Leicester drops promotion of work by academics facing redundancy

Shortly after highlighting ‘game-changing’ study, tweet is pulled after critics point out the researchers involved could lose their jobs

March 12, 2021
Pet bearded dragon, pogona vitticeps, in a terrarium, with a dark background, eating a desert locust
Source: iStock

The University of Leicester was forced to delete a tweet promoting its “game-changing” research, after it was revealed that the academics who conducted the research were at risk of redundancy.

On 10 March, the university tweeted a link to a study by Leicester researchers on deciphering the genetic material of the desert locust. The research has been hailed as a breakthrough that could lead to the design of pesticides that more specifically or effectively control locusts, which are a massive threat to global food security.

However, many were quick to point out that the researchers who conducted the study are currently at risk of redundancy. The university then deleted the tweet.

Leicester has announced that 145 staff are at risk of losing their jobs, with a net reduction of 60 posts planned.

The university issued a press release about the “game-changing” locust research in November 2020, shortly before beginning a redundancy process that now means the researchers involved are in line to be made redundant or forced to apply for teaching-only posts.

David Harvie, the communications office of the Leicester branch of the University and College Union, who is also at risk of redundancy, said that it was “particularly insensitive of the university leadership to be celebrating the work of scholars that it’s in the process of making redundant”.

In a statement, Leicester said that “as a university, we have a diverse research profile and often share news and updates with our online community. We took the decision to delete this tweet to avoid causing upset after comments were made by a small group online.”

However, Dr Harvie said deleting the tweet “demonstrates the sheer incompetence by which [university management] are managing this entire process. Across the eight units at risk, we’re seeing many instances of this.”

The departments targeted for redundancies include the department of neuroscience, psychology and behaviour, where the locust researchers work, and the business school, where 16 members of research-active staff are due to be axed.

The university has come under fire for targeting academics who work in critical management studies in the business school, with critics seeing it as an attempt to eliminate critical scholarship of university business models.

A letter signed by more than 2,000 alumni, past employees, external examiners, and scholars said that the job cuts risked the “integrity of the school’s programmes and overall quality of its research”.

Leicester said that the changes “form part of the University of Leicester’s long-term strategic plans to ensure we can continue to build upon our strengths and successes”.

“The university has to manage its resources and its activity efficiently and effectively and in line with its strategic vision. Every institution has to have the autonomy to decide which areas of research activity it will invest in and support,” it said.

“This does not in any way conflict with academic freedom to pursue a specific research area, or a particular approach to research. We are currently within a confidential 90-day consultation period and engaging with staff affected by these proposals.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

Bumbling and incoherent management?
There's a similar article about the game-changing nature of the research on the University's website...which does not allow comments (https://le.ac.uk/news/2020/november/locusts). Deleting the tweet seems like a mechanism for controlling open responses, rather than a recognition that one should not boast about research one does not plan to further foster.

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