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Mid-August briefing from the Branch President

Middle-of-August greetings to all members, and to those who are interested in UCU activity at the University of Southampton.

I am going to try to blog relatively frequently about what the union is doing in university: the executive committee is busy year-round, but it is not always obvious to members what we do, and how, when, and why we do it.

First, many thanks to everyone who responded to my recent email. Your responses helped me immensely in my first meeting with Sir Christopher.  The VC was generous with his time, and the conversation felt productive. I was able to articulate your deep concern about the misuse/abuse of the appraisal process, student evaluation, spiralling workload, and the effects on the community of the pressures of external metrification. We agreed that we should identify areas in which we could make some progress: these were the issues that were at the top of my list.

We are exerting increasing pressure for a meaningful review of the appraisal process: the annual review (according to our negotiated agreement) is a year overdue, and it is also urgent. The Level 7 appraisal round begins again in only a few months. We are still keen to hear your stories if you feel your appraisal was conducted unfairly, or in breach of the agreement: some advice on what to do is here.

Branch executive members and our branch administrator Amanda have also been very busy with a number of consultations across the university. There is no easy way to gloss this activity: we are currently facing restructures and potential redundancies in a handful of areas, and we fully expect that we will be asked to represent members in further exercises in the coming year.

There is no doubt that the entire HE sector is in turmoil, and it is neither wise nor possible to pretend that Southampton will escape the effects of a shrinking market.  The Regional Office and Executive Committee will do our utmost to ensure that measures taken will be proportionate, fair, and in the best interests of the university as a whole. We will not settle for what is doable, but will work to get the best outcome we can – we will always do our best to support our members.

As the new academic year gets into swing, activities increase: branch executive members will be involved in policy reviews, health and safety consultation, individual casework, and – very importantly – an imminent review of the Statutes and Ordinances, initiated by senior management.  We cannot stress how important this review will be, as the Statutes and Ordinances form the basis for our terms and conditions of employment. The more members we can enlist to take part in working groups – especially those with legal or drafting expertise – the better we will be able to protect our terms and conditions, and our academic freedom.

The branch executive will be having a strategy planning day on 12 September.  If you are interested in getting more involved in union work, you are welcome to attend for some or all of the day: please get in touch with Amanda on ucu@soton.ac.uk or 023 8059 3264.  Further details will be circulated in another email.

Prof Laurie Stras
SUCU Branch President

Claim Tax Relief on UCU subscriptions

You might be interested to know that due to UCU’s status as a professional organisation, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) gave approval for members to claim up to 67% tax relief on the total annual subscription they have paid to UCU during the last four years, and on an annual basis thereafter.  Further guidance can be found at:  https://www.ucu.org.uk/taxrelief .  Please complete this template tax relief claim form ucu_taxclaimform_Apr16  and return it to the tax office on completion.  The University’s tax office details are:

West Hampshire Area HM Revenue & Customs
Trinity Bridge House
2 Dearmans Place
Salford 
M3 5BS 

The tax office reference number is 663/U1.  

If you need further information please contact the UCU office.

 

Anti-fascist demo – 11am 2 July

On 2 July the Southampton Trades Council are organising a demonstration against the Pie and Mash Club (the South Coast Resistance) a fascist and racist group intent on littering the streets of Southampton with their “Refugees not welcome here” hate fest.   

If you are interested in going along to this, to show solidarity and to celebrate the multi-cultural communities in which we live, please meet at the Bargate, Southampton at 11am on Saturday. 

The attached leaflet provides further information and you’re welcome to print off copies for distribution to colleagues, friends and family.  

You can find out further information about SCARF here: 

We have set up a Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/897401817056016
We have written several blog posts about the group and their history:
https://southamptonantifa.wordpress.com
Twitter: @sotonantifa

The Big Workplace Meeting – 12.30pm 9 February

Please come and join the campus trade unions at our Big Workplace Meeting in support of the TUC heartunions campaign.  The meeting will be addressed, via live videostream, by Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, who will discuss the progress of the trade union bill and its implications.  Further details of the campaign can be found here: http://heartunions.org/

It will take place on Tuesday 9 February at 12.30pm in room 54/8031, Highfield campus.  Please do join us.  Why not download a poster/leaflet to display and encourage your colleagues to come along.

The Big Workplace Meeting poster A4

The Big Workplace Meeting flyer A5, printed 2 up

Also please take the time to sign the petition against the Bill here: https://campaign.goingtowork.org.uk/petitions/david-cameron-don-t-threaten-the-right-to-strike

 

Academic Related Professional Service staff news

We are delighted that local officer Mark Dover has joined UCU’s national committee for ARPS staff.  Mark will be attending meetings with colleagues from across the country developing policy and strategies for supporting and improving the working rights of ARPS staff.  If you have anything that you would like Mark to address please let us know.

The latest version of the ARPS newsletter has just been published.

https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/7412/…and-related-winter-15/pdf/ucu_andrelated_arpsnews_winter15.pdf

Mark has written an excellent piece about the PWC review – you should read it!

We are looking to develop our network of Academic Related Professional Service staff at the University and ask that you consider being a part of this.  With the arrival of the new VC and the outcome of the PWC review due shortly, we envisage their to be some changes that may affect staff, particularly in this group.  Please get in touch with Amanda at the local office (ucu@soton.ac.uk) to offer your help.  Even if you can only offer a limited amount of time, that would be great – every little helps!

 

 

 

 

 

University Induction

The university held its induction meeting today. Here are the slides I used for the 5-minute talk from UCU.

I hope they motivate you to join us in UCU; you can join here.

Denis Nicole

Day out: Sunday 4th October at Twyford

Twyford© OpenStreetMap contributors

Twyford Waterworks is having it’s end-of-season  open day and steam rally on 4th October 2015. They’re even offering free buses to and from Winchester. You can get there in lots of ways: train to Shawford (with the riverside  Bridge Inn), ride up National Cycle Route 23, walk up the River Itchen, or drive.

While in Twyford, you can shop at the impressive village store or visit the café below. There’s also a tea shop at the waterworks.

Half way between Twyford and the waterworks, Watley Lane heads south up the hill. Keep straight on for 1km up to the top and you’ll reach a strange structure on the right. It was originally built as a water reservoir, then converted into a nuclear bunker for Southern Water. When the cold war ended, it was bought by the internet security firm Symantec who used it as a network operations centre. They outgrew it, and now it’s the home of the Natural Death Centre. Quite a turn-around from nuclear armageddon. If you carry straight on, the track eventually emerges near Marwell.

See you there.

Denis Nicole

 

Love your library

Southampton is holding a Festival of Words from 23rd October to 1st November. Sponsors include City College and Arts Council England, but neither of the city’s universities. The Phoenix Film Theatre does, however, get a credit as a “delivery partner”. Many of the events are paid access, at £5 to £10 a head. Of course, if you need free access to a festival-full of words, you go to a public library. The city council is also a delivery partner in the festival but, surprise surprise, none of the events are hosted in the libraries it is trying to close. Of these, the council owns two, including the locally-listed Cobbett Road library, which may thus be available for disposal.

For many of us academics, there is something sacred about a library; it plays the same role in a university as the cloisters of an abbey. We perform in a lecture theatre but we study, contemplate and grow in the library. The loss of one is a mark of a retreating civilisation.

Inside our university, there is also a library restructuring under way. Our restructuring is not a cut, but a change in the focus of roles, such as from subject liaison to research, or student, engagement. Such times are always worrying for colleagues. Throughout the development of these changes, our UCU library representative has been fully engaged; we have also supported individual library staff with specific issues. We think, by quietly working alongside university management, we have been able to improve the outcome for both colleagues and the institution. To make sure, we joined Unison (thank you Unison, for both the invitation and the food) in a lunchtime library meeting last week, met several existing members, and recruited another.

Denis Nicole

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† or community asset transfer.
‡ i.e. selling the family silver.

Volkswagen: Taking the p***

Volkswagen have been caught in the United States cheating on diesel emissions tests. They have been using a “defeat device”; the car’s software is programmed to reduce emission of oxides of nitrogen to lawful levels only when it detects the car is actually undergoing emission testing. Most of the rest of the time, it just goes ahead and pollutes.

The US work was conducted by West Virginia University’s non-profit Center for Alternative Fuels Engines and Emissions. The work was paid for by the International Council on Clean Transportation, which is itself a non-profit organization funded by the ClimateWorks Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Energy Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation: yes, the charitable foundations of both the founders of the famous HP electronic test equipment company.

Real-world NOx emissions were found to exceed the US-EPA…standard by a factor of 15 to 35 for the LNT-equipped vehicle, by a factor of 5 to 20 for one…urea-SCR fitted vehicle.

So why did they do this? Is seems that they were worried that the inconvenience of topping up a small tank of exhaust additive might upset drivers. So, most of the time, they disable the additive injection to stop the reservoir emptying. What is this magic AdBlue solution? It’s a urea and water-based liquid additive; beer drinkers (well all of us, really) will know it by a more common name, and there’s certainly no shortage.

And what are the lessons for us?

  1. Corporations cheat. Even trusted high-end companies like VW (they own Porche and Bentley) cheat. And they do so for apparently trivial reasons. Our only protection against corporate cheating is independent, open, research. And government cannot be trusted to hold them to account. Regulatory capture is too easy.
  2. The corporate cheats won’t be caught without ready access to skilled, independent, technical analysis; analysis that will only be affordable from independent university researchers. The ability, under tightening budgets and the impact agenda, of university researchers to work independent of wider corporate partnerships is under threat; without it, there will be nobody to catch the next Volkswagen.

Update: It seems Volkswagen were not just economising on AdBlue. Apparently, fully enabling the NOx controls will prevent the cars achieving their claimed performance.

And a professional note: This is almost certainly a company conspiracy, not a rogue employee. The engine-control software is safety-critical. It must have been subjected to extensive internal review. Sampling the steering to decide how to dose the exhaust should raise an immediately obvious issue.

Denis Nicole

Pub: The Butcher’s Hook

ButchersHook© OpenStreetMap contributors

The Butcher’s Hook is a tiny new pub in the Bitterne Triangle, opposite the clock tower. Just go on down St Denys Road from Portswood, cross the river, and it’s directly ahead. The building was originally a butchers, and most recently a flower shop. The beer is varied and good, served straight from the barrel. It attracts a younger clientèle than the Guide Dog, and is always full.

If you actually want a butchers, the posh one around is Uptons of Bassett,  in the opposite direction from the university.

The pub was opened by a young team who we watched spend several months renovating and converting the old shop themselves. At one stage, I was even asked about doing some electrical work; I couldn’t, as I don’t carry the right insurance. There is a University (ECS) connection as they are old friends of Rob Spanton, of Student Robotics fame.

To make a day of it, you can come in for a couple of pints after a walk along the River Itchen (from Winchester if you are fit); just continue on south from Woodmill through Riverside Park until you reach the bridge.

Denis Nicole