Bristol UCU Strike, 25th and 26th May

Bristol UCU Strike Newsflash

1) Industrial Action – Tomorrow & 26th May

We hope to see as many of you as possible at our picket lines tomorrow starting from 8.30 am – please come to Senate House in the first instance (unless you’ve agreed otherwise with your local rep). All pickets should then assemble at 10 am outside Senate House for a March to the Wills Memorial Building.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1740295969524550/

Speakers include Harriet Bradley (UCU National Executive Committee), Laura Ho (Bristol Students Union) and Jez Longden (National Union of Teachers)

On the 26th, please let us know what you doing instead of working. A picture would be great! Either tweet #fairpayinhe or email your picture or comments to campaigns@ucu.org.uk

Remember to set up an out-of-office message for tomorrow and Thursday:

Please note I am on strike today as part of the UCU industrial action in support of fair pay in higher education. You can find out more about the dispute here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/fair-deal-for-HE

2) Student Support

Bristol Student Union Officers have written a statement of solidarity:

http://www.bristolsu.org.uk/news/article/UBU/University-staff-strike-an-update-from-your-officers/?platform=hootsuite

UCU has also produced material for students:

http://www.ucubristol.org.uk/files/2016/05/ucuheaction2016_studentleaflet.pdf

3) Working to Contract & External Examining

We have quite a few questions regarding working to contract, what that means for open days, external examiner resignation and signing out marking.

Working to contract means a 35 hour week for full-time staff.

As far as this affects Saturday working (and in particular the up-coming Saturday Open Day), HR have confirmed that they consider it a reasonable request to be asked to work on Saturday as long as you negotiate time off in lieu so that you keep to your 35 hours.

External examiners should resign their position subject to any notice period. They should not to accept or otherwise agree the offer of new external examiner posts until the dispute has been resolved.

Signing out and returning of marking: after much toing and froing, it is now branch officers and reps understanding that normal arrangements will stand and staff will not be asked formally to confirm that they will return work by the already notified deadline. If you feel you are being up under undue pressure to complete your marking please contact ucu-office@bristol.ac.uk for support.

Don’t forget to set up an out-of-office message. For example:

Please note I am ‘working to contract’ as part of the UCU industrial action in support of fair pay in higher education. This may mean it takes longer for me to respond to emails. You can find out more about the dispute here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/fair-deal-for-HE
Please also consult our strike FAQs: https://www.ucu.org.uk/heactionfaqs

4) Local Strike Day

As part of the campaign, we’ve been asked as branch to select an appropriate date to take to local industrial action. This action would correspond with exams boards, open days or graduation for maximum impact.

At Bristol UCU Exec today, we decided to ballot the branch members. This was done for several reasons:

  • to determine which events we would like to boycott
  • to let members know this is a decision that is being actively considered
  • to gauge the appetite for taking local action.

The ballot will be launched this Friday and emailed to all members.

See you tomorrow

Advertisements

Should the University of Bristol Retain “No Questions Asked” Lecture Capture Opt Out?

By a large majority in a recent e-ballot (78.6%), Bristol UCU has voted for a no questions opt out when it comes to their lecturers beings recorded. If the lecturer wants to opt out, they can.

Here are some of their comments.

One Bristol UCU member writes:

Lecturers need to be treated as professionals who are able to make this decision for themselves in the circumstances of their own teaching.

Another:

Lecture capture fundamentally changes the student-lecturer relationship. It is pedagogically detrimental, for it discourages students from attending and engaging with the lecture event.

In a similar vein:

I believe lecture capture / recording changes the nature of the lecture as a mode of teaching and learning in ultimately a negative way for both students and lecturer. I believe the lecturer should be able to opt out easily if he / she does not feel it is suitable for his / her course.

There were concerns around IP:

Intellectual property rights. If lectures are uploaded in future and distributed freely online, what would a teaching fellow – for instance – have to offer a future employer?

One member shares their experience:

I’ve copied here the text I give to students explaining why I don’t use Mediasite on my first year unit, in case it is useful. I think maintaining the opt out is very important. Also worth noting is that, out of 100 student evaluation forms, only 4 asked for recordings to be available.

“I have opted out of using this facility on UNIT, for a number of reasons. Firstly, in my experience lecture recording has a significant negative impact on lecture attendance and, for the reasons outlined above, as well as the importance of things like collective experience, I think lecture attendance is very important. Secondly, there are pedagogic concerns about making recordings available to students; students are more likely to over-focus on the lecture, replaying them to memorise the ‘right’ answers, when they would better develop their intellectual abilities by spending that time reading additional material. By freezing a lecture in time, a lecture becomes less like a conversation and more like a book, only a less good book than actual books. Remember that lectures are the starting point of your learning, not the final destination. For these reasons, I will not be making lecture recordings available.”

Other members were not as critical:

Lecture capture has been shown time-and-time again to be of educational benefit; we should encourage evidence-based best practice and enforce it where necessary.

I think the lecture capture is pedagogically very valuable. I respect the right of lecturers to opt out for pedagogical or personal reasons, but I do think these should undergo some scrutiny. I’m wary of knee-jerk conservatism.

This is a vital resource for disabled students, so there always needs to be a dialogue when opt out is requested. But it is far better for all if we become more inclusive across the board and not just for one set of students.

People should stop this luddite nonsense

 

 

Until recently I was a union member in quite an unthinking way…

A Bristol UCU member writes:

Until recently I was a union member in quite an unthinking way. My Dad worked for a union all his life, and drilled into me his principle that ‘you insure your car, your home, so why not the most important thing of all – your job?’. When I started working I joined the union automatically. I had a vague sense that I had a generous maternity provision, and that, within the sector, my salary was higher than others – but I became truly aware of the value of having a strong, active union when my department was subject to a restructure and I became part of a redundancy pool.

During that time, I leant heavily on the union for counsel, comfort and knowhow. It meant having someone to attend meetings with, who understood the law, could offer sound advice, and make practical suggestions. I had the feeling that a range of different avenues were being pursued: some of which might never have occurred to me. When you’re going through redundancy selection, it is reassuring to know that everything is being done properly and fairly, and to feel that you’re not alone. At Bristol, we’re lucky enough to have a healthy recognition agreement with our employer; it seems madness not to make the most of it.

After that time, I decided to become a rep; I felt very motivated to return the support and encouragement that I had received, and to give back to others something that had made such a difference to me.

Pay: cut / cut / squeeze / ballot

QMUL UCU

Many QMUL staff will be shocked to receive a paycut in their April payslip.

Pay Cut

Starting from 1st April, the Government has abolished the 1.4% NI rebate given to those who’d contracting out of the State Pension in favour of a work place pension.  So for everyone with a USS or SAUL pension, that amounts to roughly an additional £23 deductions to your pay.  More details are here and here.

Pay Cut

And from 1st April, USS have closed their Final Salary and old CRB pension schemes.  All staff with a USS pension are now forced into the ‘USS Retirement Income Builder’ scheme – with an 8% increase in employee contributions.  More details are here.

Pay Squeeze

In real terms, university pay has fallen by 14.5% since 2009.  For QMUL and other London universties, that decrease is nearer to 17% .  In response, the university employers (UCEA) are currently…

View original post 98 more words

Message from Sally Hunt – 2016/17 Pay Claim

Dear colleague,

I am writing to tell you that following an unacceptable response to our 2016 pay claim the union is now balloting HE members for industrial action. Ballot papers will be posted on 14 April. The ballot will close on 4 May 2016.

What was the union’s claim?

This year the union submitted a claim which highlighted the 14.5% real terms loss in the value of your salary compared to inflation since 2009 as a result of successive low pay offers, and also sought action at last from the employers to tackle casualisation and the gender pay gap.

How did the employers respond?

In response, the employers’ association UCEA have made an offer to increase salaries by 1%. This compares to latest increases reported for vice-chancellors and principals of 3%, bringing their average pay to £272k.

How can I check how much value my salary has lost in recent years?

So far 33,000 UCU members have worked out how much their salary would be if it had kept pace with inflation since 2009 using our ‘Rate for the Job’ tool. The average loss in salary value per member who has used Rate for the Job is £6,090. Check your real terms loss in pay here.

I support the campaign for better pay, do I still need to vote?

If you support the campaign for better pay, please vote for it. Every single vote in the ballot strengthens your negotiators’ position so please do not leave it to others to stand up for better pay.

If the ballot is in favour of industrial action, what happens next?

I hope that the employers will respond to the strength of feeling among staff and make an offer which genuinely addresses our pay claim. If they do not, then UCU will be asking members to begin a campaign of industrial action, starting with a two-day strike.

Will the union also be calling action short of a strike?

The forthcoming ballot will ask members to support both strike action and action short of a strike. It is important to understand that based on previous experience, effective ‘action short of strike’ like a boycott of assessment or marking is likely to lead to substantial deductions in pay of up to 100% by many employers and that this may lead to further strike action. For this reason, if you support the campaign for better pay it is vital that you support both the ‘strike’ action and ‘action short of a strike’ options on the ballot paper.

Will the ballot cover all HE employers?

The ballot will cover HE employers who mandate UCEA to negotiate on their behalf. A list of those institutions not included in the ballot for one reason or another will be published before the ballot opens.

Can non-UCU colleagues get involved?

Yes. Please share this message, encourage your colleagues to check how much the value of their salary has fallen at Rate for the Job and if they want a vote in the ballot they should join the union here.

I will write again before the ballot goes out.

Sally Hunt
UCU general secretary

The Prevent Duty at the University of Bristol – Open Letter to University of Bristol Senate Members

Dear Member of the University of Bristol Senate,

We are writing to you about the suite of Prevent Duty-related policy documents at the next meeting of Senate on 18th April (SN/15-16/044; SN/15-16/050).

The policies reference therein – Freedom of Speech Statement; External Speakers’ Procedure, Risk Assessment and Action Plan, IT Services Policy – are the University’s response to the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) Prevent Duty Monitoring Framework.

We agree with the University and College Union (UCU) official position that the Prevent Duty seriously threatens academic freedom, stifles campus activism, encourages racial profiling and does not promote an open and supportive learning environment.

The above policies will institutionalise the Prevent Duty at the University of Bristol with potentially damaging consequences for freedom of speech, for general campus debate and discussion as well as for the University’s commitment to equality and non-discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or religion.

We agree with the Bristol Students’ Union where in its Prevent Duty policy, it states ‘any expectation by the state for academic staff to be involved in monitoring their students is deeply worrying, and could have a chilling effect on relations between staff and students’.

Staff and students at the University of Bristol are proud of their commitment to, and record of, challenging any expression of prejudice or discrimination directed against any group or individual. Where any safeguarding or a duty of care concern is raised that may put a member of this University at risk of harm, there are already established procedures of prompt referral at Bristol.

Staff and students are also committed to the notion that is essential that in order to explore views and opinions and where necessary, challenge them, we must actively promote a climate of free discussion and debate on the University of Bristol campus. Critically, legitimate political opinions or research interests expressed by staff or students are not ‘extreme’ or legitimising ‘extremism’. For example, it is perfectly legitimate to criticise all aspects of UK foreign policy.

We believe that current University of Bristol Prevent Duty-related proposals do not take fully into account our concerns about the Prevent Duty. They normalise a culture of risk aversion, of monitoring and surveillance, and if misapplied, will engender precisely the kind of intolerance that the Prevent Duty is supposed to ward against.

Furthermore, Senate members should be aware that the University of Bristol is responding to the terms of the Higher Education Funding Council for England Prevent Duty Framework. To note that Prevent ‘requirements [were] imposed upon the University’ (SN/15-16/050) is to gloss over the University’s authorship of individual policies. There is more scope for a ‘non-party line’ than is suggested. Other University management teams have adopted a more independent yet hardly extra-legal or irresponsible position – see the recent article by Kingston University Vice-Chancellor Professor Julius Weinberg, ‘I won’t stop offering a platform to so-called “hate speakers”’, The Guardian, 23rd February 2016.

Yours faithfully,

• James Thompson, History
• Tracey Hooper, Bristol UCU President
• Mark Harvey, Academic Registry
• Jamie Melrose, Bristol UCU Vice President & SPAIS
• Dan Godshaw, SPAIS
• Isabel Stockton, Department of Economics
• Richard Porter, Mathematics
• Professor Tonia Novitz, Law
• Andrew Hicks, English
• Isabel de Salis, Social and Community Medicine
• Mark Jackson, Geographical Sciences
• John McTague, English
• Jonas Langner, Modern Languages
• Professor Carl Dettmann, Mathematics
• Peter Barham, Professor Emeritus, School of Physics
• Josie Gill , English
• Claire O Neill, Management
• Megan Blomfield, Philosophy
• Rutvica Andrijasevic, Management
• Richard Sessions, Biochemistry
• Mascia Amici, Physiology Pharmacology and Neuroscience
• Stephan Lewandowsky, Experimental Psychology
• Michael Malay, English
• Esther Jones Russell, Alumnus, Modern Languages
• Jack Hazeldine, Library Services
• Zack M, Physics & Philosophy
• Neema Begum, SPAIS
• Sally Ware, SPAIS
• Natalie Jester, SPAIS
• Ruth Bush, Modern Languages
• George Clarke, SPAIS
• Ben Marshall, Electrical and Electronic Engineering
• Christopher Bertram, Philosophy
• Noha Abu El Magd, Bristol SU BME Officer & Physics
• Jakob Hartl, SPAIS
• Rowena Salmon, Historical Studies
• Matilda Haymes, English
• Keava Mascott, Biology
• Matthew Wright, Chemistry
• Liam Robinson, Aerospace Engineering
• Ed Atkins, Law
• Mwenza Blell, Archaeology & Anthropology
• William Williams, Earth Sciences
• Aslak-Antti Oksanen, SPAIS
• Rhian Grant, Philsophy
• Hannah Dualeh, Psychology & Bristol SU BME Officer Elect
• Leigh-Ann Clarke, English
• Stephen Le Fanu, Biological Sciences
• Alex Franklin, School of Arts
• Arabella Champignon-le-Bois, Modern Languages
• Zainab Kwaw-Swanzy, Mathematics
• Kevin Doogan, SPS
• Ricky Tutin, EFIM
• Elizabeth Evans, SPAIS
• Michael Rickard, IT Services
• Blair Matthews, CELFS
• Prof Jutta Weldes, SPAIS
• Steve Condliffe, IT Services
• Colin Lazarus, Biological Sciences
• John Foot, Italian
• Mike Barton, Electrical & Electronic Engineering
• Saffron Karlsen, SPAIS
• Elspeth Van Veeren, SPAIS
• Andrew James, Physiology and Pharmacology
• Stephen D’Evelyn, Bristol UCU Secretary
• Radhika Jani, English
• Maria Fannin, Geographical Sciences
• Scott Greenwell, Physics
• Laura Lyddon, SPAIS
• Dr Yvette Russell, Law
• Jess Hambly, Law
• Jeremy Green, SPAIS
• Jule Mulder, Law

UCU’s Pay Campaign – Latest March/April News

Our Claim

  • UCU met with the employers, the Universities & Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) on 22 March.
  • The meeting was to discuss UCEA’s response to our joint Higher Education trade union pay claim.
  • To refresh, our claim, submitted on Friday, 11th March was:
  • A 5% pay increase for all university staff on the national pay scale
  • At least the living wage for those staff at the bottom of the pay spine
  • Nationally agreed minimum rates of pay for external examiners
  • Nationally agreed action for institutions to close the gender pay gap by 2020
  • Nationally agreed action for institutions to reduce the proportion of their staff on casual and zero hour contracts
  • To establish a Scottish Sub-Committee of Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff

UCEA’s Response

  • A 1% pay increase
  • The potential of further joint work on gender pay
  • The potential of further joint work in regards to casual and zero hour contracts
  • No agreement on external examiner pay
  • No agreement to set up the Scottish Sub Committee

What Next

  • We are balloting for strike action and action short of a strike the week as of 11th April.
  • Any industrial action would start w/c 23rd May.
  • The next negotiating meet of UCU (and other trade unions) and UCEA is 28th April.
  • The last opportunity for UCEA to make a substantial offer would be on 19th May.

The Facts

The decline in our pay since 2009/10 could be as high as 17.5%.

Lecturers, professional services staff, staff on casual contracts, professors: since 2010 all have seen annual cumulative shortfalls of between £3K and £7K.

The total difference in average pay received by male and female academics is a staggering £1.3 billion per year

Austerity for some? In 2014/15, the average V-C salary was £272K – an average increase of 3% and 6.7 times the average pay of their staff

67% of research staff are still on fixed-term contracts, a third of these are for 12 months or less

Over the last six years capital expenditure in HE has increased by 18.6%, income by 23.9%, surpluses by 125.4% and reserves up by 72.3%

We are working harder and longer than ever!

The Prevent Duty@Bristol: The Duty in Context, Bristol UCU Response and Next Steps

The Context: 

The Prevent Duty is Section 26 of the 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act. This states that public bodies, such as universities, need to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. According to the Government’s Prevent Duty Guidance for Higher Education Institutions in England and Wales, this means universities need to police external speakers with a view to stopping events where ‘extremist views’ may be expressed, to train staff in ‘factors that make people support terrorist ideologies’ and to make ‘clear’ to student unions ‘the need to challenge extremist ideologies’.

The Prevent Duty is part of the Prevent Strategy, published by the Government in 2011 and part of the overall UK counter-terrorism strategy. According to the Strategy, universities are now legally responsible for monitoring possible signs of radicalisation. Indicators for this ‘radicalisation’ are nebulous, open to abuse and highly specious. They include ‘a need for identity, meaning and belonging’, ‘a desire for political or moral change’ and ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values’.

Dissent as regards Prevent amongst Higher Education professionals is rife. Ken MacDonald, warden of Wadham College, Oxford and a former Director of Public Prosecutions, has pointed out the ‘chilling effect’ of the Duty on academic debate and day-to-day business. ‘Read literary,’ he argues, the Duty ‘envisages a future in which people might be constrained from arguing, in a university of all places, that democracy is wrong in principle‘. Vice Chancellor of Kingston University Julius Weinberg has recently said ‘there is no respectable evidence that radicalisation is happening at our universities‘. Sorana Vieru, NUS VP Higher Education points out ‘an atmosphere of suspicion, monitoring and not to mention profiling undermines the possibility of such a space that allows research to flourish and learners to develop‘. ‘The creation of a legal duty on universities,’ highlights Rizwaan Sabir, lecturer in criminology at Liverpool John Moores University, ‘to report extremists or “potential terrorists” therefore has a deeply damaging impact in so far as it creates a climate of fear and self-censorship‘.

Clearly, one of the most worrying aspects of the whole Prevent project is the green light it gives to racial and religious discrimination. ‘For Muslim students’, according to Malia Bouattia, NUS Black Students’ Officer, ‘there truly will be no respite from the storm of Islamophobia that greets them in every other section of society‘. In an effort to promote ‘British’ values from the top, the current Conservative government is granting powers to institutions that ensures precisely the kind of victimisation that engenders social exclusion. To quote University of Bristol academic Dr Therese O’Toole:

The current direction of travel for Prevent and the government’s increasing emphasis on and development of a battery of powers to combat extremism exemplify the tensions inherent in Cameron’s concept of ‘muscular liberalism’, where defence of ‘British values’ – democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and belief – is being realised by ever expanding and restrictive measures (e.g. Theresa May’s surveillance bill), that target and marginalise Muslims. So far, these are being developed in a policy climate of acceptance of the government’s construction of the problem of extremism, with little consideration of their implications for either Muslim civic inclusion or civil society more broadly.

The website PREVENTwatch documents cases of Prevent in practice: http://www.preventwatch.org/ 

UCU Policy & University of Bristol

National UCU policy is clear: the Duty seriously threatens academic freedom, is intended to stifle campus activism, forces University staff to racially profile, legitimises Islamophobia, and jeopardises the safety and supportive learning environment that is the classroom or lecture theatre.

As regards the Prevent Duty at the University of Bristol, members may be aware of the recent Prevent Consultation. Please see the Bristol UCU blog post, ‘The Prevent Duty at the University of Bristol‘.

Bristol UCU also helped organised the Prevent 101 event last October, and is a co-organiser of the NUS event Students not Suspects on 17th March at the University of Bristol.

To be clear, the University position is that per its legal obligation, it needs to demonstrate to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the HE Prevent Duty monitoring body, its compliance with the Duty.

The University has set out its Prevent Risk Assessment and Action plan accordingly. In the Consultation, for example, staff and students were asked to comment on the draft Freedom of Speech statement and the new External Speakers Procedure. A new IT policy is on the cards; staff will be subject to varying forms of Prevent Duty training.

It should be noted that the HEFCE monitoring procedure is essentially an audit. Respondent universities are not mandated to enforce certain policy changes; rather, they are asked to respond with a view to detailing their Prevent Duty-readiness. The University of Bristol is able, if it so wishes as an institution, to say it is Prevent reading on the basis of extant polices on vulnerable students, room booking and civil liberties safeguards.

The Prevent Compliance Group, with UCU representation as of 1st March, has been leading on this. In terms of the University of Bristol timetable, the final suite of Prevent-related policies and procedures have to be submitted by 1st April to HEFCE. They are due to be approved at the Board of Trustees on 18th March.

Overall, Consultation comments were telling. Bristol staff and students wrote of ‘the slippery slope’ that the Prevent-related changes heralded, the ‘vagueness’ of the terms of the Freedom of Speech policy and the ‘Orwellian measures’ of the External Speakers Procedure. One respondent observes:

My concern is that what is, in principle, regards as a contingent tool for a extraordinary situation will, de facto, become a repressive mechanism and, indeed, a successful attempt to prevent students from uniting and and taking part to protest for their legitimate grievances.

Another respondent flags up:

The UCU and the Bristol SU are seeming the only sensible people involved in this response…The university should be fighting back against this nonsense, not rolling over to have it’s tummy tickled by the most illiberal government since…well, since the terribly illiberal Labour government.

It should be noted that suggestions from the Prevent Consultation feedback will be incorporated in the final documents –the document owners for the Freedom of Speech and External Speakers Procedure are happy to include reference to the right to hold events on controversial topics; further clarity around the need to protect free speech will be added –and it was also noted at the meeting of the Prevent Compliance Group how ‘unique’ Bristol has been in terms of consultative approach. Moreover, in terms of IT policy, we will not be going down the aggressive web filtering approach.

However, as Bristol UCU lead on Prevent, and UCU rep on the Prevent Compliance Group, for me, the main Prevent Duty concerns remain. With regard to the External Speakers Procedure:

Defenders of the [External Speakers] policy may point to the self-policing aspect of the guidelines, and the dangers of reading worst case scenarios into the various instructions. After all, the various Bristol gatekeepers and decision makers for the External Speakers Policy (and most policies for that matter) are mostly good, solid liberal Bürger, who are not looking over their (right) shoulder wondering what the Daily Mail is fulminating about today. Moreover, when Bristol academics are organising conferences or pow-wows on high temperature superconductors or the social history of Counter-Reformation Italian millinery, are these really going to trigger “potential issues” for the Event Organiser and Assessor?

The External Speakers Policy risks giving managers the rather unaccountable right to determine what constitutes controversy. In Bristol’s case, the idea that we are a hotbed of Islamic or far right terrorism, or of the ideology that allegedly gives it comfort, may seem far fetched. But can we be sure that when we as institution are tested – an event devoted to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, populated by broadly speaking pro-Palestinian academic activists that generates the ire of the Mail, the Israeli ambassador and local, even campus groups and societies – that we won’t take the easy option and use our soon to be institutionalised tools to say no?

Next Steps

The next meeting of the Prevent Compliance Group will meet in June. The Board of Trustees will approve (or not) the above mentioned policies on 18th March.

As part of Bristol UCU’s ongoing Prevent Duty campaign, an open letter has been drafted to go to Board of Trustee members in advance of their meeting on the 18th:

https://admin.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/account/bristolucu/survey/edit/181488

Please do sign.

Response to University of Bristol ‘Proposals for Discussion’ – University of Bristol’s Vision and Strategy Consultation.

At our Joint Consultative and Negotiating Committee (JCNC) UCU, along with campus unions, had a discussion about the VC’s recent Message from the Vice Chancellor and Proposals for Discussion, following the the first phase of the University’s Vision and Strategy Consultation.

The concrete action resulting from that discussion is to schedule a more substantial agenda point/discussion at the next JCNC on 19th April.

In terms of initial feedback, UCU is keen to impress two of our main priorities: workload and progression for pathway 2 and 3 staff.

Although workload apparently was not an issue raised in the first phase of the consultation, our feedback from members would suggest that it is the issue for members.

On that note, our Workplace and Well-Being Survey, complete with recommendations, is due early April, in advance of the 19th April JCNC.

The results of the recent Staff Survey will also be part of this.

As documented in previous Newsflashs (see 27th January 2016), we’re currently feeding into the discussion around, to quote from page 8 of the Proposals, “….reviewing development, progression, promotion”.

Bristol UCU did note some concern with the issue of research prioritization, what this means in practical terms for different disciplines and schools and the prioritisation of a select number of institutional research themes.

Does this mean a defensive challenge for UCU to protect members in potential ‘de-prioritized’ Schools, defending a notion of the multidisciplinary University, or accepting that in the current funding climate, we as a University are in no position to back research ‘lame ducks’?

From UCU’s point of view, if the former, then solidarity across our membership is key.

The Prevent Duty at the University of Bristol

Changes are afoot as Bristol reshapes its policies in response to its duty to ‘prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’.  Among others, new policies include Freedom of Speech and External Speakers policies. The changes as proposed have a troubling authoritarian potential as well as introducing a new level of bureaucracy.

The University of Oxford, as one of the UK’s more venerable institutions, is hardly known for its heterodoxy. But recently as regards the Prevent Duty, Oxford has certainly been sending out what can politely be described as anti-government signals.

Ken MacDonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales and current warden of Wadham College, Oxford, has said the Duty ‘[r]ead literally …envisages a future in which people might be constrained from arguing in a university of all places, that democracy is wrong in principle‘.

In effect since September 2015, the Prevent Duty – part of the government’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 – calls on universities to monitor students for any signs of “radicalisation”. Universities should ensure that they “challenge extremist ideas”. Extremism is defined by “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”

For MacDonald, speaking to The Guardian:

“One is forced to contemplate a level of uncertainty that plainly risks a chilling effect on intellectual discourse and exchange, not to mention a deadening impact upon research into difficult contemporary questions,” he said.

Macdonald – a barrister, whose role as director of public prosecutions between 2003 and 2008 made him one of the most senior legal figures in England and Wales – said under the government’s guidance “the list of unacceptable topics might plausibly include much philosophical discourse, any Marxist analysis of a supposed class basis for our rule of law, and many atheist deconstructions of religion”

How goes the Duty at the University of Bristol?

As a University we are currently in the initial assessment phase. This concludes 1st April. By this point, the University will supply the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the relevant monitoring body for the Duty, with a risk assessment, action plan, new/revised policies and procedures, and a narrative explaining the University’s approach, thus demonstrating how they are fulfilling their Prevent edit.

As one might expect, the University is bending over backwards to be compliant. Hardly surprising one might say. Prevent is the law of the land, and the University of Bristol is not going to engage in an isolated act of anarchic exceptionalism.

Yet, the University does have the capacity to define its response to Prevent. Its Prevent Action Plan is the result of a self-audit. In theory, it could robustly reply to HEFCE that its arrangement are in order; that as a responsible HE organisation, it is more that capable of not facilitating criminal enterprises; that rather than tacitly enabling of the profiling of staff and students of a Muslim appearance or providing the means to stifle free and open discourse within it, the University of Bristol sees its role as a guarantor of University members’ right to ‘adjust truths and facts; form them into one whole, or notice the obstacles which occur in doing so

To highlight one area due for new policy, the University is due to bring into force a new External Speakers Policy and Procedure.

The policy is intended to be “a systems solution”. In it, “events should be booked and notification of external speakers at least two weeks ahead”. Event organisers must assess whether any invited external speaker, alongside other well-established principles of common sense legal and institutional obligations, “have a controversial profile in the media’ or ‘is the event likely to attract a heightened media interest”. If there is any doubt, the organiser must go to a designated Assessor – an appropriate line manager figure – who if they are unsure, too, will pass the decision onto the Decision Maker, the Deputy Registrar.

As one Bristol academic notes, “[t]he process as written seems to make it impossible for an academic department to invite someone to give a talk at short notice. For example, we discover that Professor X is visiting Oxford from Harvard next week and we’d like her to drop by and give a talk in Bristol. Professor X easily generates a “No” on the self-assessment, but the two-week requirement means that we can’t invite her: an unnecessary bureaucratic obstacle to academic and intellectual exchange.” As for “[t]he undefined “controversial profile” test”…Does this mean we might refuse to let, say, Germaine Greer or Russell Brand speak, just because we don’t want the adverse publicity?”

Defenders of the policy may point to the self-policing aspect of the guidelines, and the dangers of reading worst case scenarios into the various instructions. After all, the various Bristol gatekeepers and decision makers for the External Speakers Policy (and most policies for that matter) are mostly good, solid liberal Bürger, who are not looking over their (right) shoulder wondering what the Daily Mail is fulminating about today. Moreover, when Bristol academics are organising conferences or pow-wows on high temperature superconductors or the social history of Counter-Reformation Italian millinery, are these really going to trigger “potential issues” for the Event Organiser and Assessor?

Yet, following on from Macdonald’s above ‘level of uncertainty’ point, the way in which every event is now under the Prevent eye, generates a degree of doubt in the mind of everyone when it comes to exercising free speech and going about one’s politically-tinged business on campus.

The External Speakers Policy risks giving managers the rather unaccountable right to determine what constitutes controversy. In Bristol’s case, the idea that we are a hotbed of Islamic or far right terrorism, or of the ideology that allegedly gives it comfort, may seem far fetched. But can we be sure that when we as institution are tested – an event devoted to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, populated by broadly speaking pro-Palestinian academic activists that generates the ire of the Mail, the Israeli ambassador and local, even campus groups and societies – that we won’t take the easy option and use our soon to be institutionalised tools to say no?

As way of a reminder, Bristol UCU stands fully behind the national UCU position: