You are a lecturer. You’ve worked really hard to get where you are. Your job typically involves conducting research and you also have a fair amount of teaching to focus on. Yes, you can be very busy, but overall you love your job. At your most recent annual review meeting with your superiors you have been told you are doing great and, in fact, they suggest you could go for promotion.
The COVID-19 pandemic hits. It’s difficult for everyone, workload increases, additional teaching sessions are put on to help students through it. You’re feeling the strain of balancing your family and your work (due in part to school closures). But you still love your job and you care about the quality of what you do so you work through it. Then … in the midst of this chaos you receive an email. It informs you that you have been identified for potential compulsory redundancy. Completely out of the blue. With no warning. You were under the impression you were doing well and nothing has indicated anything to the contrary.
With student numbers increasing every year, how can any lecturer’s role possibly be redundant? Why have you been chosen when you were doing so well? How will you find another job? Will you have to relocate? What about the kids, how upset are they going to be, moving school and leaving their friends? What about your partner’s job? What about the mortgage? Will you be able to sell the house after a worldwide pandemic?
This is the type of scenario currently being faced by 47 members of staff across the Faculty of Health and Life sciences, which includes psychology. This blog has been written collectively by a number of lecturers from the Department of Psychology. It is directed to you, our students. We want you to understand why we are striking and to be completely open and honest with you.
Why are we prepared to strike?
The situation is more complex than it seems and there are many consequences of these redundancies that will affect our future job security, teaching and academic careers for years to come. Here we outline why we are striking.
- The redundancies are unnecessary and callous
It was initially stated that these staff members were being made redundant because they were ‘underperforming’. It was believed that the university wanted to use the money saved from these staff member’s salaries to fund a new research institute and hire new staff. This means that these are not actual redundancies (under UK employment law a redundancy is when the job is no longer needed). The university soon changed its approach and suggested that they needed to save money as they were in financial difficulties. This comes from a university that pays senior staff members over £400k, charges £9k a year per student, and finishes every academic year with huge sums of money left over.
In addition, we believe these so-called ‘redundancies’ are callous. They have been announced in the middle of a global pandemic, something we have never faced before. Sometimes you may not see all the work we need to do in the background to teach you. There’s a lot more work that goes into your one hour lecture than you see. This year our workload has increased significantly and staff have had to work extra hard to deliver teaching. To thank 47 of our colleagues with redundancy is unacceptable. This will, and in some cases already has, affected their mental health and the wellbeing of their families.
- Teaching is not taken into account
So how were these members of staff chosen? Well, we can tell you that teaching was not taken into account at all. Not the amount of teaching that staff members do nor the quality of their teaching. We believe you will miss out from being taught by some excellent lecturers who hold a wealth of knowledge.
Instead, the university identified individuals by using two metrics. The first of these was grant income. Researchers apply to get money to fund their research, it’s a really hard, time-consuming process and most applications end in failure … that’s part of academic life. People with less research funding were targeted for redundancy. This ignored the fact that some types of research don’t require much funding and that many excellent grant proposals don’t get funded. So this is something outside of the individual’s control.
The second consideration was a research metric called a field weighted citation index (FWCI). This essentially lets you know how often your papers are cited relative to other people. A FWCI score of 1 means you are cited the same as others, a score of 2 means you are cited twice as often as most researchers. Again, you don’t need us to tell you that this is a poor metric. It’s based purely on how often your published journal articles are cited, not the quality of the work. The university decided to identify for redundancy those individuals with a score below 2. This is an extremely high bar. To show how high this bar is, Stephen Hawking, Noam Chomsky, and members of the University senior leadership team who proposed the redundancies don’t meet this criteria!
In addition, NO ONE was made aware of these criteria before these ‘redundancies’ were announced. NOT ONCE has any staff member been told we are being measured against these metrics and so they never had the opportunity to improve their performance on these metrics.
So, these redundancies aren’t based on teaching at all but instead are based on meaningless criteria, dreamt up in secret by senior management at the university. The result? You’ll lose out on teaching from excellent lecturers.There will be fewer staff members in your department to offer support, to run the many 3rd year modules we offer, and less staff to supervise 3rd year projects in research areas which are in high demand. It is clear the university has not thought once about students when implementing these ‘redundancies’.
- This will lead to poorer teaching in the future and will damage academia as a career
Now we come to some of the most important reasons for our strike. These redundancies will affect the quality of your teaching and the teaching for future students for years to come. Why? Well when you sack people for not getting enough research funding or citations there’s only one logical result. Those members of staff employed primarily to conduct research (the majority of those who teach you) will focus less on teaching and more on writing research proposals and making sure they’re publishing papers that will be cited. Teaching will become a secondary concern and will take a back seat. The threat of being sacked will hang over every staff member’s head constantly. The impact this has on people’s mental health will mean that academia will cease to become a viable career path for bright individuals. Why would you pursue a career in academia when you could lose your job at any moment, due to things that are out of your control?
It is currently the case that even those not affected by these ‘redundancies’ are considering leaving the department. Perhaps in the hope that they may gain employment that is more stable, perhaps in a different university that will not use criteria that staff members have never been made aware of to make them redundant. This is particularly problematic within psychology at the moment. We are already short on staff and, in fact, we were in the process of recruiting more staff to make up for this (this recruitment now has been paused due to the ‘redundancies’). This is really important for you – we have to meet the British Psychological Society’s student:staff ratio in order to offer you an accredited degree in psychology.
We need to act
We can’t let our colleagues be made redundant with no prior notice, in the middle of a pandemic. We can’t allow measures to be put into place that will disincentivize teaching. We can’t allow academia to be ruled by a culture of targets similar to the world of high finance. We need to act to stop these redundancies.
There’s only one way we can act together to insist that the university backs down on the redundancies and that is to withhold our labour. It is the only bargaining tool that we have. Unfortunately, this will probably affect you. Please believe us when we say that we do not want to take this action but we have been left with no other option. It is something we need to do for all the reasons outlined above. We DO NOT get paid when we strike and some of us will struggle financially over the next few months because of this. We have not taken this decision lightly.
Avoiding the strike and helping
We believe our employers need to listen to us and withdraw these proposed redundancies for the good of our current and future colleagues, as well as for the quality of teaching that will be delivered to current and future students. This strike can be avoided if they do this.
If you want to help us to prevent the strikes there are a number of things you could do.
First, please contact Professor Louise Kenny and Vice Chancellor Janet Beer and make it clear that you know that they have the power to stop these redundancies and so avoid the strikes.
Second, we think that some students do not fully understand the reasons for the strike, and why it is so important, so please share this blog with students from every subject!
If you want more information please look at this website https://www.hls47.co.uk/. It has personal testimonies from the staff being threatened with compulsory redundancies during a pandemic and testimonies from students who will suffer when their lecturers and supervisors are forced to leave. It also has information about the problems with the metrics that have been used to target people for redundancy. It shows how much support we have from national and international academics and other research communities.
You can also give your opinion on the redundancies anonymously, which will be presented to the senior leadership team here.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. We hope that you understand why these strikes are necessary and that we can count on your support.
Anonymous contribution from staff in Psychology.