On February 5th, the Architects Journal and BDonline reported that international academics had joined staff, students, London Met UCU, UCU national (see also UCU NEC statement), London Met Unison, and members of the creative community in questioning the proposed move of London Met’s CASS faculty from Aldgate, East London to Holloway Road as part of the so-called One Campus One Community (OCOC) project.
What unites all these disparate constituencies is an understanding of the immense value of the interaction of the CASS – with its highly skilled staff and innovative courses, and its local community in East London. All are equally horrified that such a tangible community asset is being sacrificed in a rushed, desperate, and ill-considered attempt to shrink the university.
Anticipating the dire result of such educational vandalism, the representatives of the august body of international academic signatories, have demanded the resignation of the VC and the Board of Governors should their OCOC plan to uproot the CASS continue. In their statement they describe how their attempts to engage directly with the Board of Governors on these matters was thwarted by the Board’s Chairman who refused to confirm whether their initial statement of protest had been circulated to the governors at their meeting on 26th January 2016, as had minimally been requested.
This lack of transparent public accountability for decisions that will adversely affect an entire community is even more shocking given that the scholars’ statement itself compared the current situation to 2009 when governance failures of transparency, accountability, and management at London Met eventually led to the resignation of the then VC and effectively the entirety of the then Board of Governors.
The scholars highlight the issue of authoritarian, top-down management and a dismissive attitude to both staff and student concerns. Something that has been reported on extensively by staff unions in the very recent history of London Met, and which historically was the most damning finding of Sir David Melville’s report into the 2009 London Met crisis.
Indeed, it appears that such top-down decision making and lack of transparency continues to permeate senior management thinking at all levels of London Met. Some pertinent recent examples include the following:
- The VC continues to refuse to provide London Met UCU with key information regarding the rationale of the OCOC project, principally the alternate university estate and campus models that were presented to the Board of Governors.
- The VC has stated that staff were fully and effectively consulted prior to the OCOC being announced in October 2015. However, his suggestion that the staff consultation that took place last year as part of the development of the University’s new Strategic Plan – Green Paper (November 2014) and White Paper (April 2015), constituted consultation and acceptance of the OCOC is entirely disingenuous given that the propositions of shrinking to one campus, cutting courses, staff and student numbers were explicitly rejected by the overwhelming majority of all staff submissions.
- The VC stated at the launch of OCOC in October 2015 that it was ‘an answer to student demand’ as they had overwhelmingly backed such a move by some 65%. However, the flaws in the so-called ‘student survey’ that underpinned such rhetoric were quickly publicly exposed by the students themselves and a later, more robust, survey has shown that the majority of students do not want to move to a single campus at Holloway Road. The Student Union also voted at its recent AGM to officially oppose the OCOC move and to join staff unions in opposing staff job and course cuts. However, the VC and his managers and publicists continue to insist that the OCOC is driven by student demand.
- UCU has today been offered a meeting with representatives of the Board of Governors. Under the disputes procedure this should have happened by 4th February at the latest. The date we have been offered is 8th March, thirty-three days past the final date by which such a meeting should have been held. At this point, we expect that redundancy notices will have already been issued. The late meeting, as far as we are concerned, is a breach of good faith. It is worth remembering that in UCUs meeting with the Governors in the last S188 they managed to negotiate and get no CRs declared in three of the four faculties. In this case failure to follow agreed procedures and to consult with the unions in order to resolve the dispute between them and the university in order to mitigate the need for compulsory redundancies can only be seen as an attack on the union itself.
- In FLSC (Faculty of Life Sciences and Computing) 17 teaching staff are currently at risk of redundancy as a result of the OCOC shrinkage of courses and jobs. However, whilst noting this entirely unacceptable level of teaching staff cut, the selection process adopted by the faculty Dean is completely obscure, giving rise to concerns about fairness. Despite initially all being placed in various ‘redundancy pools’ staff are not being told why they and not others are still in those pools. A form of pre-selection has already taken place. The Dean, Dominic Palmer-Brown, has allegedly examined NSS data, income generation data, pass rate data and data about student numbers. Using these he claims to have found that most people in each pool were ‘clustered closely together’, however, he also discovered that a few people ‘were clearly differentiated’ such that they have been taken out of the redundancy pools. However, he refuses to provide UCU with the anonymised data of such ‘selection’ and is arguing that he hasn’t ‘ranked’ pooled staff. He appears blithely (or, perhaps, wilfully) unaware of the obvious fact that by placing some staff above others he has by definition ranked them. Incredibly, not even HR have a copy of the figures used by Palmer-Brown in that selection. So, where is the oversight? Who is making sure that the selection is fair and unbiased?
- Those FLSC staff not lucky enough to be ‘de-selected’ from their respective redundancy pools, have been told they will be selected (or not) for redundancy on the basis of a review of their submitted CVs and a 4-page ‘personal statement’ that they had to submit by the 9th of February. Yet, for these “at-risk” staff it was unclear whether they were being asked to write their ‘personal statement’ on the basis of reapplying for their existing job, or for something new based on current course and module specifications, or for a generic job category. Likewise, there has been no indication of what measures people are going to be scored on, of the rationale of these measures, nor on who will be involved in such selection and any following shortlisting and interviewing. UCU enquiries have all been stonewalled. It is hard to overstate the demoralisation and stress that this obscure, farcical and shambolic process has created.
Unfortunately, it is not only the spectre of 2009 that haunts London Met. Last Friday, news broke that the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) has had its ability to recruit oversees students revoked – forcing around 350 LSBF international students to have to leave the UK by the end of this month. In late 2011 London Met UCU strongly argued against London Met forming a partnership with LSBF. Unfortunately, the then VC and current Board of Governors chose to ignore that advice. That partnership led to the 2012 catastrophic stripping of the university’s ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’ status to recruit international students. The university subsequently lost some tens of millions of pounds of income and significantly accelerated a recruitment problem we are still struggling to recover from. Following the loss of the HTS, the university then lost more money in extricating themselves from their LSBF agreement. Unfortunately, it appears that to this day none of the London Met managers and Board members that made the decision to enter into such an unholy alliance with LSBF have had to face any negative consequences of their own for such strategically poor decision making.
Senior management often warn staff and students against public protests because of the supposed impact on the students’ experience and on student recruitment. However, they willfully ignore the fact that it is not the protests highlighting poor decision making, disastrous job and course cuts, community vandalism, and dictatorial management, that damage the university’s prospects, but the very things that are being protested about. Staying quiet whilst a valuable community asset such as CASS is removed from its strategically important location, or sacking renowned and experienced staff, or closing unique and well respected courses, or entering into partnerships with cowboy operators, is to stand by and watch the destruction from within of London Met and all it represents.
We will not be silent. London Met and its mission of widening participation is absolutely worth fighting for and we now need to be ready for that fight. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?
The artwork on the featured image is by Bob and Roberta Smith