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Warped appraisal process – what went wrong?

It’s just not getting better, is it?

We were informed – by a written response, distributed at the close of our last JNC meeting – that there are no problems with the current appraisal process, if there are then they are not within the gift of HR or management to solve. It’s not their problem if managers are distorting the process because they haven’t been trained and are not being held to account – because they didn’t intend for the process to be problematic.

Members of Southampton UCU are increasingly seeking UCU support over problems encountered with the way appraisals are being done at this University. UCU executive members are despairing at what appraisal has become, not least because so many of us were involved in over two years’ effort in the so-called Reward project designed to create a new appraisal system we thought would benefit colleagues. Increasingly it seems that appraisal has warped into a device to attack and punish staff, rather than support them. In some areas of the University there appears to be an “appraisal is about performance only” agenda and the annual appraisal meetings are simply being used as part of a disciplinary and capability process. We are asking members to contact us with their concerns about recent appraisals, but below we highlight three of the reoccurring problems we have already identified.

Setting objectives for the coming year

The process of setting objectives for the coming year is meant to happen AFTER the submission of the retrospective appraisal and ownership of this should always be in the hands to the appraisee. The setting of objectives should be focussed on personal and career development and growth and should not be a list of “all the things your manager needs you to do next year.” Objectives need to be realistic and within the control of the appraisee (which is why “winning the Nobel Peace Prize” cannot be an objective but “making a submission to a panel by the deadline” might be). Objectives may be adapted over the year – subject to changes in workplans and circumstances, and they can be “stretching” with the caveat noted above that they must be within the control of the individual – for example, I can write a research bid for a prestigious funder, but I do not control whether it is funded. I can institute administrative processes or create new systems that aim to improve some part of the students’ experience of learning, but I cannot make all students get a first class degree or tick the excellent box in the NSS.

Ratings and moderation

We have written about this before, but we are really very concerned about the ways in which numerical scoring of performance is being used.  All the way through the negotiations about appraisal UCU were clear that telling people they had done a great job (when they had done so) absolutely has a place in appraisal.  We were also very happy that the appraiser could confirm that a staff member has “met expectations,” being clear that this was an acceptable outcome because no-one should be expected to exceed expectations on everything all the time.

The place for discussions of underperformance was not appraisal. This clearly falls into the capability and disciplinary processes designed to offer staff development and support opportunities to improve. Clearly appraisal can be a place where the barriers to achieving an objective can be discussed: for example, the module did not run so I could not deliver the new curriculum we planned; the IT system could not be configured to support the new process we envisaged. Under such circumstances, objectives can legitimately be ignored or adapted.  But appraisal is not the forum in which to inform someone that they will be disciplined, or to begin formal disciplinary documentation. Sadly it is clear that some managers a misusing the process in exactly this way.

Readers of the blog will know that Southampton UCU objects vehemently to the use of numerical appraisal scores and bell-curve moderation of these.  We now suspect that the use of these scores is being encouraged as a silent redundancy policy. We suggest that every score of 1 or 2 given this year will be used to push capability/severance processes, further “protected conversations” and removal of frontline staff. We are asking you to tell us if you see appraisal being used in these ways. And if members are asked to discuss “under-performance” or have protected conversations please don’t attend these without seeking advice from your branch.

Training for appraisal (or the lack of it)

Since the demise of ILIaD Southampton UCU has been concerned about the lack of development and training for all staff.  We understand that the new CHEP (Centre for Higher Education Practice) finally has a director and will be developing resources and training opportunities over the coming year. Training for appraisal falls under the remit of HR and much of this has been reduced to online training. Training for managers in “difficult conversations” (redundancy?) continues to be offered but we are sad that the innovative Appraisal Skills Workshop using Forum Theatre techniques to focus on the skills and behaviours in appraisal discussions has been dropped.  We know that members had mixed responses to this training – not least because it was initially poorly advertised as training for using the new system rather than developing skills in mentoring and developmental conversations. Nonetheless many appraisers and appraises said they welcomed this learning which explored techniques in listening, questioning, coaching and objective setting to ensure a positive outcome for both the appraiser and appraisee. We are aware that many forward thinking employers have woken up to the importance of positive conversations and the ways that these can be used to support staff and organisational goals. It seems a real shame that University of Southampton management and HR do not seem to be using these resources and evidence to get the best from our staff.

For us here in UCU a positive appraisal process – as part of a regular interaction between managers and teams is vital. This is an area in which the University senior management could improve, by listening to staff concerns about where appraisals are not working well, and by re-focussing on a genuinely developmental process. A good appraisal is an opportunity to celebrate success, to reaffirm values and wellbeing, and to plan for the coming year. Let’s make it work as intended.

 

#WeAreTheUniversity – Part 2, The One With You in It

We are now officially into National Recruitment Week, and we are also officially in the run up to the elections for the local branch for the coming academic year. We are holding some informal come-and-chat sessions later this week on Highfield Campus, for those interested in joining, for new members that want to know more, and for anyone thinking that they’d like to get more involved.

  • Thursday 17 May              1 – 2.30 pm, room 58/1045 Highfield
  • Friday 18 May                    4.30 – 6 pm, Arlott Bar

We thought we’d give you a brief rundown of the roles and responsibilities of branch executive officers – these are just sketches, so do get in touch if you’d like to know more. If you’d like to stand, you can download the nomination form here.  We can find you someone to second a nomination if you need, but the forms should be completed and received by the Southampton UCU Office by close of nominations: 5.00pm Friday 25 May 2018.

Many of the roles below will be vacant from 15 June – so don’t think just because there is a name currently next to a role that it won’t be up for grabs in the election. Please consider supporting your branch by putting your hat in the ring!

Elections will be held at our AGM on 15 June. Don’t forget to let us know if you are coming, so we can organise catering: 12:15pm for lunch, meeting begins at 12.30 Building 44, Room 1041.

Executive Committee -Roles & responsibilities

President – (currently Laurie Stras)

This is a visible leadership role, but very much supported by the wider executive team, officers and reps. I provide strategic direction and help prioritise what we do.  I chair branch meetings – such as the termly AGMs – reporting back to members, and I attend meetings with University management: regular commitments here are the Joint Negotiating Committees (JNCs) – which are 2 hours face to face with HR and senior managers, and there are at least 6 of these year. Some of the role involves co-ordinating the work of others, so I work closely with Amanda our branch manager (but I don’t line manage her) and our reps. In my time as president I have paid particular attention to communications with members – maintaining our regular blog and emails to members – these can take a few hours to compose but I enjoy this bit of the job. Currently this has a 40% (2 days a week) time allocation.

Laurie’s highlight of 2018: Watching our membership grow by over 30% in a single year – it’s been such a privilege (and maybe a bit scary) leading the branch during these interesting times, but absolutely I have loved all the support I and the branch have received from our members, old and new. It’s great to think that we are so much stronger now.

Vice president/president elect – (currently Catherine Pope)

Catherine says: This role is an apprenticeship for being president, so you spend time learning what the president does and deputise for them when needed. In the recent strike action this was necessary as the president was on sick leave so I ended up leading our strike activity. Currently we try to divide the work up so that Laurie as president leads on the local issues and I focus on the pension dispute and some of the more national work – but this is obviously up to the people doing these roles to decide. I often attend JNCs and have chaired branch meetings. I contribute the occasional blog piece and member email. I have tended to do University induction talks to recruit new members but this doesn’t have to be a VP role. This job can fill as much time as you have.

Catherine’s highlight of 2018: Chairing the emergency general meeting during the strike with over 170 members in the lecture theatre at Avenue. I really felt how strong we are as a union, how angry you were about the threat to our pension, and how passionate our members are about Higher Education.

Honorary Secretary – (currently John Langley)

John says: The secretary role is another key role for the branch.  While Amanda is the first point of contact I try to be the face of the branch for the other campus unions, senior managers and external organisations.  I attend negotiations and meetings with University management as required.  I am one of the signatories for the branch bank account and this year was one of three people designated to manage the hardship fund. In the event that the president and VP were unavailable I might have to make a decision (but I haven’t had to do this). I need to have a copy of the branch rules handy in case there is a query – but none expects me to remember them off by heart.

John’s highlight of 2018: This year I have encouraged branch members to take a bit of time for wellbeing and our trips to Portswood’s Bookshop Alehouse have established this as our top spot for Friday nights.

Honorary Treasurer – (currently Tim Sluckin)

This is a job for someone who is organised and ideally numerate (but we have a calculator).  Maybe it is for you if you don’t like the limelight or too much public speaking.  Amanda keeps an eye on the branch funds and helps prepare the annual accounts- these need to be audited and presented at the AGM once a year. You need to be a signatory for the branch bank account.

Health and Safety Officer – (currently David Kinnison)

The Health and Safety Officer is one of the most important roles on the committee, and while there are general protections for time spent on union duties, there is special legislation that protects health and safety duties. With luck and lots of volunteers, the executive officer will be in a position to coordinate multiple health and safety reps in the faculty. The H&S Officer is the point of contact for reps, caseworkers, and the committee, liaising with the national committee on policy and campaigns, and raising issues at branch executive and university Joint Negotiating Committee meetings.  There are national meetings each year – usually a full day (accommodation and travel expenses fully paid for this).

Equality Officer – (currently Mary Morrison)

There is a lot of public communication about equality, particularly gender equality, that comes from the University – we know that they both want and need to engage with this, and UCU is in a great position to help them do this. The Equality Officer is responsible for developing local strategies for equalities campaigns, and advising other caseworkers on legislation and institutional frameworks. There are national meetings each year – usually a full day (accommodation and travel expenses fully paid for this).

Mary’s best bit about the job:  “Campaigning for equality in the University of Southampton remains critical and this is most obvious when looking at gender. The Gender Pay gap data for 2017 shows women earning over 20% less than men in the institution as a whole.”

Insecure Contracts Staff Officer (Fixed term and Hourly Paid zero hours and temporary contracts – currently vacant)

This is our point of contact for all our casualised and precariously employed staff and this is a priority area of campaigning and support, nationally and locally. Ideally we’d like a small sub-group to take this work forward.  There are national meetings each year – usually a full day (accommodation and travel expenses fully paid for this).

Post-grad and SUSU Liaison Officer (currently Cori Ruktanonchai)

This officer post is key to building and maintaining relationships with our students. Usually held by a PGR student, this job requires energy , advocacy, and communication skills, and it is an excellent introduction to union work for someone who wants to understand the workings of higher education from a new perspective.

Academic-related Staff Officer (currently Sarah Fielding)

Sarah says: “I have been the UCU rep for at least one large restructure, which affected staff moving from the ERE to MSA pathway. Generally, the ARPS role means making sure the voices of those members on MSA/TAE pathways are heard, highlighting gaps/disparity in provision for those pathways (such as equal access to family facilities, or CPD opportunities), and also raising awareness of challenges such as career progression etc. There are national meetings each year – usually a full day (accommodation and travel expenses fully paid for this).

The best bit of the job for me is knowing that your input can make a difference to someone going through a hard time.”

Membership and Campaigns Officer (currently VACANT)

 This is a role that is currently covered by Amanda, liaising with HQ on membership and recruitment campaigns. If you are organised, enthusiastic, and enjoy coming up with new ideas to help us recruit members, we’d really like to hear from you. It has never been more important for employees to have the protection and advice of their union, and we know that the union is stronger for every member we recruit.  Perks include cakes and treats on recruitment stalls…

Communications Officer (currently VACANT – new role subject to ratification at AGM)

This is a new role – a lot of this has been covered by the President, VP and Amanda this year.  We would like to keep the regular blog and develop other communications newsletters, bulletins and posters, etc. This work can be delegated to reps but we need a plan and some oversight of this.

Environmental Officer (currently VACANT)

 This is a union role suitable for UCU members who wish to develop their understanding of climate change and ways to protect the environment through change at work. The role of the Environmental Officer rep is to work  with management to ensure wherever possible that the University is working towards green objectives. You will be responsible for bringing environmental issues to the attention of the branch executive, for raising with management at JNCs.

Ordinary Members – four posts (currently Mark Dover, Maureen Harrison, Roger Ingham, Marianne O’Doherty )

Attend monthly committee meetings – 90 mins a month in term time – and offer assistance/support where possible to other ongoing issues.  Current ordinary members help on redundancy consultations, casework, JNC meetings, and campaigning (more or less everything that the committee is required to do).

Our OMs say the best bit about the job is meeting great colleagues from departments across the university; and making a positive difference to the treatment of colleagues across the university through your advocacy.

#WeAreTheUniversity – Part I

Last Friday, just as I was about to leave Union House, Amanda reminded me it’s our third and final National Recruitment Week next week (week beginning 14 May). This regular event can be met in the office with a range of responses, from “OK, where’s the banner and the stand materials? Who’s on the rota?” to “Really? Again? But we have [insert urgent and depressing problem here] to deal with next week!”

I have to admit, my feelings were closer to the latter this time, as first thing Tuesday I will be attending yet another meeting regarding yet another consultation which could result in colleagues losing their jobs.  We simply haven’t got the time to think about something else…

And then, as I took a moment on Sunday to enjoy the Bank Holiday sunshine, I thought, actually, how can we not afford to do this?

We have six more weeks of term time, and six more weeks before our Annual General Meeting. There has never been a more important time for recruitment – if you think this year has been bruising, then next year will be even worse.

It is time to gather together as a community and to show that “We Are the University.”

During the strike weeks, the hashtag #WeAreTheUniversity became familiar to Twitter users: but even if you are not a keen social media user, you will understand the sentiment. We long since decided to stop calling the Senior Management Team “the University” in our communications (as in, “the University has decided…” this or that), because we are the University, not senior management. So few of the important decisions now are taken without any demonstrable benefit to education or research.  We need to take a stand, and we need to do it via every means available to us.

Support your union, and help us to support you. Please, do whatever you can to help us recruit more members: talk to your colleagues, have honest discussions about how you are going to manage the pressures of a consultation in your department. Tell them to visit ucu.org.uk/join – it’s so easy to join the union.

And please don’t think it won’t happen to you: the two departments in the University that came top in the country in REF2014 are now looking to the next academic year with many fewer staff and with severely challenging recruitment due to by arbitrary decisions by the Senior Management Team. Those that remain wonder what the future will bring. As far as we are concerned, we want the future to be in the hands of the university community, and we hope, so do you.

Recruit a friend, put “LUNCH AT THE UCU AGM” in your diary for 15 June, and join the effort to save jobs, education, research, and community – for everyone here: 12:15pm for lunch, Building 44, Room 1041.

 

 

 

More on Clarity Travel and AirBnB

When we sent an email to members last week about the less-than-loved policy forcing us to use Clarity Travel, we mentioned we had seen a Faculty email informing staff that they could no longer use AirBnB for university-related business, and they would not be reimbursed if they submitted receipts from AirBnB. Since this appeared to be policy that was (typically) partially and ineptly communicated, and – worse – to be retrospectively enacted, we promised we would come back to you.  We touched a nerve, because we have been deluged by comments and questions.

We have done a little digging, and we have some information to share. But before we get to the root of this non-policy that has not been negotiated or consulted on, we’d like to share with you some of the most important aspects that have been highlighted to us since last Friday:

  • Equal opportunities / discrimination: many staff have good reasons for looking for self-catering or apartment accommodation when travelling. Those with specific dietary needs or accommodation specification (potentially associated with disability or a medical condition) or travelling with carers have welcomed the flexibility of AirBnB.
  • While hotel-style self-catering accommodation can be found, it is often very expensive, or only available for week-long bookings. Shorter bookings can be made through AirBnB.
  • AirBnB have a facility for businesses called AirBnB for Work, which is not covered in the report below.
  • Edinburgh University (a fellow Russell Group institution) has a very sensible and grown-up policy in place that permits the use of AirBnB, with conditions, and also seems reasonable in terms of the use of its nominated travel company for trips under £300, or trips funded by external agencies.
  • AirBnB makes it possible for the increasing number of academics forced to self-fund research activities to attend conferences, work in the field, and present their work in the UK and abroad. Removing access to AirBnB will result in these activities being drastically curtailed, to the detriment of departments and individuals.

We invite further comments below: if you emailed in to the branch, we would love it if you would reproduce your comments here, so that management can see them.

And now, the digging:

Agenda Item 9, UoS Consultative Health and Safety Committee meeting, Monday 11 December 2017

In December 2017, the Consultative Health and Safety Committee received a paper from Cathy Day, the university’s Director of Health, Safety, and Risk, which purports to be a report on the use of AirBnB for university-related travel. It makes some interesting claims and reveals some of management’s reasonings for the recently communicated ban on any further use of AirBnB or other “unregulated providers.”

Item 3.1 of this paper reads:

In July 2017 the University appointed Clarity as their travel management company and then mandated that all air travel should be booked through them. There was no such mandate for accommodation but professional services personnel within Faculties such as Heads of Faculty Finance and Health & Safety Advisers have promoted the use of Clarity wherever possible and endeavoured to manage the issues raised by users over available options. One of those options is Air BnB which cannot currently be booked via the travel management system because Clarity do not have an arrangement to do so and nor do they have any means of checking the suitability, security or safety of accommodation on offer. Those preferring to use Air BnB therefore have to book their accommodation independently.

This appears to suggest that one of the reasons for not permitting the business use of AirBnB is that Clarity do not have a way of recouping “rent” (see here for a definition of “rent-seeking”) from them.

Item 3.2 of the paper reads:

All travellers at the University are required to complete a travel risk assessment and to implement measures to control the risk to as low as reasonably practicable. If undertaken as per the guidance provided this should be sufficient to enable the employee to fulfil their duty of care and to inform them whether the journey, accommodation, location is suitable or not. Checking and signing off this assessment enables the University to also fulfil its duty of care. There are good examples of travel risk assessments across the University. However, there is currently no central database and thus limited knowledge about how well travel risk assessments are completed and whether these are sufficiently checked and signed off.

This item suggests that the University’s risk assessments are sufficiently detailed to allow for the University’s and the employee’s duty of care to be fulfilled.

Item 3.3 of the paper reads:

Travel insurance provided by the University does not cover personal liability for damage caused to Air BnB properties because they are unregulated and in the eyes of the insurer are open to fraudulent claims. Home owners (hosts) may have suitable insurance to cover this but it is not a requirement of Air BnB so needs to be checked for each booking by the guest.

Again, this seems like there are mechanisms to ensure that a stay in AirBnB would present no financial risk to the university.

Item 3.4 caused us a little bit of pre-weekend amusement:

Two simple benchmarking exercises have taken place. The first carried out in September 2017 is attached at appendix A which included 20 large and complex companies within the within the UK of which the University of Southampton was one. The response was mixed…

The second benchmarking was undertaken in November 2017 with the Universities Safety & Health Association network. Very few said they had any policy on the use of it but those that did, either banned it or used Business Air BnB. The lack of responses indicated no definitive conclusion.

Appendix A is reproduced here.  It reveals that this “benchmarking exercise” was conducted by expat-academy.com. We note that this service organisation will conduct a benchmarking exercise for you if you email them with a question. Their website states:

Benchmarking Service: For any question you want to ask other GM [global mobility] professionals but can’t due to anti-trust, you can send them our way. We send your question, consolidate responses and distribute answers anonymously. Click HERE to email us and ask your question!

Slightly hilariously (at least to this blogger), expat-academy chose to benchmark us with Diageo, Pearsons, and Imperial Tobacco: those well-known academic research institutions which require their staff members to self-fund their business activities.

The “second benchmarking” conducted among universities is a bit more nebulous: a lack of responses, and “very few” saying they had any policy. No evidence of any exercise actually being carried out is produced.

Item 4 is where it gets maddening:

4.1 Strategic: This report endorses the University’s strategic goals of;

    • Collegiality – by improving the management of travel to ensure risks are identified and addressed.
    • Quality – by improving the experience, safety and security of those who travel on behalf of the University.
    • Reputation – by helping to ensure travel arrangements are well managed to avoid any reputation damage.
    • Sustainability – by reducing risks associated with travel, thus enabling the university to continue its research, promotional activities and attendance at important events.

4.2  Financial:The cost to the University in respect of lost reputation should anything occur at an event could be extremely damaging.

4.3 Equality and Legal: Equality legislation is often complimentary [sic] to that of Health and Safety with several aspects forming an integral part of good health and safety management such as the risks and environment affecting the disabled, expectant mothers, young and older people, cultural needs etc

4.4  Risk and Health & Safety This report reflects the health and safety management system in place at the time. Failure to identify and assess risks can often mean that inappropriate or insufficient measures have been implemented to control them.

4.5  Reputation Poor health and safety can seriously impact upon the reputation of the University. A serious incident resulting in a large fine, enforcement action or imprisonment could be extremely damaging to the University.

 

This item shows that the overriding consideration here is finance – not the financial cost to external funders or to self-funding staff of Clarity-bookable hotels and Clarity’s rent on top – but the potential cost to the University of some sort of reputational damage caused by its academics trashing an AirBnB property (see Item 3.3 above). The report makes no other reference to equality, or an equality impact assessment of such a policy, but our members have identified that this is a primary concern for them. It also states (Item 3.2 above) that the current risk assessment procedure is sufficient to both employer and employee, if properly carried out.

We will be taking this matter to the Joint Negotiating Committee on 4 June, so we would welcome further comments from members. We are particularly exercised that the policy is being enacted retrospectively, so causing more financial distress to employees. Let us know what you think in the comments box below.

“Don’t let our pensions go extinct” – Or, it’s not over ’til it’s over

It’s now been a month since the Dinosaur of Solidarity led striking members around the campus in a conga, celebrating our strength of resolve that was evident from the fourteen days of successful strike action held during February and March.

We hope that branch members are aware of the result of the e-ballot consultation on UUK’s proposal, in which nationally members voted almost 2:1 in favour of suspending strike action to allow for the formation of a Joint Expert Panel; the JEP will be charged with scrutinising the valuation methodology of the USS scheme.  We understand that UUK and UCU are meeting this week to scope out a framework for the panel. We also understand that objections have been raised both in this forum and by UCU press office about UUK’s press release on Friday 13 April, after the result of the consultative ballot became known. We await a report to HEC on these deliberations.

We have so much to be proud of as a branch. We’ve delivered a continual and joyous message of solidarity throughout the strike (Nota bene: it’s not over ’til it’s over). Our commitment to consensus and democracy may make the message we deliver seem out of step with other parts of the union, but we’ve maintained a respectful conversation within the branch about the way the dispute has been managed; we have done our utmost to consult with our members on substantive issues, and we have tried to help all members make decisions for themselves.

We would love to see the warmth and cooperation of the strike weeks continue in the branch’s activities in the months to come: while none of us wanted to cancel classes or lose income, and most of us really didn’t like being out in the cold and wet, almost every other aspect of the picket was life-enhancing: the singing, the baking (if you ignore an extra kilo or two), the space and time to meet and talk with new colleagues, the shared sense of purpose, the support of our students, the teach-outs, the generosity of strangers.  While senior management opine about – without ever demonstrating – collegiality as a value, we found a way to make it work in the snow and the rain.

The Dinosaur of Solidarity is our gift to our colleagues, local and national; she may have been (contrary to reports) a serendipitous creation, but she is also a symbol of what is best about our branch: a collective expression of a positive will for change, fairness, courage, and good humour when faced with management’s baffling and sometimes surreal vision for our community. By tapping into our enhanced collegiality we not only keep ourselves ready, should need arise, to get back out on the pickets, but we also will be able to be a proactive force for good in the university, like never before. It’s wonderful to see our membership so dramatically increased, but it’s even more wonderful to have so many colleagues energised in the pursuit of a better, more democratic workplace.

 

 

 

Members’ update – 19 March 2018

Dear members

Welcome back to work. And a warm welcome to the 200+ new members that have joined the branch.

Many thanks to all our members who participated in the first 14 days of strike action – on the picket lines, by staying at home and not working, by writing to the VC, and by donating to the hardship fund.

We also thank our colleagues and friends in sister trades unions for refusing to engage in strike breaking activities and for their support of our picket lines and striking staff.

Thanks, too, are due to our students, individually and collectively (as SUSU and a myriad of student societies and groups including Southampton Students Against University Cuts and Socialist Students) who have engaged with the Vice-Chancellor, sent messages of support, and kept the picket lines supplied with cakes and good cheer.

Make no mistake, our action to defend our pensions is working.

Before the strike began, UUK said there was no possibility of any movement on their position.

  • UUK refused to go to ACAS  – then they did;
  • UUK said that they could not consider preserving defined benefits – then they did;
  • The statutory consultation on full defined contribution had to start on 19/3 – it is on hold;
  • We were told that independent valuation was impossible – now it is planned.

Locally, our senior management told us that they would deduct pay for action short of a strike (ASOS) or working to contract – we remonstrated, and they backed down.

When the offer of a deal was made last week, this branch felt that we needed more information and we were minded to support suspension of the action to allow the deal to go to a vote by all members.  In the end, there was a strength of feeling across country in favour of rejecting the deal – we listened, debated, and heard concerns that

  • while the proposal retained defined benefit it did so with too great a reduction in the maximum pensionable salary;
  • the proposed reduction in accrual rate was unacceptable;
  • the proposed CPI cap, given volatility associated with continuing uncertainty over Brexit, was unacceptable;
  • the proposal still weighted risk disproportionately on scheme member rather than the employer collective;
  • the proposal included a commitment to encourage staff to reschedule missed lectures and classes. Although in practice, this would have been logistically very difficult, many members believed this was an unacceptable condition.

The deal was rejected and the dispute continues. National UCU is currently consulting with branches about further strike dates in the summer term.

UUK appear willing to talk and a number of astonishing concessions have been made, which offer us hope that we will be offered a better deal. We have written again to our VC, and to the Chair of Council asking them to put pressure on UUK to offer us a better deal.

We are asking ALL members to participate in ASOS.  This means working your contracted hours.  This will undoubtedly impact on what gets done – even our senior managers have conceded that our workloads regularly extend beyond the work hours we are actually paid for. This will be painful – like taking strike action – but it is vital that we keep up the pressure on our senior managers and on UUK.

UCU has asked all members to resign from external examining roles for those HEIs affected by the action. As a result, we have lost a number of external examiners for programmes and doctoral examinations here, and many of us have resigned from these duties elsewhere.

Members here have prepared a helpful guide to the ways in which you can support the strike and ASOS. We expect this to be added to over the coming days and weeks – please keep your suggestions coming for how we can ensure this part of the action has maximum impact.  

The dispute here has thrown a spotlight on a number of local concerns that extend beyond the pension dispute. Conversations here have highlighted staff dissatisfaction with

  1. the governance of the University of Southampton – the lack of academic and ARPS staff voices in decisions; the dominance of external influencers who have no background in higher education on our strategy and practice; the lack of transparency;
  2. the restructuring and cuts – we are concerned that this is yet another top down, ill-managed organisational change that is damaging education and research;  
  3. the ever-increasing size and remuneration packages of the senior management – when front line staff are being cut do we really need to expand the number of managerial roles, including both academic and administrative leadership, earning over £150,000?
  4. gender and other inequalities – the publication of the Equal Pay Review in the middle of the strike did little to reassure staff here that senior managers take inequalities seriously – the 21.5% gender pay gap is indefensible;
  5. workloads – the requests from senior managers to prioritise work that comprises some 60% of workload cements the view that our workloads are excessive – we simply cannot do the job in our contracted hours (which is why we work weekends and evenings to the detriment of our health and wellbeing);
  6. attacks on our lower paid colleagues in levels 1-3 who are also threatened with the removal of their defined benefit pension (we are working closely with our sister trades unions UNITE and UNISON to support these staff).

Given the scale of these concerns it is little wonder that senior management have booted the proposed annual staff survey to October – they are undoubtedly too scared to find out what we think. But they are also apparently using the busy-ness of our return to work to hit us with another wave of job losses: this morning the Exec were made aware of four new consultations comprising 28 new redundancies, 24 of which are in UCU’s bargaining group, ERE staff and MSA/TAO staff appointed at Level 4 and above. We cannot afford to reduce the pressure on our employers with regards to either our pensions or these local issues.

If all this seems overwhelming, please do remember that the strike has brought out the best in us as a community – our strength and our common values. It has reminded us of many of the things that we thought we had lost at this University. We have rediscovered collegiality – we have talked to each other unfettered by the silos of academic units or impossible schedules. We have laughed together and supported each other. We have debated and learned alongside students and members of our community (especial thanks to our wonderful colleagues who led daily teach-out sessions during the strike). We have harnessed an inflatable dinosaur and social media to spread our messages – much more successfully than Universities UK or our own corporate comms.

Above all we have rediscovered that ‘We Are the University’. As of today we are asking you to join us to reclaim your University and higher education. Whatever your role here, you are part of our team and together we can do this.

If you are reading this you are also a member of UCU – the largest post-16 education union in the UK. We are asking you to help us fight for you.

Here’s what you can do – starting today

  1. stick to ASOS – work  your hours
  2. come to the EGM on Friday 23 March 11 am Building 29
  3. ask a colleague to join UCU
  4. donate to the local hardship fund – we will be distributing payments soon
  5. volunteer for our new working groups, or as a caseworker supporting members in difficulty
  6. defend USS – strike and ASOS planning group (Wave 2 of the strikes will commence after Easter)
  7. restructuring and cuts  
  8. misuse of appraisal  
  9. protecting the statutes and ordinances  

You can volunteer today by contacting Amanda ucu@soton.ac.uk

We do not want to lose the momentum and well-being created by the strike.  We urge you to grow your networks and establish regular contacts with each other to engage in everyday small acts of resistance and to reclaim the University.  We will use our social media, other online and offline networks to publicise these acts – and please suggest ideas of your own. Thus far we are aware of

  • reclaim your lunch break clubs – to meet in the observatory B85, the Arlott Bar, Avenue Canteen or off site;
  • ‘go home on time’ email cascades around work groups to remind people to work their hours;
  • plans for teach-outs to meet colleagues and students outside the constraints of the formal curriculum.

Thank you for reading this far.  We have come a long way since the strike action began on 22 February. We have further to go but We Are the University. We will fight together.

Cathy, Mark, Roger, Marianne, Dave, Sarah, John, Mary, Huw, Maureen, Tim, Amanda, and Laurie (in absentia)

How digital communication transformed activism

This blog was written following a teach-out facilitated by the author.

For the ongoing USS-Strike to defend our pensions, digital communication on e-mail and social media have played a tremendous role. In fact, in contemporary society it seems almost unthinkable that social movements were able to mobilise protest events without access to the internet. It seems useful to appraise how activism has changed since the advent of social media.

I begin by reviewing some of the main tasks of social movements. First, social movements are engaged in framing processes: they need to convince people that there is a problem and what the problem is, who is responsible for the problem and what should be done about it. In the case of the the current dispute, the problems are the proposed changes to pensions and the way the pensions are regulated.  UUK and The Pension Regulator are responsible. One tactic is strike action.

Second, social movements need to mobilise resources including people (supporters, activists, and leaders), access to meeting spaces, media and money and enlist support from the wider public, decision makers such as politicians, and experts. In the context of the USS strike, this requires mobilizing members to come to the picket lines.

Finally, social movements need to make decisions about tactics and strategies as well as about their organisational structures and decision making. For the strike for USS that includes decisions to continue or to suspend the strike, and the pursuit of alternative and/or additional tactics.

Digital communication and social media have made some of these tasks much easier, but have made others more complicated. It is possible to distinguish internet-supported and internet-based repertoires of action. Internet-supported actions are a continuity of previous forms of mobilisation – instead of handing out leaflets or contacting people via a telephone-tree cascade system, meetings or protest events are announced via websites, on e-mail or via social media. There is no offline equivalent for a hashtag-campaign on social media – this is an example of new internet-based activism.

So how are online- and offline activism related? Some are concerned that online activism decreases the involvement in offline activism and leads to slacktivism or clicktivism. However, others believe that digital prefigurative participation or engaging with an issue online through social media leads to participation in offline protest events. Collective action is based on collective identity (for example, as trade unionists) and organisational structures (for example, the UCU branch), but digitally-enabled activism can  produce connective action which is networked and may not be tied to collective identities, organisational structures and leaders. In the current dispute we can see that hybrid forms of action exist.

In her book, Twitter and Teargas Zeynep Tufekci brilliantly analyses the ‘power and fragility of networked protest’. The power might be quite obvious. When social movements are ignored by the mass media (see for example the lack of mainstream press coverage of the USS-strike) or are censored, digital communication allows the spread of information and can enable citizen journalism.

In 1999, Indymedia was created by independent journalists and activists in the context of the WTO protests in Seattle. Although the website still exists nearly twenty years later, including regional sites in many languages, today Indymedia is hardly known. It has been replaced by the behemoths Twitter and Facebook on which citizen journalism as well as fake news are disseminated. We also see that mass media and social media are not mutually exclusive;  articles and broadcast news media are frequently posted on social media. In addition, not everyone’s tweet or post gets shared, some have far more influence in the digital public sphere than others. Communication on social media raises important questions of verification, and representativeness.

Tufekci also discusses the impact of digital communication on the leadership, logistics and infrastructure of social movements. New communication technologies allow the kinds of quick dissemination which made the occupation of Gezi Park, Tahir Square and the Occupy camps possible. In contrast, the American civil rights movement required meticulous and lengthy organising over long time-periods. Slow dissemination allowed for capacity building over a longer time-period which created space for extensive discussions outside the public eye – for example concerning tactical shifts, and social movement organisations had a central role in providing an infrastructure for the decision making processes and dealing with dissent and conflict arising from these debates.

In contrast, Tufekci demonstrates how digitally mobilised movements can experience a ‘tactical freeze’ due to the lack of decision-making structures. Connective action is less well placed to deal with disagreement and building trust. Debates are played out publically, and while open debate might be welcome, it can be dominated by a few, prominent, but not necessarily representative voices. Moreover, discussing tactics openly  can signal to opponents where the breaking points in the movement are.

The USS strike has undoubtedly benefited from the existence of social media. While we stood in cold, snow and rain, it was inspiring to know that the picket lines were strong at Universities across the country. Moreover, social media enabled activists to crowd-source information about management practices at the institutions involved in the dispute, and to share information to support the protest. Petitions were circulated and signed, universities were named and shamed. Activists skilfully employed not just open digital spaces but also closed spaces which allowed for strategizing outside the public attention.

One important feature of social media use was the mobilisation of humour to support the strike.  Our own #DinosaurOfSolidarity (@of_dinosaur) has quickly gained 1950 followers (and counting) for example. But social media has also carried serious messages. The outcome of UCU/UUK consultations immediately resulted in the hashtag #NoCapitulation which perhaps influenced the swift rejection of this offer.

The question is – what next? How can we prevent a ‘tactical freeze’? It is clear that offline and online activism are intertwined and that the affordances of digital communication are invaluable. We need to consider whether the velocity of digital communication undermines careful strategic decision-making. And how online and offline resources can be used to ensure democratic and inclusive debate. Some things might not be best discussed online, and we may need to learn a ‘digital hygiene’ i.e. knowing when and what to tweet. However we move forward it is clear that movement building in digital times requires solidarity and respect.

Silke Roth is a sociologist @SilkeRoth

Letter to the Chair of Council, Dr Gill Rider, and all members of Council

NB: Update, 1700 9 March 2018.  We have had a response from the Chair of Council. attached at the foot of this post.


Away from the vitality and vibrancy of our pickets and teach-outs, Southampton UCU members have been busy writing letters and campaigning.  You will have seen our open letter, signed by over 1000 people, that we published on Monday.

Today, we sent another letter to the Chair of Council, Dr Gill Rider, and all members of Council, asking them to make representations to Sir Christopher Snowden, our President and VC.  We asked specifically for him to align the University of Southampton with the growing number of universities who are now rejecting the “November valuation” of USS on which UUK’s final proposals were based.  We also asked for Southampton to follow the example of a number of institutions who have committed to spreading pay deductions for striking members over the rest of the academic year.

The text of the letter is given here:

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Please sign our Open Letter to the President and Vice-Chancellor

NB: We closed the letter to new signatories at 1645, due to the announcement on SUSSED that confirmed that the VC would not be withholding pay from staff for ASOS. We’d like to thank everyone who signed the letter, and we are grateful to the VC for listening to our concerns.


We have compiled an open letter to the President and Vice-Chancellor, Sir Christopher Snowden, urging him to support his staff in their fight to retain their pensions, and expressing our grave concern at the aggressive position taken against striking staff, in messages sent on 1 March 2018.

We would like to present this letter to the VC at the end of this third week of strikes, on 9 March 2018, but we will continue to collect signatures until the dispute is called off.

Please show us your support by signing the letter – anyone can sign, not just UCU or university members.   The text is reproduced below. To add your name, click on this link and fill in the form at the bottom of the letter: signatories will be added to this blog periodically, last update each day at 1730.

(Please do not leave a comment here to ask us to add your name: we really want your signatures, but we are really stretched for administrative capacity, especially during the strike. Please click on this link and add it via the form instead.)

A huge thank you from Southampton UCU Executive Committee.


Dear Sir Christopher

We are writing to you about the ongoing strike action, related to the sweeping reforms to pension arrangements proposed by Universities UK.

The proposal for radical change, which downgrades the USS pension scheme from primarily defined benefit to completely defined contribution, is a contentious and divisive issue amongst universities themselves. We think that Southampton should be demonstrating strong leadership to counter this ill-conceived proposal, and avoiding a damaging and potentially prolonged industrial dispute with its staff. We know that you were among the first VCs publicly to embrace the proposal (Southampton UCU blog, 4 October 2017), but you have expressed a desire to see meaningful consultation resume.

We urge the University of Southampton to lobby hard to find a fair and decent solution, which protects the interests and financial security of staff and restores relationships of trust across the sector. Whilst we appreciate the need for collective responsibility in negotiations, we think the issue is so critical and the consequences so grave, that you should consider making a public stand, similar to that taken by the VCs of Cambridge, Warwick, Glasgow, Loughborough, Aberdeen, Sheffield, Essex, Durham, Birkbeck and Imperial College.

Some institutions have challenged the proposals, including on the grounds of justice and fair play to their staff, as well as concerns about the underlying assumptions upon which the case for reform are based. Loughborough has led the way in demonstrating compassion for its staff, ensuring that strike pay deductions are made over the remaining months in the academic year, to lessen immediate hardship for those who can least afford the loss of income. In light of this, we are particularly concerned by the unnecessarily aggressive stance taken against staff in messages sent on Thursday 1 March by a number of AUs and Faculties, which set out threats of docking pay of those taking part in Action Short of a Strike (ASOS), for failing to reschedule lectures (an instruction that is impossible for individual lecturers to fulfil), as well as restrictions on leave to attend conferences. We are dismayed that the University feels this is an appropriate position to take, and we are concerned that this demonstrates little recognition of the effort that will be needed to repair serious damage to staff-employer relations once the dispute is over.

We find it hard to think of an employment-related issue that has generated more anger, distress and strong feelings among university staff. To be sure, many senior academics stand to lose significantly in retirement, but the proposed changes will be devastating for the pension provision for younger and more junior staff, of both academic and related backgrounds, and those on lower incomes and part-time contracts, particularly female staff. The proposals – and the ongoing industrial action – will damage the sector, the financial wellbeing of its staff, its global competitiveness, and institutional relationships of trust and goodwill for decades to come.

We urge you and your senior management team to use Southampton’s influence in the sector to demonstrate active leadership in challenging the UUK and seeking to convince it to reconsider its position before the UCU industrial action escalates. Only through working together with the union, both within this university and across the higher education sector, can Southampton ensure that its staff are valued and fairly-rewarded, in particular those in weaker positions of income and contract; that students are given the best educational experience; and that its international reputation is maintained.

Yours sincerely

1055 signatories to 1645, 6 March 2018

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All Level 4-6 members: Check your final 2016 moderated Appraisal score!

Recently, casework revealed an Academic Unit had not told colleagues last year’s final moderated Appraisal rating scores. Members only discovered their final scores when preparing for this year’s appraisal. It appears these scores were only confirmed sometime after the Christmas break.

It’s hard to quantify the damage to morale this causes. Colleagues, who believe they have been identified by their peers as a 4/5 and gone forward into 2017, now discover they have been moderated down. Explanations that a 3 is the norm do not help to combat the sense of disappointment, or future disengagement from the process. This moderation may be carried out by senior staff far removed from the individual being appraised, and is explicitly not intended to produce an accurate reflection of individual performance (see para. 4 here [intranet link]).

Please, check your final appraisal contribution score, and if it has changed let the branch know. If you wish, we can support you to pursue why the change was not communicated to you, and to ask for the feedback you should have received.

There is no appeal process to a moderated score, however, failure to inform is a breach of the guidance:

It is of utmost importance that the direct line manager is  involved in the process of communication to the individual, and remains fully engaged in the process.

All final, moderated appraisal ratings must be communicated to appraisees and entered in the online appraisal form by line management in a timely manner [Not by HR; however, line managers are not able to do this in the current system]

Both of these actions should take place in a timely manner, and the reasons for any altered appraisal ratings should be explained in person to the appraisee, along with appropriate feedback.

The Reward project was held up as an example of UCU/UOS collaboration. We know numerous academic, non-academic and HR colleagues worked hard to try and create an appraisal process that was aimed at securing higher levels of employee engagement as a key tool in the University’s pursuit of ‘operational excellence’.

The local branch continues to lobby senior management over breaches to the negotiated appraisal process for L7 and level  4-6 staff. At our meeting with HR heads in October 2017 we asked again for the contribution score methodology, the benchmarking of scores (including the measuring of faculties and directorates against each other – see para. 4 here [intranet link] again), and the associated moderation process to be removed.

We feel that the appraisal process has changed from the one we negotiated; we wanted appraisal to support staff with an honest conversation with no surprises.  Instead staff are reduced to numerical score and submitted to an opaque moderation process. This final failure to even inform staff of the number confirms that appraisal currently is only about providing metrics for performance.

Anne-Marie Sitton, the recently confirmed Executive Director of Human Resources, promised at the October 2017 meeting to take our concerns and suggestions to UEB.  No outcome has been passed back to us.