Sheffield academics baulk at HR chief’s sacking threat

Scholars dismayed by suggestion that those not deemed ‘excellent academics’ will lose their jobs

February 27, 2014

Academics at the University of Sheffield have expressed dismay at a suggestion by the institution’s director of human resources that those who don’t fit a new definition of the “excellent academic” will be sacked.

The comments from Andrew Dodman appeared in January in the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s People Management magazine, and were highlighted to staff at Sheffield by the University and College Union.

The article examines the implementation of the Sheffield Academic Statement: a document released in 2010 that sets out “the mix of qualities and responsibilities that distinguish the Sheffield academic”. In the article, Mr Dodman says its evolution was “presented as academics talking to academics, although a lot of the thinking and groundwork was done by us in HR”.

The statement has prompted the development of a new system of performance management at Sheffield. In the article, Mr Dodman says one big challenge is “what to do with people who have tried and tried but are just never going to be exceptional”. “We will do what we can to find people a role where they can excel but, if they can’t, then I think they will have to leave the organisation,” he says.

Craig Brandist, vice-president of Sheffield’s UCU branch, said the interview had caused considerable dismay among UCU members. “Mr Dodman’s quotations may have been somewhat unguarded but follow exactly the path the university has been on,” he said.

The union – which must be consulted on the details of any new performance management system – would “resist the imposition of extrinsic targets and metrics at the expense of professional standards”. “What does come as a surprise [in the letter] is the new system’s systematic nature and the apparent contempt for academics and their right to be consulted,” he added.

Mr Dodman said: “As Times Higher Education’s own Best University Workplace Survey recently showed, Sheffield is building a reputation as one of the best employers in the sector…we treat people well and also are ambitious about institution, team and individual performance.”

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

Success 6 cm long. Photo well chosen! If academics don't succeed in claiming back the decision-making processes in the UK universities, expect disaster a few decades down the line.
It's meaningless isn't it? If everyone is excelling, what are you judging them by?
In some places, HR is there to do the dirty job of lynching whoever is disliked by some HoD or pro vice chancellor. They build fake evidence and run farcical procedures, helped in this by the UK law, the "balance of probability" and other tricks that do not exist in any other country. The places where words like "exceptional" are abused, are sometimes the most mediocre. It would be also interesting to know what entitles this HR "leader" to pontificate about academic performance. Academics are selected on a world basis, while the HR brains are often local people with average education and no working experience farther than 50 miles from home.

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