Staff angered by proposed open-plan site

Academics say they and students will suffer under move at Leeds Met, writes Melanie Newman

June 12, 2008

Plans to move two schools at Leeds Metropolitan University into open-plan offices have prompted staff complaints.

The schools of social science and of cultural studies are to move to a new campus development, Broadcasting Place, the former site of the BBC headquarters in Leeds.

But in a letter to Chris Bailey, dean of the faculty of arts and society, the management team in the School of Social Science complain that the move will have a negative impact on staff and students.

"Given the numbers of students and staff, the requirement for office hours, the necessity for private conversations which deal with both personal and academic difficulties and development," open-plan offices would be unsuitable, the letter says.

"The research, thinking and writing of major works is not best undertaken in open-plan accommodation," it adds. Staff are likely to work off campus more frequently as a result, the team suggest.

Open-plan offices have met resistance elsewhere. At Nottingham Trent University last year, a £130 million regeneration programme caused gripes. One lecturer said open-plan offices made it "impossible to think, write, exchange ideas". At the University of Sussex, the £10 million Freeman Centre prompted union complaints about "noise distraction" and a "lack of privacy".

Leeds Met's 2007 estates strategy document says most academic staff would move to open-plan offices. Each member is allocated 7.5 square metres, which is described as "at the generous edge". Depending on need, "staff can be allocated into a smaller footprint", the document adds.

Simon Lee, the vice-chancellor, made an oblique reference to the protests in his "VC reflects" column on the Leeds Met website on 28 May. Referring to the departing head of the School of Cultural Studies, Gordon Johnston, Professor Lee said Dr Johnston had emphasised "the importance of managing transitions professionally, with good humour".

Professor Lee said: "This applies equally to those continuing in the university's employment, valuing our heritage but adjusting to new contexts, such as Broadcasting Place next year. So not only those colleagues intending to leave but those who wish to stay, or who are not sure whether they are, so to speak, coming or going, can learn from Gordon and friends to appreciate that it is time for a change."

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