Botched email reveals names of university staff facing redundancy

Winchester apologises after putting address details in ‘to’ or ‘cc’ fields, not ‘bcc’

March 8, 2019
Man throws paper

An email with information about job losses at the University of Winchester mistakenly revealed the identity of all those at risk of redundancy.

A message from human resources that should have been blind-copied to those who could face redundancy at the university instead put the email addresses in the “to” or “cc” field, revealing the entire list of staff in the pool.

One Winchester academic who received the email told Times Higher Education that staff “were really, really shocked at the sudden release of all the names of those at risk of redundancy and appalled at this amateurish action”.

“Now we have all seen the list it’s clear that it is not full groupings of staff as we thought but a scattergun approach, which is terribly unsettling, as this might only be the first of several waves,” they said. “Also, of course we can all see who is not listed and wonder why. Morale is really low.”

In a follow-up email, seen by THE, Malcolm Willis, director of human resources at Winchester, apologised “unreservedly” for the data breach. “Although it was an honest mistake, this is completely unacceptable and management action has been taken,” he said.

The university has confirmed it is looking to reduce between 30 and 40 full-time equivalent posts across the institution and that 112 members of staff received the email. 

A Winchester spokeswoman said that “an email was sent to all members of staff put at risk which contained some generic ‘frequently asked questions’ about the [redundancy] scheme. Unfortunately, email addresses of other recipients were in the ‘to’ rather than the ‘bcc’ field. We are taking the matter very seriously and action has already been taken to deal with this situation. We are incredibly sorry for any distress this may have caused to those involved.”

The spokeswoman added: “Like many other institutions within the higher education sector, the university is having to rebalance staffing. We hope to secure these [redundancies] by voluntary means, through offering voluntary severance terms to staff in identified areas.”

The university declined to say which areas of the university were under threat, but a petition has been launched to “save” lecturers at the Faculty of the Arts. The petition says that to “our understanding 10 lecturers from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Winchester are being made redundant by July”. At the time of going to press, the petition had 669 signatures.

A spokesman for the University and College Union said Winchester has “failed to make a sound case for these types of cuts and we want assurances that alternative options will be properly explored. Universities must avoid knee-jerk cuts and we want to see the consultation period extended here to provide staff with some breathing space and to allow the university to step back and work with the unions to explore all other avenues.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

A previous employer of mine did this, but in an email to staff who were being made redundant inviting them to a ‘thanks for everything’ farewell lunch. We weren’t impressed, either at the data breach or the ‘kind’ invitation. It was swiftly cancelled, as you can imagine.

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