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Governance

All we want for Christmas … is better senior management and a new VC

At the time of writing, Southampton UCU understands that over 50 members of the University Senate have expressed their concern at being asked to rubber stamp the appointment of three Senate representatives to the Selection Committee charged with finding our next VC. The appointments themselves are of esteemed and respected colleagues, but what concerns Senators and UCU members is the process, which is opaque and rushed. Once again, as with the recent redundancies and the restructuring to 5 Faculties, Senate – the academic governance of our University – has been asked to approve, without adequate consultation or discussion, a vital decision about the future of our University. Senators, staff and students are rightly angered.

Alongside this attempt to railroad Senate, senior management have published a ‘3 question survey’ [password needed] for staff to indicate what attributes they wish to see in our next VC. The framing of these questions and the format – buried on the SUSSED intranet – effectively limits potential discussion and closes down debate, while allowing senior managers to claim they have ‘consulted’ the University community. To date the campus trades unions, the legally recognised representatives of staff, have not been invited to take part in this vital appointment.

Successive staff surveys have highlighted staff concerns about the senior management of the university. The disconnect between the top team and frontline staff is well known. The failure of senior managers to listen to staff is a repeated complaint. We have been promised no more change, better management, and a listening culture, and yet we have continued to experience poorly managed change and an abject failure to engage with staff and students.

There are now 137 senior managers earning over £100,000 pa. The top team ranks swell with every restructure and it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed. When some of our lowest paid staff struggle to make ends meet there is understandable anger at excessive salaries at the top especially when the senior management appear so out of touch.

We know that the next VC will have a profound effect on lives of all who work and study here. We are told that the next VC must deliver the 10 Year plan, yet many staff and students have little or no confidence in this plan which has created further unnecessary disruption at the University. It is vital that frontline staff and students have a voice in the selection of the next VC, and in University strategy.  Southampton UCU have created a petition to University Council – we urge staff and students to sign it (copies can be obtained here) – the text is reproduced below, in case you need some inspiration to answer the ‘3 question survey’.

We, the undersigned, want a Vice-Chancellor who:

1. Dedicates themselves in national and local debates on higher education, to a vision of Universities as public goods not just private economic ones;
2. Is willing to take a critical approach to the University strategy and 10 year plan and seeks to avoid further cuts to frontline staff;
3. Recognises the need to avoid further unnecessary and unhelpful restructuring and associated disruption;
4. Employs a management style that embodies the values of the University (excellence, creativity, community and integrity), and truly values and nurtures our University community;
5. Empowers the University Senate for active decision-making, and commits to returning to open democratic processes with University’s Senate at their heart to improve accountability;
6. Receives a salary that is no more than 20 times the salary of the lowest paid employee in the University and commits to ensuring that the University pays the real living wage to all directly employed staff*.

 

*this is carefully worded. We hope that the University will ensure that all suppliers and subcontractors pay a real living wage, but we know that they can, as a first step, ensure that everyone on the University payroll receives this.

University Governance – Time to take back control?

The news that our VC and President Sir Christopher Snowden is retiring a little earlier than anticipated has provoked a number of conversations by staff and students about what kind of VC we should hope for next. The emerging consensus seems to be ‘not more of the same please’.

Several colleagues have expressed relief at Sir Christopher’s departure and suggested that this is an excellent opportunity for those critical of the direction of the University over recent years to inform the appointment process for the next VC. We very much hope that the next VC will rebuild relations with academic and academic-related staff, and begin to repair the damage done to our University

The appointment process for the new VC must be transparent and take account staff concerns and morale. We have had two VCs in a row who arrived with a negative reputation for difficult relations with staff in their previous Universities. Sadly both lived up to these poor reputations and both wasted considerable staff time and effort on top down reorganisations and cuts to frontline staff.

Having met the new Chair of Council before he took up his post, UCU will be seeking further dialogue over the coming months to help him understand staff and student concerns. Some key points that we will be putting forward are that our next VC:
1/ should receive a salary much closer proportionately to that of other senior University staff
2/ must dispense with management approaches based on surveillance and bullying, and instead adopt an approach which is collegial, consultative and supportive and, above all, which values staff
3/ should take a more active role in national debates about Higher Education and argue for Universities as a public good.

One of the reasons we have ended up with out of touch leadership and excessively paid top teams is the disconnect between front line academic and academic-related professional staff and the governance of the University. The opportunities for Senate to genuinely influence the direction of travel have been curtailed and many senators complain that they are forced to rubber stamp changes rather than being allowed to debate and influence them. Council too looks increasingly out of touch. Our analysis suggests that we have one of the most unbalanced Councils, dominated by private sector corporate representatives. Despite recent efforts Council still fails to be truly diverse.
Students too are poorly represented in these governance structures – a few sabbatical officers are allowed to attend and make reports but again the ability of the study body as a whole to comment on changes is limited.

UCU have been watching our colleagues over the border in Scotland responding to the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act introduced in 2016. This set out new requirements for Universities in Scotland in terms of how their Courts and Senates should be constituted, notably requiring that more than 50 per cent of members are elected, and that 10 per cent of members are elected students. We are aware that University of Edinburgh has a Task Group, convened by the Principal, to consider possible models which would comply with the Act. We need to ensure that our governing bodies represent frontline staff, and students and something like this would be welcome here. We had already flagged concerns that the restructure of the University will reduce representation on Senate and are awaiting a response on this. In addition we are concerned at reports from some faculties here that opportunities to stand for Senate are not communicated in timely ways, and that the process for election is not open or transparent. This too has to be investigated and improved.

Staff and students are rightly concerned that the University will appoint another VC who wreaks yet more damage. UCU will be arguing forcefully for a stronger voice for frontline staff and students in the selection process. We will continue to push for better governance. It is time for everyone who is concerned about our University to raise their voices – it is time we took back control.