Last Friday, the Head of School in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (SBCS) – the department currently threatened with massive restructuring and the loss of over a quarter of academic staff – tried to stop staff speaking about the restructuring to their students, citing an unspecified number of student complaints. UCU has responded forcefully to this attempt to intimidate our members into silence. Below we reproduce the email and our response.
From: Matthew Evans < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Date: 10 February 2012 15:47:33 GMT
Subject: LOBBYING STUDENTS
I have been approached by a number of our students who have expressed distress and concern that some staff have been using lecture and contact time to express their views on the restructure to students. The students have not specified which members of staff have used contact time in this way. It is for this reason that I am, with great regret, having to send this note to all staff, rather than being able to discuss the matter only with those staff involved.
I do recognise that this is a very difficult time for everyone, whether directly affected by the proposals or not. I have opened numerous channels for discussion and expression of views and opinions, as well as using the normal route of consultation with staff representatives. Those channels remain open. I have also made sure that students have been fully informed of the proposals and have the opportunity to ask questions and express their views. I appreciate that students may of course, during lectures, ask questions regarding the proposals. I would please ask that in this event, you remind them that there are forums available for them; specifically they can contact me directly or alternatively can feed their views and/or questions to me via the Student Union.
Whatever views individual members of staff may have, I am sure that you will understand that it is not appropriate to use timetabled contact time with students in this way. I am sure I can rely on all staff to make sure that this does not reoccur.
The channels for discussion and expression of views remain open and I am happy to see any member of staff who feels they have views that they have not yet expressed.
With thanks for your understanding and patience.
Our response, sent on Monday 13 February 2012:
- We consider this a totally unacceptable attempt to intimidate staff into silence on a matter that affects the School and its students very dramatically.
- Lecturers are free to say whatever they like to their students, as part of academic freedom, regardless of whether managers care for it or not.
- Lecturers are not “lobbying” students. They are informing them about what is happening to their school. Students deserve to know what is going on.
- Managers possess a virtual monopoly on channels of formal communication with students and deliberately excluded staff from a meeting with students about the restructuring. One of the few means by which lecturers can inform students about what is happening is in lectures. “Contact time” is not being sacrificed at any significant length when lecturers briefly inform students about what is happening. The real sacrifice of education would be if management proposals were enacted.
- How many students actually complained about this practice? We suspect it is close to zero. By contrast, over 100 students have joined a campaign group to oppose the restructuring and want to raise awareness of the threat to their School, recognising that many first and second year students in particular are totally unaware of what is happening.* It is they who are asking staff about what is happening, rather than staff who are whipping up the students.
* The figure is now over 160.