Managers accountable to no one 1

August 16, 2002

Birmingham University's restructuring plan has had serious consequences for the department of cultural studies and sociology and could well lead to injustices, some of which may be legally actionable ("Cheated students may sue," THES , August 9) and others which may contravene university statutes.

The claim that restructuring a renowned and financially buoyant department is justified on cost-cutting grounds is surely specious and evidence of arbitrary decision-making.

The university's failure to plan for the supervision of courses has already precipitated the alleged breach of contract with students. Staff may feel that they were coerced into "volunteering" for severance, which could lead to claims of constructive dismissal.

Universities have an obligation to support a broad academic curriculum, foster excellence in teaching and research, ensure fair employment practices and protect academic freedom.

This should involve adequate planning to meet contractual obligations to staff and students, transparency in organisational and financial decision-making and consultation with representative bodies. It should also involve a clear mechanism for a public inquiry where there are questions of academic or financial mismanagement. This restructuring reveals an absence of the most basic forms of accountability on the part of university managers.

Peter Redman
The Open University

Deborah Lynn Steinberg
University of Warwick

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