To the attention of Professor Colin Bailey, Queen Mary President and Principal, and of the Queen Mary Senior Executive Team
QUEEN MARY STUDENTS AND STAFF CALLING FOR A ‘TOWN HALL’ MEETING ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY’S RESPONSE TO COVID-19 AND TO INSTITUTIONAL RACISM
We, employees and students at Queen Mary University of London, came together on 15 June 2020 to share our concerns with our Senior Executive Team’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak and with its consequences for our sector, and to present a collective response and series of demands.
Senior Management’s response to the crisis has affected us all. They have refused to furlough hundreds of student staff, leaving them with little or no income, despite the Students’ Union being eligible for the scheme. Hundreds of casualised workers at Queen Mary face redundancy in the coming months. Facilities staff were asked to return to work before seeing evidence that it was safe to do so, and without being told that it was optional to do so. Students have been moved from their rooms into crowded and sometimes unsanitary flats in QMUL residences. Indebted students have, in some cases, also been forced to continue paying for student accommodation they can no longer enter. Permanent staff are facing dangerous levels of stress and overwork by being burdened with the teaching work of their former casualised colleagues. PhD students have been left without funding extensions and, in many cases, any other form of income. Existing inequalities based on race, gender, class, disability and age have worsened and put many of us at substantially higher risk today. This was made even more apparent by Senior Management’s totally inappropriate response to the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Senior Management has not engaged in any meaningful consultation with us in their response to the COVID-19 crisis, nor have they in response to the structural racism that reproduces itself within our University, and with which the pandemic is intimately connected. We have tried to communicate our concerns through every possible channel; in response we have been patronised, dismissed, and ignored. In some cases, the channels of communication have been cut off altogether.
On 15 June we, academic and non-academic staff, postgraduate and undergraduate students, unionised or not, came together to attest that:
● We endorse the demands of all the campaigns and struggles represented at the Assembly and listed below.
● We collectively consider that the Senior Management’s response to all these issues has been wholly inadequate.
● Ultimately, we are Queen Mary. It is our labour, participation and goodwill that make our University work. The campuses cannot reopen without us. The research and teaching ‘ excellence’ that our Senior Management relies on to attract students and staff to Queen Mary is the product of our hard work. The decisions made by Senior Management prevent all of us from constructing a safe and inclusive environment, from providing the quality teaching and research we are committed to, and from embracing the learning opportunities and critical freedom a university should enable. Unless Senior Management listens and responds to our demands, we believe the institution will be unable to face the challenges ahead.
In light of this, we demand our Senior Executive Team sets up an open town hall meeting within two weeks, at which the President and Principal is present, in which we can address all of the issues raised here directly, and which will give us the opportunity to talk on an equal footing. At this town hall, speakers from across our community will bring their experiences and knowledge about these different issues.
In the light of the presentations of these issues and the recommendations made, Senior Management will have the opportunity to relate what the University is doing regarding these issues, what it is not yet doing, and what it commits to do for the future. The demands and the recommendations that will be made by our community will particularly be aimed at making progress on:
● How to tackle institutional racism and decolonise our university’s employment and teaching practices;
● How to make the governance and finances of our institution more democratic, accountable and inclusive;
● How to fight against casualisation and to improve the quality of the teaching and research and work taking place on our campuses in a way that respects the rights and ensures the livelihoods of the workers and students, especially the most vulnerable among us;
● How to ensure a safe return to campus, as well as the respect of the rights of workers and students in the COVID-19 context, whether working or studying on or off campus.
We would also like to highlight that we all endorse the concerns and the work of the following groups and initiatives:
● The British Medical Association (BMA), relentlessly working to protect the doctors and the community fighting Covid-19;
● Decolonise QMUL and The African and Caribbean Society (ACS) for their work on the totally inadequate response of our Senior Management to the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement and issues of structural racism within our university;
● The authors of the ‘ Can you hear’ letter (from the School of History), who confronted our Senior Management on its responsibility in the reproduction of systemic and institutional racism in our institution, and who have organised and mobilised to survive and resist the racism proliferating on our campuses;
● The Queen Mary Students’ Union, who tirelessly work to protect undergraduates and postgraduate students across all faculties at Queen Mary who, facing highly precarious financial situations, may have to take on extra work to pay their rent and their fees, and/or who have been forced to continue paying for student accommodation they can no longer enter;
● The #QMFurloughNow campaign, for its efforts to demand that student staff have their wages underwritten at the same level they would have received on the CJRS using the government formula for zero hours workers;
● The QMUL PhD Pandemic Organising Group, who are demanding the only form of furlough available to postgraduate researchers (PGRs), 6-month funded blanket extensions for all PGR students at Queen Mary;
● The #CoronaContract campaign, mobilising and campaigning to secure the livelihoods of thousands of casualised university and college staff across the UK;
● The #CoronaContract Permanent Staff Pledge to support casualised staff, mobilising permanent staff to show solidarity with casualised staff and to resist the reallocation of work away from casualised colleagues to permanent staff;
● The QM branches of UNISON and UNITE, working to protect the rights and the health and safety of the workers providing essential services to the running of our University, and to protect their rights to carry over annual leave;
● The QM branch of the University and College Union (UCU), working to protect the rights and the health and safety of people working in HE;
● The joint Unions’ concern with the way Senior Management is approaching the redrafting of their grievance policy.
We thank you for your attention, and look forward to your reply.
Queen Mary’s students and staff
This statement was formulated during an open
meeting gathering over 230 participants, and
co-hosted by the Queen Mary Students’ Union
and the joint Trade Unions at Queen Mary (Unite,
Unison and QMUCU). Participants included both
staff and students, coming from the three Queen
Mary faculties (Science and Engineering, Medicine
and Dentistry, and Humanities and Social Sciences),
and from a very diverse range of both academic and
professional service departments across campus.