Union counters job losses and cuts with strike ballot

Turmoil at LCC heightens fear over 'efficiencies' at the University of the Arts. Rebecca Attwood reports

May 13, 2010

Staff at the University of the Arts London are being balloted on strike action after news of a "significant" overspend, the suspension of the dean of media and claims that staff are working in a "climate of fear".

The university has cut its costs by £7 million in the current academic year and plans to save a further £4 million next year.

In the first phase of its "efficiency" programme, 101 staff were put on an "at risk" list, including employees who face the prospect of compulsory redundancy. In December, a further 62 staff were told that they were at risk, of whom five have been served with formal notice of redundancy.

A total of 16 courses at the London College of Communication have closed to new entrants as part of the restructuring. In the latest development, Julian Rodriguez, dean of the Faculty of Media at the LCC, was suspended following allegations of gross misconduct.

The university declined to comment on the matter. However, staff told Times Higher Education that the dean was known as an "upright, committed, enterprising and efficient" manager, and said that his departure had contributed to a "climate of fear" at the college.

Russell Merryman, who joined the LCC as a senior lecturer in online journalism last year, has been appointed acting dean of the faculty.

The university said the appointment had been made on a temporary basis to ensure that the faculty was "effectively managed" while Mr Rodriguez was suspended.

Last month, Sandra Kemp, head of the LCC, wrote a letter to staff detailing a "significant" overspend on the faculty's budget for associate lecturers.

Professor Kemp says in the letter that she has commissioned a "detailed interrogation" of all media associate-lecturer contracts and instructed payroll to pay associate lecturers only for the hours worked before 30 April.

She says there is a need to "take stock of how we might best reconcile associate-lecturer commitments given the budget overspends".

In a statement, Professor Kemp says that all existing contracts will be honoured and payments will be made for work already undertaken.

Meanwhile, Gary Naylor, the Faculty of Media's associate dean, will leave his post on 17 May after nearly 20 years at the institution.

An LCC spokeswoman said Mr Naylor was leaving due to ill health. His departure was agreed before the suspension of the dean and was unrelated to the matter, she said.

The developments are contributing to an ongoing period of turbulence at the LCC.

Last year, Paul Simpson, course director of the BA in public relations, resigned after raising concerns about the lack of teaching support available for students.

Students on the course wrote to THE in November to say that they had not had access to a personal tutor since the start of term.

The University and College Union branch at the University of the Arts said it is balloting members on both strike action and action short of a strike. The union has asked the institution for a review of course closures, an agreed protocol for future course reviews, the withdrawal of compulsory redundancy notices, and "a properly negotiated and fair" redundancy agreement.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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