University of Birmingham curtails ties with local UCU

Move follows row over ‘shadow’ disciplinary panel set up in reaction to institution’s performance management

January 30, 2015

Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower, University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is to restrict its relations with the University and College Union in a row over a “shadow” disciplinary panel set up by the local branch

The university will limit its involvement with the UCU, claiming the decision by the union to create an independent panel to look at staff grievances over performance management – staffed entirely by UCU members - undermines a jointly agreed disciplinary process agreed by the Birmingham and the local branch in March 2013.

That agreement, which followed six months of negotiations, included the creation of procedures regarding performance management and measures to help underperforming staff, the university says.

But Birmingham’s UCU branch says it had decided to set up the panel after receiving several complaints over the “arbitrary and potentially unreasonable decisions being made by the university senior management with regard to performance management”.

It also says it worried about future performance management in light of last year’s research excellence framework after staff received emails from vice-chancellor Sir David Eastwood, in which he called the results “disappointing” and said there were “areas for improvement”.

“Given the record of Eastwood’s time as vice-chancellor to date, we do not anticipate a constructive approach to dealing with those ‘disappointments’ or towards those individuals considered by the university management to have under-performed in the REF,” the union’s website says.

It also says that “reassurances made by the university management…that there would be a more cooperative attitude by the University of Birmingham senior management, in terms of its approach to performance management, department restructuring, and redundancies  have so far not resulted in improved working conditions”.

The union voted in November to establish the independent disciplinary panel to investigate alleged misuse of performance management – a decision that was reaffirmed in a branch vote on 21 January, prompting the university’s break from UCU.

Adam Tickell, provost and vice-principal of the University of Birmingham, said it was “extremely regrettable that we have had to take this decision after a disciplinary process had been agreed by all sides”.

“The negotiations were conducted constructively and in good faith so it is hugely disappointing that we have had to revoke the Memorandum of Understanding because UCU have been unable to uphold its side of the negotiated agreement,” Professor Tickell added.

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