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Equalities

UCU concerns on contributor content on University’s Strategy Consultation padlet

We recently wrote to the Vice-Chancellor raising serious concerns about the discriminatory nature of some comments posted on the University’s Strategy Consultation padlet site.  Please see below our email and the VC’s response.

 

From: ucu <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Sent: 26 April 2021 12:47
To: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>
Cc: Mark Spearing <S.M.Spearing@soton.ac.uk>; Camilla Gibson <C.R.L.Gibson@soton.ac.uk>; Lucy Watson <Lucy.Watson@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: UCU concerns on contributor content on Padlet for University Strategy

Dear Vice Chancellor

We are writing to you to express our dismay at some of the remarks we have read on the Padlet you authorised for the University community to share their views on the University of Southampton Strategy.

It is extremely disturbing to see a few people have chosen to use this platform to anonymously air aggressively racist and transphobic views under the guise of ‘free speech’. [We included screenshots from Padlet of these comments; the Padlet has now been removed.]

While we can see the benefit of using such platforms in educational settings to enable people to contribute to discussion, this Padlet is accessible on SUSSED and open to anyone to use or abuse as they see fit. We are concerned that allowing these posts to remain in the public domain risks serious reputational damage, particularly when staff across the University are working hard to make it an inclusive place to work and study. 

These comments are directed at colleagues who work in gender and race studies and one of them is an attack on the student-led de-colonizing the curriculum plan. They are not relevant to the university strategy document, and they create a hostile environment for both staff and students. To allow these comments to remain unchallenged goes against the stated aims of the UoSRespect campaign and recent EDI initiatives which have been widely publicised. 

We are concerned that the Senior Management Team thought it appropriate to use this platform for this type of consultation without considering the possibility of its misuse. As employers, you have a duty of care for your staff and students, and we question whether the impacts of this open unregulated Padlet have really been thought through. Freedom of expression must always be balanced with our Public Sector equality duty, which stresses the legal responsibility of HE providers to think about how they can promote equality and minimise tension and prejudice between different groups on campus. A number of these comments have made both staff and students feel vilified and marginalized.

It is our responsibility as the University’s UCU branch executive committee to actively and publicly oppose discrimination and discriminatory and offensive language wherever it is found. Therefore, we ask that managers reconsider their approach to creating an inclusive and appropriate space for this online consultation, including some system of moderation with a clearly defined set of rules about how moderation will work. This would rebuild trust in the process and reassure colleagues that the hostility expressed by these anonymous individuals will not be allowed to continue unchecked and should not, therefore, dissuade them from engaging as valued members of the University community.

We look forward to hearing back from you.  

Southampton UCU Executive Committee

—————————— 

From: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>
Sent: 28 April 2021 10:13
To: ucu <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: UCU concerns on contributor content on Padlet for University Strategy

Dear UCU Colleagues,

Thank you for raising the issue around a small number of the posts to the recently launched Strategy Consultation on the Padlet site. Like you, I was disappointed to see that a small minority of anonymous posts did not really play to the values we aspire to of courtesy and respect.  There will be members of our community who will hold some of the points that were criticised very dearly. Any member of our University community affected by this can access support via volunteer Harassment Contacts, our staff networks or their line manager.

These few posts really ran counter to the intent behind running the consultation an open, co-designed way as this was in direct response to the community’s feedback that they wanted a more active and inclusive role in shaping the strategy. It was recognised that adopting a co-design methodology is never without risk. This was not simply a decision of senior management as the approach was explored in detail with a range of academic colleagues who are experts in this area.  One of the points made by our co-design expert colleagues was that such a community approach may surface some of the more challenging views that colleagues hold. The weight of community response then should cause people to reflect on others’ viewpoints. It was noticeable in the cases that you highlight that our community in their responses were self-moderating, resulting in criticism of the tone of some comments as well as a diversity of perspectives.  In that context I would also note that the issues that you draw attention to include ones which are part of the current national discourse. Given the current focus on free speech a University should not censor challenging or uncomfortable debate, but encourage a civil exchange of views, indeed our regulatory responsibilities expect the promotion of free speech rather than its restriction.

Since the launch of the consultation less than a week ago our initial assumptions about the security of the Padlet have been tested in action. The issue of external security has also been raised by a few other people. We are not comfortable with the level of security that has been achieved; this has resulted in the Padlet being replaced yesterday with an online reporting form that accords colleagues a more rigorous level of protection as they post their responses.

We also heard from some colleagues whilst the Padlet was live that the small number of less than civil posts was deterring engagement. I hope that the swift action described above will encourage people to have their say. Responses are being sought from both individuals and teams/networks and mangers will reinforce the values of respect, courtesy and dignity when highlighting this opportunity.

It is important we have strong engagement and a civil exchange of views in arriving at our strategy.

With best regards,

Mark

 

The Story of Resurrecting Thoughts from Beneath the Glass Ceiling – Mahesan Niranjan

We were asked to publish this guest post by a member of the University community. The views in the post are not necessarily those of the UCU Executive Committee, but we felt it raised many issues about which members are currently concerned.

Easter is the time of resurrection. To my friend, who doesn’t believe in that Biblical tale, the short break of a few days helped recall to the surface much thought he had suppressed over a period of three and a half decades.

The friend about whom I write teaches at a UK University, specialising in the subject of making inferences from large and complex datasets. His background of escaping from a racist environment is relevant to what follows. At the age of 20 one night, he stood at a police cordon crying, when the library in his town was torched by thugs under the supervision of government ministers. Then at the age of 22, during race riots, he gained his second lease of life by jumping from a second-floor balcony to escape machete-wielding militia.

For someone with that background, the protective bubble of research intense British universities is paradise. He is safe, pursuing curiosity-driven research and challenging junior members with open-ended coursework to show them there is joy in learning. Increasingly though, these are being threatened, with research quality measured by grant income and education packaged into learning outcomes.

Career-wise, it bothers him that he has reached the top and has to stop. If we view a university as consisting of a hierarchy of career jobs, positions of its upper strata of a senior chief, some deputy senior chiefs, other middle ranking chiefs and some deputy middle ranking chiefs are not accessible to my friend. Other observations have upset him, too. The classes he teaches are at best 15% female, homogeneous in ethnicity, and the purchasing power of his students is likely to be in the top fifth of the age group. Along those three orthogonal axes, his subject is far from being inclusive.

Of both the above – the glass ceiling and the non-inclusive enrolment — universities claim to be taking action: reports written, strategies drafted, charters signed, and awards distributed. Yet, over a thirty five-year period, nothing much has changed.  Noise, however, gets amplified. For example, should the proportion of female students in a class increase from 14% to 15%, someone in the hierarchy would claim credit for strategic planning. The phrase “Eee-Dee-Eye” has entered all walks of life like the mantra one repeats during transcendental meditation: rhyming, repetitive and meaningless.

On observing these, my friend shrugs his shoulders, buries the irritations they evoke and carries on with his scholarship. It is easy for him. The knocks he receives from the glass ceiling don’t hurt, for he is endowed with a thick helmet.  His knowledge of far worse. That of his library burning. That of jumping off a second-floor balcony to save his life.

What has changed this Easter, and why is there a re-surfacing of suppressed thoughts?

Context is important. About a year and a half ago, the Equalities Commission (EHRC) suggested UK universities are “institutionally racist”! In a follow-up report, Universities UK (UUK) agreed with that assessment. The timing of these coincided with Black Lives Matter protests. Health inequalities exposed by the pandemic added to the context. The Royal Society, too, chipped in with a report, observing significant differentials in attrition rates along ethnic lines, while failing to analyse why this is so. Then more recently, a UK government commissioned report on race suggested that such things won’t exist, if only one were to stop looking.

The response of universities to these events was predictable. They issued statements. My friend read about ten such and was amused by how correlated they were: (i) about taking it all seriously; (ii) about a lot of work having already been done; and (iii) about much work still remaining to be done. Perhaps the same management consultant was hired to write them. When EHRC and UUK described the universities as institutionally racist, not a single Vice Chancellor could respond by saying “No, my institution is not like that!” Even the future King did a better job when a member of the household was alleged to have expressed curiosity about the skin colour of Her Majesty’s then unborn great grandchild.

Where has my friend heard that shameful phrase “institutional racism” before? Twenty years ago, the Macpherson report on the Metropolitan Police’s botched up inquiry into the racist murder of a Black teenager used that description. Even if one could have some sympathy with the police accumulating statistical bias because, day in day out, they deal with crime, can my friend accept the environment he reveres so much, and where he has sought sanctuary, attracting such a description?

With these thoughts resurrected during the Easter break, my friend ponders: Why?

Mercifully, the ceiling above him is made of glass. He can see through it and look at the holders of high office. None of them could ever be described as racist. None of them would ever utter a racist word or even have racist thought. They value my friend as a person, as a colleague and as a scholar.

That poses a paradox. How is it that individuals who are not racist, collectively run organisations that is judged to be structurally so?

“When malice is not present,” I suggested, “incompetence is where the explanation lies.”

He dismissed me instantly on the grounds that any holders of high office are analytical problem solvers who know how to identify the root cause and solve it at source than fiddle with symptoms. Person specifications of senior jobs require those fine qualities. Having ruled out malice and incompetence, we are left with one last plausible explanation, the mistaken belief in meritocracy.

Senior managers of universities tend to believe that their positions were attained by fair and rigorous processes with merit as their determinant. This is perpetuated by a remuneration system that has expanded its scale in recent times. It is then easy to make the transition from a job interview position of “I am good, pay me a high salary” to a self-fulfilling position of “I am paid a high salary, so I must be good!” Such self-evaluation is a right, my friend concedes, but is that supported by available data, he questions.

This belief is so strong that we have seen several examples of unhealthy behaviour recently: a leader found guilty of bullying holds onto their job; another who erected fences around student halls of residence, attracting a vote of no confidence, also remains in post; another claimed that even though their salary is admittedly high, soccer players earned more; yet another reportedly filed a claim of two pounds for biscuits.

Power does corrupt, does it not?

Once the mindset of meritocracy gets entrenched, cloning becomes the driving force in making appointments. One would want to find someone “solid” to be their deputy or to carry their legacy. In that process of cloning, the use of recruitment consultants is a clever way the system keeps the “other” out. These talent-spotting agents are skilled at saying: “the job attracted a large number of highly qualified applicants” in so many eloquent ways. One could be sceptical of such claims when considering, across the sector, the statistics of international searches discovering that the favoured local candidate to be the best since sliced bread.

More broadly, illusory meritocracy also hurts at the level of enrolment, when entry grades we set are insensitive to wider educational inequalities at schools. To my friend, long-term payoff could only be maximised by encouraging applicants from under-represented communities into Foundation Year programmes and offer them the motivation and skills the schools were not resourced to impart.

With these thoughts resurrected, my friend had a terrible time this Easter weekend. His doctor has ordered doubling his daily dose of Amlodipine as a temporary solution to hypertension.

But he has a long term solution, too, when Semester starts and burying disturbing thought becomes easy: there are research questions to pursue; part of a new module to teach; a challenging assignment to set, and to show students that intellectual curiosity is fun.

A safe and enriching life indeed, beneath the glass ceiling.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Author’s Disclaimer:

Material in this piece is based on publicly available data and aims to address a generic structural issue of importance. Except in the few examples specifically linked, no part of this blog should be taken as referring to any specific institution or office holders in it.

 

UCU’s concerns about equality during the current (3rd) lockdown – response from management

Further to UCU’s meeting with Richard Middleton and Mark Spearing on 26 January to discuss our equality concerns about the impact of home working during this third lockdown, we have received the following response from the University.  We are pleased to note the commitment of management to address the valid concerns of our members.

“We recognise that some staff are in situations of real difficulty, in respect of their caring responsibilities in particular, which makes “attending” work problematic at some times of the day, on some days it can be difficult to attend work at all.  We also recognise that staff will want to  “be there” fully attentive for their children home-schooling, or for others for whom they are the carer.

We are working hard to find ways to communicate to all managers the University’s expectation that they will find ways to be flexible in their response to members of their team(s), whilst overall managing workload and delivery expectations and standards.

In 2020 during the first lock down we kept track of the use of the additional leave available for carers, and only 10% of the approximately 300 employees that used this form of leave used the full 10 days (or pro-rata) available to them. Generally the additional carers’ leave taken was well below that total.  We will on this occasion also monitor closely the use of this leave and respond accordingly, which could include reviewing and revising the total amount of additional carers’ leave available while schools are closed and parents are home-schooling, in particular.

We confirmed that if a person takes additional UNPAID leave then the saving from their salary not being paid is retained within the budget of their unit [i.e the most immediate organisational unit with devolved budgetary responsibility).  The key concern which can be clearly addressed is that the salary saving is NOT returned to a central University account.

We are committed to working with UCU, and have begun discussions, on our plans for ensuring that the impacts of Covid-19 are actively considered in all aspects of the promotion process, when it resumes, and in the years ahead”.

Richard Middleton

Chief Operating Officer

UCU equality concerns during the 3rd lockdown – correspondence with management

Email response received from Mark Spearing, 14/1/21, to UCU equality concerns during the 3rd lockdown.  Our initial email outlining the key issues can be found in the thread below.

I have read your email carefully, and appreciate the concerns that you articulate.  However, your assessment of the situation is not accurate, and in particular we have not changed our guidance and policies.   Our approach is exactly the same as it was for the first lockdown and period of school closure last March.  As the Vice-Chancellor made clear again last week, we understand and are very sympathetic to the challenges of juggling working from home with caring responsibilities. We encourage all staff, and particularly those with concerns such as those you raise, to talk to their line managers about their individual circumstances and needs, and we are encouraging – as the Vice-Chancellor did –  all line managers to allow staff, where possible, to manage their working life flexibly around their care obligations during this period of lockdown. We are equally conscious that it is not just those with school-age children who may be under pressure – others will have caring responsibilities for more vulnerable family members and friends, for others lockdown can be very isolating.

Regarding the particular questions that you raise, I do not believe that these are specifically EDI matters, although I recognise that there is an EDI component, so I would encourage you to raise them in the regular meetings with Richard.  If there are specific EDI issues, I would be happy to join you at one or more of these meetings.

My final comment, is that this is an exceptional time, and I feel very strongly that this requires us to work closely together and with understanding.  At the heart of this is looking after the people in the organisation, many of whom are your members.  I know that all members of UEB are committed to supporting our colleagues and mitigating the effects of Covid on them and our institution.   I think that it is very important that, as far as possible, we are working together to this goal, rather than in an adversarial fashion.  All decisions, including some of your suggestions, have consequences, which may have a negative consequence on staff.  Developing a shared understanding of the overall picture, including the financial aspects, was one of the key items we agreed when we developed our joint working charter in 2019.  I think that it is particularly important to keep this in mind at the moment.

————————————-

Email sent on 14 January 2021 to Mark Spearing, Executive Champion for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, cc’d to Richard Middleton, Chief Operating Officer.
Dear Mark 

We are writing to you in your role as the University’s Executive Champion for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. 

Southampton UCU are deeply concerned about the additional strain that the new lockdown will have on all staff. In particular, many of our members are once again combining work, family life, childcare and home-schooling. 

While we acknowledge that the University has increased the domestic leave to which staff with caring responsibilities are entitled, this is not sufficient, given the length of the current lockdown. The proposal of allowing staff flexible working hours, whereby they may be expected to work in the early mornings, late evenings and weekends, while home educating during the working week, is not physically or mentally sustainable. The alternative proposal of a temporary reduction in working hours is inequitable, as it transfers the costs of the pandemic onto individuals (it will have an impact not only on pay, but also on pension contributions, annual leave and other benefits).  

SUCU are disappointed that the positive and supportive line UEB sent out in the first lockdown, of ‘do what you can’, has now been replaced with ‘take unpaid leave and reduce your hours if you can’t manage’. Indeed, we are saddened that the University considers it appropriate to promote its voluntary salary-reducing measures to hard-pressed staff at such a difficult point in the pandemic. Asking parents and carers to take unpaid leave is insulting to their hard work and commitment throughout the duration of the pandemic, which has already involving the sacrifice of family time, rest, leave and research.  

Furthermore, many members are also reluctant to reduce their hours, as they realise this will have a knock-on effect on their colleagues, at a time when all staff are overloaded with work and struggling to stay afloat. We are at a time when people’s reserves are already low after the impact of the first two national lockdowns, and staff are beginning to feel the impact of recent staff departures via voluntary severance.  The approach therefore has serious implications for health, safety and wellbeing of all staff, not just parents and carers. 

Ultimately then, without adequate intervention this crisis will result in serious long-term and profoundly unequal detriment to the careers and prosperity of all staff who have caring responsibilities.  This impacts particularly although not exclusively on women.   

We would appreciate an urgent response to the following questions so we can share this information with our members: 

1.     Why is the University not offering a part-time furlough option for those with caring responsibilities, as other institutions are? (e.g. see the following policy from the University of Oxford– https://hr.admin.ox.ac.uk/the-job-retention-scheme) 

2.     If a member of staff chooses to temporarily reduce their hours, where will this money go? If we had a commitment that it would be used to bring in temporary replacements then some members may be more inclined to take up this offer. 

3.     Will UEB reconsider their policy of asking staff to take unpaid leave if they cannot manage with existing workloads due to parenting/caring commitments? Staff in this position are doing the best they can and should be able to continue to receive full pay. 

4.     Can UEB send a clear urgent message to all line managers that staff should be able to prioritise those aspects of work that are essential and set aside activities that are non-urgent? 

5.     We ask that UEB provide clear reassurance that the impacts of COVID-19 will not have a detrimental impact on career progression, we would like to see a clear plan on how these mitigating circumstances will be fully factored into future promotion rounds, and how the equality impacts will be monitored and transparently shared. 

We look forward to receiving your prompt response.

OPEN LETTER TO MUSIC STUDENTS ON UCU INDUSTRIAL ACTION – Southampton, 19 February 2020

Dear Music Students,

We, staff and PhD students in Music, are writing this letter to explain our position in the upcoming University and College Union industrial action. Many of us will be striking. Some will not, or not the whole time. All of us sympathise with what the UCU is asking for in the disputes, which involve 74 UK universities.

First, we know that this means trouble for you. None of us who are striking take this lightly. Indeed, we are not getting paid for the days we strike. We believe that strikes are a last resort. Unfortunately negotiations have not yet achieved a result that the UCU and its members feel they can accept, for themselves, for you and for the future of higher education in this country,

You recently received a communication from the university claiming that the strike is over “pay and pensions.” Actually it is about more than that:

  1. Casualisation. In our department most classroom teaching is still done by staff on full-time contracts. The national trend, however, is for universities to use more “casual” teaching staff on yearly, academic-year only or even zero-hours contracts, despite the introduction of £9K+ home and large increases to overseas student fees. The effect, especially on younger academics, has been impossibly high levels of stress. We know that some of our own graduates, top students who went on to do PhDs, now earn less than the “living wage” as lecturers at prestigious institutions.
  2. Workload. Compared to ten years ago, before the increases in fees, British universities spend less on people. There have been significant cuts to crucial front-line administrative staff and widespread hiring freezes. The result is more work for fewer workers. It is no surprise that academics and academic-related colleagues across the country are reporting record levels of stress, and increasingly stress-related illness. Most of us will tell you that the price of giving you the education you deserve is longer hours, frequently in excess of the 48 hours per week laid down by the European Working Time Directive, which remains British law. All of us want to do our very best by you, but the price is getting higher every year. Our working conditions are your learning conditions.
  3. Pay equality. At many British universities, including ours, there is a disgraceful gap in pay between men and women, and between White British colleagues and members of racial and ethnic minorities. At the University of Southampton across all subjects men earn 16% more than women on average. For years our employers have agreed with us that this is unacceptable–and not enough has changed. We demand action.
  4. Pay. Senior academics earn good money. But many of us did not find secure employment until we were older, and when we did we worked for low entry-level salaries. We accepted these conditions because we were deeply committed to our work, and knew that pay would improve with seniority. Yet in the past decade, since the increases in student fees, by conservative estimates our average pay has fallen 15% behind inflation, and behind compensation for similar work in the private sector. We ask that this loss be made up.
  5. Pensions. Academic pensions are attractive, roughly comparable to those of teachers or local government employees. But they are under pressure. In 2015 we accepted a significant decrease in our pensions to make them more affordable (we understand that people are living longer!). The result for all but the most senior of us was a substantial loss (£100s per month) in future pension income. In 2018 our employers tried to impose a “defined contribution” (instead of “defined benefit”) model, which would have resulted in losses of up to £1000 per month for mid-career and even more for junior colleagues. As a result there were strikes at many universities, including this one. These strikes ended when the employers withdrew their plans. They have yet to offer an acceptable alternative.

Some of us took action over all of these issues in November and December. Since then there has been some movement on casualisation, workload and equal pay. The UCU are happy that employers now recognise these as national issues, and have made specific suggestions to address them. But union negotiators cannot accept these without mechanisms of enforcement. On pay the offer currently on the table (1.8%) is not acceptable because it is below most measures of inflation and does nothing to address the many years of relative decline. Employers have made a series of alternative suggestions about pensions, but are refusing to agree to pay for what these would cost.

Negotiations are in a critical phase. Those of us who are going on strike do so because we believe that only pressure on employers will convince them to move the short distance that separates us. If they do, and the UCU accepts their offer, those of us who plan to strike will return to work immediately.

What you can do if you support us:

  • Write to the Vice Chancellor, Prof Mark E. Smith (emailvc@soton.ac.uk). Although he has not been here long most of us have experienced him as a friendly and open person. Let him know, politely, and in your own words, that you are on the side of your teachers and the staff who support your learning, and that you would like him to use his influence to end this long and draining dispute.
  • Talk to your friends and family. Educate yourselves and them about what is at stake here: your learning conditions, and those of the students who come after you.
  • Come out and support us. This Thursday, 20 February, Music staff will be picketing near Building 2 from 10-11 and then attending a rally in Jubilee Plaza. Show your support. Bring your instruments. Come and sing with us!

Yours sincerely,

 

Tom Irvine

David Bretherton

Dan Mar-Molinero

Valeria de Lucca

Ben Oliver

Richard Polfreman

Drew Crawford

Francesco Izzo

Mark Everist

Bastian Terraz

Matthew Shlomowitz

Jane Chapman

Diana Venegas

Kate Hawnt

Ryan Ross

Peter Falconer

Catherine Fabian

Jeanice Brooks

Anisha Netto

Clare Merivale

Gintaré Stankeviciute

David Alcock

Clarissa Brough

Mary-Jannet Leith

Jamie Howell

Andy Fisher

 

Counting the cost of casualisation

The current strike ballot on pay, workload, and equality highlights the problems faced by casualised staff. These could be staff on fixed-term contracts (like the vast majority of our early career researchers) or those on hourly-paid or zero-hours contracts, with staff working for a relatively small number of hours per semester (such as with some of our teaching (and other) staff).

A UCU survey from earlier this year prompted 67 responses from Southampton University staff (1.8% of total respondents). The report explored financial insecurity within this group, with respondents to the survey clearly reporting real problems resulting from the precariousness of their income – see tables below copied from the report.

About 60% of respondents have experienced problems with making ends meet, 40% with paying bills, and 30% with paying their rent.

Have you experienced any of the following issues as a result of your employment on insecure contracts? Numbers answering yes Percentage
Problems securing rented accommodation 571 28%
Problems paying rent 613 29.8%
Problems getting a loan 562 27.4%
Problems paying bills 828 40.3%
Problems making ends meet 1228 59.8%
Problems with VISA status 149 7.3%
Problems accessing or maintaining access to benefits 263 12.8%

 

Staff also reported high levels of stress – caused in part by financial insecurity but also by the nature of the work depending on the contract (such as not enough time to prepare, no dedicated workspace and so on).

On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 = not stressful at all and 10 = extremely stressful, how stressful do you find working on an insecure contract?
  Numbers of responses Percentage of respondents
10 (extremely stressful) 649 24.6%
9 472 17.9%
8 682 25.9%
7 391 14.8%
6 163 6.2%
5 105 4%
4 46 1.7%
3 75 2.8%
2 22 0.8%
1 (not stressful) 33 1.3%

 

For the full report and all findings see Counting the costs of casualisation in higher education – Key findings of a survey June 2019.

Casualisation can mean insecurity, inability to progress and unfair disadvantage. Whilst short-term contracts are often embedded in current research funding models, the recent UCU survey showed that the large majority (97% of respondents) on a fixed-term contract would rather be on a permanent contract, while 80% of those who were hourly-paid would rather be on a contract that guaranteed them hours, even if it meant less flexibility.

The HESA figures for 2017/18 show that of the 2,995 academic staff in the University of Southampton, 1,235 are on fixed-term contracts. We do not have figures for how many are on hourly paid contracts locally. We would like to hear from members here about their experiences of casualised contracts, the impact on themselves, on colleagues and on students. Write in confidence direct to ucu@soton.ac.uk.

And in the context of the current ballot, we urge members to vote to end rising job insecurity.

 

Taking the PIP? Some concerns about appraisal, line management and performance improvement plans

We have had several requests for help from members related to distressing or difficult appraisal conversations, the use of Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) and, sadly the return of ‘protected conversations’ where staff are encouraged to leave the University. We are especially concerned to hear that PIPs are being very badly used in some areas.

PIPs have received some very bad press:

If your boss really wanted to improve your performance, he or she would sit down with you and talk to you like a friend or a coach. They’d say, “Something is getting in your way on the job. Let’s figure it out! You are awesome and I know we can work through this.

Although a Pip is often presented as a tool to assist you in your performance, you should be under no illusions about its secondary purpose. If you don’t improve, it will give your employer evidence that they have followed correct procedure, otherwise they may be at risk of a claim for unfair dismissal.

Sadly it seems that sometimes PIPs are being introduced here in these very negative and damaging ways. We remind members that all staff at level 4 and above have additional employment protections and rights under our Statutes and Ordinances. Ordinance 3.6 referring to capability says that informal action may be taken to make staff aware of standards expected, and agree a way forward – “including supervision counselling or mentoring, It may include reviewing duties and responsibilities etc”. Importantly this should also include the provision of appropriate training or development opportunities.

It is our understanding that PIPs are being used as the informal stage of the capability procedure. Unfortunately in some areas, we know that these are being introduced in appraisal conversations in ways that members find unhelpful and distressing. Sometimes the appraisal is the first time a member of staff is alerted to a problem with their work or behaviour – this should not happen. We are clear that appraisal and capability procedures need to be kept separate (i.e appraisal must not be used as the informal part of the capability process). Moreover, good management is predicated on regular meetings and conversations, not a once a year form filling exercise, and managers should therefore be supporting their staff all year round.

PIPs, like appraisal, should not be a negative experience. Used well, a PIP may be a helpful part of a positive managerial relationship and can provide structure and support. But, if your manager genuinely wants your performance to improve, they should provide you with support to achieve the improvements. They should agree SMART objectives and a realistic timeframe. Managers should help you to identify a mentor and development opportunities to directly address the objectives within the PIP. The PIP should not interfere with your annual appraisal (for example being on a PIP should not mean that the staff member automatically scores as ‘unsatisfactory’ against their individual or global objectives).

Tips for engaging with PIPs
1. Is the assessment of performance correct? What is the evidence of poor behaviour or performance?
2. Is the PIP a well-structured plan for addressing problems? Are there SMART objectives (e.g. to draft a paper, submit a grant, to address a behaviour in meetings, but NOT actions that are outside the control of the individual e.g. to publish in a 4* journal, to win a grant of a pre-specified value).  We encourage members to note what is said in the meeting and document any conversations that you have with your line manager or HR about your PIP.  If you disagree with the objectives or comments you should raise your concerns with your line manager in writing.
3. Make sure you get proper training and the support to succeed – this may include workload reallocation, dedicated time, formal training, counselling, coaching and/or supervision.
4. Above all, ensure that a reasonable time frame is set to address the issues identified.

And for managers

5. Carefully check if there are personal or health issues that may be affecting the employee’s performance – managers need training in dealing with mental health and stress themselves and for the team members.

6. Seek guidance and support too – HR should review the plan with a focus on removing any bias against the employee. Managers need to be aware of gender and racial bias and how this can affect their interactions with staff. Insecure managers may feel threatened by some employees and PIPs should not be used in these situations.

7. Take care to inform the staff member that the PIP could lead to formal capability processes which in turn could lead to dismissal.  If you can, tell them how you plan to help them avoid this outcome.

Your branch casework team will review the current cases we have related to appraisal and PIPs and take our collective concerns to the senior management. If you are experiencing difficulties please contact Amanda.

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