Summertime, but living's not easy for staff facing the chop

July 23, 2009

It was meant to be a light-hearted summer send-off from the musical vice-chancellor of City University London, but a song evoking images of easy living has provoked the ire of staff living in the shadow of redundancy.

In a memo titled "Summertime", Malcolm Gillies, a professor of music, told staff: "I wish you happy summer holidays. Thanks for your work for the university during this difficult year. Remember George Gershwin's 'Summertime/ And the livin' is easy/ Fish are jumpin'/ And the cotton is high/ Your daddy's rich/ And your mama's good lookin'/ So hush little baby/ Don't you cry.' If you are leaving the university on 31 July, I thank you for all you have given to us and wish you well."

On the date in question, staff selected for redundancy under a process affecting 63 jobs in City's information services, human resources and finance departments plus City Law School will depart the university for good.

A further consultation that will affect the institution's engineering and maths departments has just begun.

"Within a few minutes of the email going out, I'd received complaints from staff affected by the redundancy rounds," said a University and College Union representative at City. "It was insensitive."

The song referred to by Professor Gillies was composed by Gershwin, the American composer and pianist, for his 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.

Another academic at the institution said that even a light-hearted reference to easy living in an email to staff facing an uncertain future was "inhumane".

A City spokeswoman said: "Musical references or well-known phrases are a regular feature of Malcolm's monthly newsletter. 31 July refers to our academic and financial year's end, when many staff contracts come to end.

"Malcolm wanted to send those staff leaving us at this time his best wishes and thanks for all they have done for the university."

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