Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Seven Years

I pondered the content of Professor Martin Hall's latest missive to staff at the University of Salford on the issue of job losses. What was the reason my union had sought fit to suspend the current dispute with the University? Were all the jobs safe? Were the courses targeted for closure now not going to be axed? Were the UCU not 'enraged' any more as suggested in an article in the Times Higher published on International Workers Day (May 1st) 2013? Had the unenviable tag of being "Britain's most prolific university for axing staff" according to UCU regional official Martyn Moss now fallen like some unloved Ghengal Yoke onto the shoulders of another lucky UK Vice Chancellor? 

Trick players known as 'jocular oculars'

Were those two bloodshot and increasingly redundant orbs that loafed somewhere in the region adjacent to my nose-bridge, just below a savage pair of pseudo-Brezhnevians, playing tricks on me once more? I wondered if for the UCU, the University were now not "callous" as alleged on the UCU's own website, and had maneuvered sideways a bit in order to reposition themselves firmly outside the boundaries of the "uncaring light" Mr Moss had cast them within in the above article?

Worrying trends?

Recently, using a form of pre-nursery statistical analysis, I wrote about what I saw as a worrying trend regarding the use (or lack thereof) of industrial action by the UCU at Salford to halt job losses over the past eighteen or so months:

Common aims and common outcomes

Sometime in May, I recall staff had voted overwhelmingly for strike action over the above job cuts. I also recall two staff proposing to this packed lunchtime meeting, that the union call for a vote of no confidence in senior managers, which was carried with one solitary abstention. What had become of these democratically-arrived-at mandates? Had I missed something? Had the gilt-framed vote of no confidence got lost in the post en route to Martin Hall? Why had no one informed me of the whereabouts of the picket-lines full of well intentioned ivory-tower-dwelling hampermen, known for their liberal application of sulphorous languge to the be-reddened ears of the erstwhile scab? It beggared belief that given the peppery sentiments expressed during this above meeting, that such a common aim with a common outcome could fail to materialise? Almost immediately my mind became pregnant with potentialities, which as readers of this blog will know is nearly always a bad thing.

The downside to decimalisation?

Had a well-meaning UCU officer of some ranking, sent off for one of those day-to-microsecond convertors so beloved of the home shopping channel fraternity/sisternity? Wild claims are made for these highly calibrated, hand-focused-temporal-compressors which it is said can condense a single day of industrial action into one hundred thou of a second, thereby drastically attenuating any potential havoc and formally assuaging pre-strike nerves for good.

Buy one because it's alleged they really work!

Probabilities and their ilk

I was sure that there was in all probability a more down-to-earth explanation for what on the surface looked like a no-show on the strike front. Had a strike day been organised with such precision and lightning strike efficiency that it simply defied any collective corporeal participation? That is, apart from an alleged showing by a sub-rheumatic Billy Whizz and the erstwhile inventor of the Warp Drive Zefram Cochrane.

Zephram Cochrane or 'Zeph Coch'
 to his parents and lovers
Maybe I was at fault? Was my inability to observe 'ongoing participative kinetically disputed industrial related activity' a consequence of a rogue purchase of a Romulan cloaking device by a non-plussed former undergraduate of mine? Was he still annoyed at a low essay mark I'd given him in December 2007 and had now decided to belatedly wreak his revenge by illegally transporting me to the interstices between seconds?(1)

Textual analysis and its adherents

I perused Salford UCU President Chris Sheehy's words to UCU members. In light of the lack of 'a strike', what did she mean by "..No 'no strike agreements in this branch'? What I didn't sense were words that equated to those more usually associated with ' victory, more like those associated with relief:

"Our hope is that Industrial Relations in the coming years will be more civilised and less aggressive, and nowhere as terrible as they have been during the last seven years. For the good of the University we need to not have to continually fight for our members to be treated more respectfully. This might enable us to concentrate on being still more creative."

Putting aside the bits about 'hope' which nearly always springs eternal,(2) and being 'still more creative' which I don't think has anything to do with avoiding outright industrial action, this statement sounds remarkably similar in its tone to Martin Hall's. I pondered his wish to have a 'new working relationship'. I re-pondered the notion of the union working with Professor Hall to shape the future direction of the University. If this meant nailing four wooden wheels to it and demanding dual controls to steer and apply the brakes then that's fine. If shaping that 'future direction' entailed further job cuts and course closures, even the indomitable Chris Sheehy might have a problem selling that one to union members.

Give us a clue

There's no clue in Chris Sheehy's memo to UCU members if the UCU have asked for clear guarantees as to whether the University's prestigious MediaCity campus has become a net importer of wealth into the University's coffers? Does this suspension of industrial action presuppose a moratorium on any future job losses? Have the UCU Salford suggested to Hall that he puts a freeze on any further massive expenditures on new build schemes to ensure future financial sustainability and that no more jobs are lost? Because, when all is said and done, the sum of a university ain't the sum of its flashy buildings, it's the dialectical relationship between those who labour and teach in them and those who labour and learn in them?

The Seven Years

I decided to consult my cranial 'clipboard' and do a bit more sums... seven years takes us back to 2006. Who joined the University in 2006? Might there be lurking somewhere in the hinterlands, a convenient scapegoat who could shoulder the blame for the current state of affairs regarding Ms Sheehy's "terrible" and "aggressive" "Industrial relations"? I'm not convinced. You see a reasonable person in possession of the figures would note that the vast bulk of jobs axed at Salford since August 2009, went under Martin Hall's stewardship. That's about four years give or take a month or two. For over half Ms Sheehy's stated seven year period, Professor Hall Vice Chancelled over the aggressive "Industrial Relations" that she suggests were the norm at Salford. In March 2013, Hall blamed the 'University's present financial circumstances' for the need to reduce Voluntary Severance. That's a fundamental attack on our conditions. Moreover, a non-dufus might also note that as Vice Chancellor, Professor Hall presumably presided over and gave the green light to the financial decisions that led to the 'University's present financial circumstances'? And while Hall and Co currently consult on a new Strategic Plan, as the old one doesn't seem to have got them within sniffing distance of that elusive top quartile slot that Hall envisaged the University occupying by 2017, the £150,000 question is not whether the UCU at Salford should we be working with him, but why is he still Vice Chancellor?

Paradiddlibel lost

I re-read Martin Hall's March 2013 statement on changes to Voluntary Severance at Salford. I was quite interested in these 'number of factors'. I wondered if one of these 'factors' was Hall and Graves' failed libel claim? It's a matter of public record that Vice Chancellor Hall, Dr Graves and Dr Alan Mawson, who is still Chair of the University Council, between them gave the green light to launch Hall and Graves expensive libel claim in the High Court using University funds, £150,000 of them. This they did without firstly seeking the authorisation of the University Governing body the University Council. According to the  Manchester Evening News, this is something the University accepts was wrong which presumably means that as Hall is the Vice Chancellor, he also accepts it was wrong? Have the UCU Salford demanded answers to questions such as couldn't this money have been better used to employ academics and non-academics instead of employing expensive lawyers? Have they asked Hall and Graves to pay it back out of their own pockets? Does Mr Justice Eady's view that Hall and Graves claim was a Jameel Abuse or an abuse of the court process raise questions about Hall's professional judgement in his capacity as Vice Chancellor? These questions and more must surely be addressed by the UCU at Salford before the UCU at Salford suspend action, embark upon any 'new working relationship' or engage in future regular meetings with Vice Chancellor Martin Hall?

Notes and Resources

1. Its alleged by some that there have been more strikes on the Empire State Building (average of 25 times a year.) than there have been at Salford. Incredibly, Roy Sullivan, a US park ranger, is reputed to have been involved in more strikes  than the UCU at Salford University, being unlucky enough to have been struck seven times by lightining. See

2. "Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed: The soul, uneasy and confined from home, Rests and expatiates in a life to come." Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

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1 comment:

  1. The union is SO in bed with management in order to obtain personal perks for its leadership that it defies imagination. The only thing that would help now is a velvet revolution by rank and file membership.