The University and College Union has today announced what it called an “international boycott” of Goldsmiths in a row over planned redundancies – leading the university to warn the union that such a move would harm “struggling” local communities.
Bestowing what it described as “the ultimate sanction of a global academic boycott”, UCU said it strongly opposed the plan by the university to sack up to 46 staff using what the union calls “rank and yank” tactics.
‘Rank and yank’ is the name given to a process whereby an employer grades staff based on metrics like research outputs to sack those that appear least productive – but some criticise the strategy for disadvantaging researchers with young families, caring responsibilities or mental or physical health problems.
However, Goldsmiths says the savings created by the planned redundancies are vital for its financial stability, and argues that UCU has snubbed its offer of talks.
The union is asking its 140,000 members in HE and FE – and allied unions in other countries – to refuse “to speak at or organise academic or other conferences and events (with Goldsmiths or involving Goldsmiths)”. This censure also includes refusing non-research-based partnerships, academic journal invitations and contracts offered by Goldsmiths. Similar tactics were used by UCU against Leicester and Liverpool Universities during their reported usage of ‘rank and yank’ redundancy plans.
UCU members recently concluded three-week strike action over the planned job cuts. Most recent figures show Goldsmiths has a £6.5 million underlying deficit. The union says the plan to sack staff follows “financial mismanagement” by senior university leaders, which has led it to strike a deal with two banks that may have facilitated the need to rapidly cut costs.
We are calling on academics throughout the world to join us in boycotting the university until management cancel the compulsory redundancies – Jo Grady, UCU
The deals with Lloyds and NatWest amend terms of existing loans of £12.5m, and grant access to new short-term loans worth £5m and £7m, according to university accounts – albeit the university has yet to draw upon one. In return, local union leaders allege, the university has promised to keep within new rules on spending, thus necessitating a plan for redundancies.
The union claims that seven jobs apiece are under threat in two departments: English and creative writing, and history. Thirty-two professional services and support positions are also under threat.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The leadership at Goldsmiths have not only disastrously mismanaged the university but are now using disgraceful rank and yank tactics to get rid of staff. It is little wonder staff and students at Goldsmiths are all united in opposing these shameful cuts.
“UCU will not stand by whilst management threatens the academic integrity of the institution and try to make students and staff pay the price for catastrophic failures of governance. It is very simple for university managers to end this dispute: they need to work with us to save jobs, protect academic standards and build a university to be proud of once again.
“It is rare for UCU to call for a global academic boycott, and doing so reflects the seriousness of the situation. We are calling on academics throughout the world to join us in boycotting the university until management cancel the compulsory redundancies.”
None of the submissions to our recent collective consultation suggested viable alternative proposals which would deliver the savings needed by 2023 – Goldsmiths
However, reacting to the UCU announcement, a spokesperson for Goldsmiths said: “Overall, Goldsmiths needs to save £9m in ongoing spend over the next two years to put the College back on a sustainable financial footing. Unfortunately our English and Creative Writing and History departments have been unable to meet their savings targets, leaving a joint shortfall of £841,000.
“None of the submissions to our recent collective consultation suggested viable alternative proposals which would deliver the savings needed by 2023. This means a number of academics within English and Creative Writing and History remain at risk of redundancy. We will continue to support and advise those affected and work to minimise the number of redundancies across the College.
“The real losers from any ‘global boycott’ are likely to be our local communities. Such a move threatens to undermine our work with local partners and will only damage communities in the Lewisham area struggling to recover from the pandemic and risks depriving local young people of the chance to learn new skills and discover new opportunities.
“Goldsmiths has repeatedly invited Goldsmiths UCU to join the College at ACAS for talks with no pre-conditions on either side to help find a shared way forward. So far this offer has been rejected but we remain ready to meet.
“The collective consultation on our Academic Portfolio Review, which ran from 12 October to 3 December 2021, has closed and all submissions have been carefully considered.
“The proposals do not include the immediate closure of any courses currently being taught and include continuing to teach Creative Writing, Black British and Caribbean literature, Black British History and Queer Studies. The Goldsmiths Prize was not included in these proposals.
“All current students will continue to be taught on their existing programmes to achieve their learning outcomes.
“Our latest accounts show Goldsmiths has a reported deficit of £12.7 million and an underlying deficit of £6.5m, which are unsustainable. We will suffer from government funding cuts of £2m a year from 2022, ongoing impacts from Covid-19 which has already cost us £10m, a fall in student numbers in some subjects, and we have to prepare for further financial shocks in 2022.
“With staff costs of £90.4m a year and our income having fallen 4.8% in the last two years unfortunately it is it is vital that we make further savings so we can reduce the deficit, move back into surplus, and return the College to a sustainable financial footing.
“Goldsmiths remains committed to working in partnership with local organisations and communities as a vital anchor institution for our home borough of Lewisham, one of England’s poorest areas. Our activities generate £91m for Lewisham, supporting 2,500 jobs in the borough and a total of 3,600 jobs in London.”
Photo: © UCU Goldsmiths
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