King’s cuts and runs from debate

July 10, 2014

Editor’s note: Dorothy Bishop’s article on proposed job losses at King’s College London (“A senseless purge”, Opinion, 3 July) attracted many comments on Times Higher Education’s website. Among them was a statement from King’s responding to the article and discussing the numbers of posts at risk and the manner in which the process is being handled. Follow the whole thread here


As a member of King’s College London in a department where a high proportion of staff who were eligible for sacking were put at risk, the letter from King’s posted on THE’s website raises a number of concerns.

First, it is remarkable that the changes in the numbers under threat of redundancy are announced…in the comments section of an opinion article. I do agree that while the consultation process is incomplete, it is premature to quote numbers. But this is exactly what this comment from King’s does. Until now, the only numbers that have been formally given are the 120 potentially at-risk positions, as disclosed to staff when the cull was initially announced. I have not received or seen any official communication about these elements of the restructuring. It is insulting to those at risk and to all other staff that it was deemed appropriate to announce this important update here and not directly to staff.

A second concern is the statement that these changes will not have a disproportionate effect on staff or students. This is not backed up by any evidence. In fact, as a member of staff and a supervisor/teacher of many students, I can confidently say that this process has already had a significant effect. The uncertainty has led to many researchers feeling stressed, unappre­ciated and worried about future research and collaborations. The protests from students speak for themselves. Clearly King’s considered these effects to be acceptable or proportionate. This is insulting and presumptive.

Third, the comment asserts that King’s management “regret that some of our own community have chosen to be publicly critical of the current restructuring process before engaging directly with senior management at King’s”. I have tried to engage with senior management about some real concerns. I am yet to receive a reply. I know of at least half a dozen students who have written to senior management expressing concerns. They are yet to receive a reply. I know of a number of senior staff who have attempted to engage senior management in discussion, and they feel that the replies were “patronising” and reflected an “unwillingness to engage in dialogue”.

Finally, this comment itself represents a huge failure of senior management to engage with staff. Going external with crucial information without first informing staff is behaviour that staff andstudents are themselves being accused of.

Together, this comment from King’s sends a strong message that the senior management are more concerned with their reputation than the feelings of their own students and staff.

Mitul Mehta
Via timeshighereducation.co.uk

 

As part of the King’s College London student campaign, I find it outrageous that we are being accused of inaccuracies and of not being supportive of consultation when King’s decides to update us about redundancies via a comment on a THE article. This is the very first that I or any other campaigner has heard that there are now 60 members of staff at risk, instead of the larger numbers [120] that we have heard from unions and staff.

We have made every effort to directly engage senior management but have been ignored, patronised or had no real engagement with our concerns.

If anyone has been sabotaging a meaningful engagement and consultation, it is not the opposition to these redundancies - it is King’s senior management.

I am glad to hear that the number of positions at risk is lower than the original maximum - I wonder if this may be a result of students and staff highlighting how destructive cuts on this scalewould be. There was never any sign that senior management had considered the impact themselves, and there still is no evidence of any risk assessment.

Unfortunately this comment follows the same pattern that the rest of the university’s “engagement” has - instead of addressing concerns and inviting a productive and meaningful conversation with staff and students, it simply seeks to discredit us and throw out more statements lacking in evidence.

Amy Gillespie, writing in an individual capacity
Via timeshighereducation.co.uk

 

I have been riding the roller coaster of restructuring (ie, mass redundancies) for a number of years now. The methods used to identify staff for redundancy are crude and inaccurate, but the damage done to individuals and departments is immeasurable.

The majority of academics love their jobs, put in more hours than they are paid for and make a huge contribution to the UK economy and society. Is it really too much to ask to be treated fairly and with some degree of humanity by those in charge of our institutions?

Despite many conversations with numerous colleagues about restructurings/mass redundancies, I have yet to hear how any such changes bring any real benefit to the academic community. Most talk is of insecurity and the challenges of maintaining research and delivering adequate teaching in the current climate. I have to conclude that this cannot be good for higher education in the UK.

Watching events at King’s, I think it is clear that the staff and students are more than aware of the damage being done. I hope that those with the power to make the greatest difference (that is, those making the final decisions about staff cuts) will also begin to listen.

Beakerr
Via timeshighereducation.co.uk

 

I have a suggestion for Sir Rick Trainor, the principal and president of King’s, and his senior colleagues that could help to rescue the difficult situation in which they now find themselves, with astriking workforce and a hostile student body.

They maintain that redundancy of a significant proportion of their staff is a difficult decision but is the only way forward. They might convince people of their sincerity if they each took a step to free up funds for a few of those jobs by cutting their own pay to the level of the prime minister, which I gather is £140,000 a year. As someone who is on a high academic salary but well below this level, I can reassure them that it is possible to have a very comfortable and prosperous life on such an income.

This may save only a few of the jobs, but it would be very effective in convincing people that they did not take the redundancies lightly.

Dorothy Bishop
Via timeshighereducation.co.uk

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Reader's comments (1)

Although I sympathize with the protestors’ complaints about job cuts in the Schools of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the Institute of Psychiatry, it is striking that when, for instance, the Department of Philosophy at KCL makes several part-time teachers redundant, there is hardly a whisper of protest. Many of the part-time teachers in the Department of Philosophy have been teaching for quite a few years (in some cases, up to a decade), and as such have extremely valuable teaching experience. Students in the Department have protested the move, as it will damage the quality of their teaching, but the Department have refused to support their concerns. This lies at the intersection of two problems that should concern anyone who is dismayed at the state of our universities: (1) The casualization of academic labour (the Department of Philosophy's part-time teachers were on annual contracts, giving the Department a way to weasel out, by saying that contracts were simply "not being renewed"); (2) The privileging of research above teaching under all circumstances. It is particularly shocking that not a single member of the Department of Philosophy’s full-time staff has protested these redundancies, despite student dissatisfaction, given that (as regular readers of T.H.E. will recall) it was not so long ago that the students helped them to defend their jobs against an assault by KCL's management. Shame on all the staff who have kept quiet, safe in the knowledge that their own jobs are secure!

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