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Archive for May, 2010

The student-run Fight Cuts at Westminster blog (http://fightcutsatuow.blogspot.com/) is supporting the marking boycott.

Their message to their fellow students is “[p]lease join us in supporting our lecturers through this time and hopefully together we have a better chance at saving the future of higher education..”

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From a member of staff who wishes to remain anonymous:

“On the evening of the 26th of May, management’s vision for this university was finally laid bare. Only the cream of society were invited to an “annual reception” to mark the re-opening of the foyer at Regent Street campus after months of renovation work. It seemed that everyone was there – the Lord Mayor of Westminster City Council, many VIPs in their best evening wear, and of course our own Vice-Chancellor. But where were we – the staff of the university?

Now, I often work late at the university. My first inkling that something was going on was when I was told, while making my way out, that I was not allowed to pass the foyer, but instead had to find an alternative exit through the basement. When I went up to the foyer anyway, I was told that I would only be allowed to attend the annual reception if I was on the guest list. “But I’m a member of staff here,” I said. Nothing doing. Several minutes later, a manager of the event told me to leave the building as “the likes of you are not welcome at this event”.

I then tried to film the event on my mobile phone, “for posterity” I said. I was brusquely escorted out by several of the security guards on duty – some of whom fondly remember being at this university the week the Vice-Chancellor’s office was occupied by students protesting against the threat to jobs. But even leaving the building was not enough – I was told that I wasn’t allowed to stand on the pavement outside the building (though I was only waiting for my bus home), presumably so I would not interrupt the flow of champagne and canapes.

I later learned that staff were not invited to this annual reception. Not the staff who have given years of service to this university. Not the staff who are being told to find jobs elsewhere. Not the house staff who run the university every single day. Not even the staff at reception who have had to put up with months of renovation work. No – to management, we simply do not exist.

This evening, I’ve learned something of what management would like our university to become. They would like a university for the rich, a university that prioritises show over substance, a university that spends its money on lavish “annual receptions” rather than education. I used to think management believed us staff were simply numbers on an account, to be disposed of as they see fit. Tonight I realised it was much worse – management would prefer it if we simply didn’t exist.”

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Why we should support the marking boycott – a personal message

UCU recently received this personal message from a member in the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) about the action we are taking.  The staff member concerned asked for it to shared with other UCU members to show them why we all need to support the action.

“I am a long-serving member of staff in Electronics and Computer Science, who is facing redundancy after many years of service in teaching and research.  The prospect of looking for a job outside academia after spending so long in a university is frankly terrifying.  I don’t want to go, but feel I am being forced out of my job.  Everyone in my school is having to reapply for their jobs.  We are having to fill out long forms, tick boxes in skills matrices, write long CVs to tell managers that have barely spoken to us for years who we are and what we can do.  It feels like begging. And all our job descriptions have changed, beyond recognition. I now, apparently, have to become an internationally-renowned researcher in order to keep my post, and have attracted research funding, and so on.  No-one told me this before.  I never knew this was what I had to do to keep my position.

I’m afraid for my students as well.  Many of them come from unpriviledged backgrounds, and work hard alongside their university studies simply to finance themselves.  Next year, they will have much less support, larger classes, fewer choices of study, less time in the lecture theatre.

I feel so anxious about the future.  I can’t sleep at night.  I can’t concentrate on anything, and I spend days worried and depressed, on the verge of a panic attack.  I am seeing my GP because of the stress and anxiety, and I know I am not alone.  But no-one talks about it. We are all scared about the future.

I am also deeply angry.  I don’t deserve to be treated like this, after doing everything that was asked of me, and more, for all these years.  So I am determined to make a stand.  I don’t see any other way out but fight.

What I don’t understand is why no-one else feels the way we do.  Why don’t staff in other parts of the university understand that they are in line for the same treatment, and that the only solution is to support each other?  If I’m forced to leave the university, who is going to support them when they’re in trouble?  Every single person who takes part in this fight is helping to save all our jobs.

There are days when I don’t think I can take it any more.  But I won’t give in.  Please tell everyone that this is a fight for our future and we can win it.”

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Are you a UCU members at University of Westminster, and not receiving our emails?  We send out or emails using the BCC for recipient email addresses in order to keep union membership confidential.  However, this sometimes results in email clients filing our emails to you in a junk email folder! In addition, when staff join UCU, they sometimes don’t register an email address we can use to contact them.

If you are not receiving our email, then please:

  • check your junk mail folders to see if our emails are being classified as junk (they really aren’!)
  • send us your email address to ucu@wmin.ac.uk and we will manually add you to our email address list for future mailings!

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Management have proposed two new contracts for staff in Modern Languages Evening Programme (MLEP) and the Centre of English Language Teaching (CELT), one zero hours PT contract and one full time teaching only. There is no guarantee that the proposed contracts might not be used elsewhere in the University in the future.The proposed new zero-hour contract is significantly different from any other contract currently held by teaching staff in our university.

A zero-hours contract means that the university is under no obligation to guarantee a minimum number of hours (and hence income).  Anyone on such a contract would find out at the start of each term if they had any hours to teach, and additionally, those hours could be canceled by management at any time during the term (for example, if the class size fell below a certain size).  Zero-hour contracts effectively mean you are paid only when you are asked to work, instead of being guaranteed regular hours.

In a brief meeting on Tuesday, 18th May, UCU identified the following problems (management responses to date are in brackets):

The process of determining the grade is not clear e.g. is it to be determined by benchmarking against national Role Profiles, against other University contracts, or by HAY evaluation (management’s response: it has been HR
evaluated!)

The proposed grade itself is a serious issue, since it is against national policy – academic contracts start at Ac2 level in post-92 institutions. As the proposed contracts stand, they are in breach of nationally agreed terms and conditions (no response from management).

The employee’s right to appeal is not included (no response from management)

The implementation date is unclear – is it 1st of August/1st of September? (response from management: depends on summer teaching commitments)

The progression within grade is not clear (no response from management)

The progression between grades is not clear (management response: there is none!)

The employee’s status for the 0 (zero) hours contract is unclear i.e. it is unclear whether the proposed part-time contract is an employment contract. The way the hourly rate is calculated is unclear. UCU would expect a 2.5 hours pay for every 1 hour of teaching (management response: real rather than notional hours will be calculated with preparation/marking ** individually ** negotiated with HoD)

The proposed notice period from the employer (one week) is problematic (management response: changed to four weeks).

The proposed up to 35 hours teaching per week in the full-time contract are problematic (management response: up to 25 hours teaching per week – UCU’s comment: this is still way above what happens in FE colleges).

Management claimed again that staff are happy with proposals – we would like to hear from these members of staff, because to date, we haven’t met any happy member of MLEP/CELT staff!

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If you have any questions about the marking boycott that begins tomorrow, Friday 21st May 2010, UCU have produced an FAQ.  Please don’t hesitate to contact us (email: ucu@wmin.ac.uk) if you have any further questions.

Marking Boycott FAQ

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Last week, UCU notified management of its intention to start a boycott of marking from 21st May 2010, following our overwhelmingly supported mandate for action short of strike and branches’ resolutions, in order to increase pressure so that a satisfactory agreement can be reached that would end the current dispute.

ALL UCU academic members are instructed, from this date, not to mark work – including assignments and exam papers, and not to submit marks for any form of assessment. The action excludes PSI staff and administrative, library and postgraduate students members.

The aim of this action is not to disrupt students’ education. If you feel uneasy about its effect, please remember that if we do not fight the VC’s job cuts plan, which he has justified using a manufactured deficit, then our students education will suffer far more. Already, plans in the School of Electronics and Computer Science are being put forward for reducing staff by 50%; reducing lecture contact time by 50%; option modules are being cut by over 40%; class sizes are rising sharply; staff/student ratios are set to exceed 30. None of this is justified. All of this is a direct result of what the VC is planning for ECS, CELT and Modern Languages Evening programme, and which he plans for the rest of the university.

The action targets marking and processing of marks. From the 21st of May, you may collect work (including assignments and exam papers) from registry offices but UCU are instructing you NOT to mark work and NOT to submit marks for any form of assessment. This boycott also applies, from the 21st of May, to work already collected. This also covers second marking and any form of moderation.

Students should not be prevented from taking their assessment as normal and you can provide formative feedback to them.

If you are put under any pressure or feel bullied into marking work, please contact UCU immediately. Remember that participation in a lawful industrial action, which this is, protects you from disciplinary action.

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