullying. UCU are disturbed to see that between 15% and 28% of staff report having witnessed bullying across the University in the past year. This too is a damning statistic.

We look forward to the senior management responses to these – and the other – results. We will welcome the opportunity to work closely with the senior management and new Vice Chancellor to restore confidence across the University and repair some of the damage done over the last few years.

* figures taken from Financial Statements and Statistics 2016-2017 

NEC elections and voting – why bother?

We have had lots of new members join UCU and our branch in the past 12 months, and we know that some of you may not know how the union is organised. There is lots of information on the UCU website and Amanda in our local union office loves to meet new members and knows everything (well nearly everything) about UCU. But we know – because you tell us – that you are all busy people and may not have time to delve into the archives of UCU. Many of us simply pay our union subs in the knowledge that UCU will be there to help us if we experience a difficulty at work, and that we will mobilise collectively when needed to defend pay, pensions and work conditions.

Anti-trades union legislation means that now we are under greater pressure to demonstrate that our members are engaged in decision making, particularly about industrial action. We now need at least 50% of our members to participate in ballots about strike action. This is why we need up to date information about your membership details and why we pester you to vote. We hope you have all returned your ballot paper for the Pay and Equality vote. This blog is to tell you that you will be receiving another ballot paper soon – this time for the National Executive Committee (NEC). This committee is responsible for conducting the union’s business between our annual Congress meetings. The elected members of NEC, include HE and FE members, some of whom are elected regionally, some on a UK-wide basis, plus equality seats and officers of the union.

In the past our branch executive has not published a slate or voting preferences, instead leaving members to make up their own minds based on the candidates statements. However we do often get asked who we are voting for, and who might best represent the views of members here. The past year, and the strike to defend pensions in particular, has shown us that it is important to have a strong, representative NEC that can act strategically and respond to support members’ concerns. For that reason your branch is breaking with tradition and encouraging members here to vote for candidates that we believe will represent us. Two candidates for South HE seats are our own Denis Nicole and Catherine Pope, and we would also urge you to vote for Sally Pellow from Reading Branch. We suggest voting just for these three candidates in the South HE to maximise the chance of them being elected.  In addition members of your branch executive will be voting for the following candidates:

Vice President Adam Ozanne

UCU Treasurer Steve Sangwine 

UK-elected HE Pat Hornby-Atkinson and Ann Gow

Disabled members Lucy Burke

Black members Victoria Showunmi and Maxine Looby

Please do read the candidates statements and use your vote to ensure that we have a strong and effective NEC that can represent your views. All ballots close at 12 noon on Friday 1 March 2019.