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Academic Board overwhelmingly critical of Statute 18 Reform: will they be ignored?

Dear UCU colleague,

We apologise for filling your inbox during the summer, but there have been important developments for your terms and conditions of employment at UCL.

Please see below 1) a summary of where the Statute 18 dispute is following the 10 July Academic Board meeting, and an explanation of the three key statute rights UCU is seeking to protect for staff, 2) a section debunking 3 myths that the Provost tried to press on the meeting, and 3) a detailed report of the meeting.

It is clear to the UCL UCU committee and many amongst the UCL community that management are in a precarious position with regard to their attempts to push through these damaging proposals. The opposition voiced by UCL UCU, the Students’ Union and the other campus unions has been roundly supported by the overwhelming criticism of the proposals at Academic Board and 255 Academic Board member (plus 5 Emeritus professors) who have signed the petition to extend the consultation to date. We would urge management to think and act carefully in order to avoid this escalating this dispute.

1) What has happened and why might the dispute escalate?

A special Academic Board meeting was held on 10 July to discuss proposals to reform Statute 18 - removing all key protections associated with Academic Freedom for academic staff. UCL UCU has consistently argued that this is an attack on staff terms and conditions of employment.

In summary (see detailed report), AB which was well attended, was overwhelmingly critical and negative of the management's proposals - with only one non-critical contribution. No motions were allowed to be ‘put’, but, when challenged as to the central role of AB in discussing any final/new proposals on Statute 18, the Provost responded “I have no intention of riding rough-shod over Academic Board”. In context, if this was said in good faith, this means that Academic Board must discuss any final/new proposal before they are put to UCL Council.

In light of this we urge management not to ignore the overwhelming critical response to the proposals and recognise that taking any final proposals to UCL Council on the 1st October would be seen as a direct challenge to the academic community and our terms and conditions of employment.

The current position is the following:

As outlined in a motion to AB, which was not allowed to be ‘put’, there are three "red lines" that any management proposal going forward to UCL Council must not cross without escalating this dispute: This would be any proposed change to Statute 18 that does not contain the following three elements:

  1. Retention of Redundancy Committee provisions, and any other hearing where the outcome may be dismissal, within Statute;
  2. Procedures for handling other complaints arising at other times on grounds of Academic Freedom to be retained within Statute;
  3. Retention in Statute of the right to legally qualified representatives in hearings.

It is perfectly compatible with keeping these protections that the Statute is updated and academic freedom rights be extended to staff not currently classified as 'academic'. If management's forthcoming proposals insist on deleting these elements of UCU members' terms and conditions of employment, then this will be an escalation of the dispute.

  • The Provost has not responded to the (ever-growing) petition to extend consultation period until 14 December.
  • Whilst the Provost said in front of Academic Board that he would not "ride rough-shod" over AB, no clear arrangements have been made for AB to see and discuss final/new proposals.
  • Both at this and the previous (well-attended) Academic Board meeting, the response to Statute 18 reform proposals was overwhelmingly and extremely critical.
  • It is still possible that the Provost will submit amended proposals (or even the current proposal) to Council at its next meeting, as originally planned, since he can now claim to have consulted with AB. However, that would a) mean “riding rough-shod” over the expressed overwhelming opinion of Academic Board on 10 July, and b) “riding rough-shod” over the wishes expressed by 255 members (26%) of Academic Board in the ongoing petition to extend the consultation. This would represent Council being placed at loggerheads with Academic Board - and a constitutional travesty for UCL.

Clearly the campaign is not solely focused on what happens (or not) at Academic Board, UCL UCU are about to submit a detailed counter proposal which will be put to management in writing very soon. This sets out what a model statute should look like, and highlights our three 'red lines' mentioned above.

When we have received a clear indication of the direction in which UCL management now propose to take their proposals, we will inform members. In the meantime, watch this space.

2) Further information and myth busting

Myth 1: A redundancy committee set up by and answering to UCL Council is a procedure we can do without.

A misguided attempt to cull 10% of all UCL academic staff by past Provost Chris Llewellyn Smith in 2001 was blocked on 3 separate occasions by Council, who on each occasion refused to set up a redundancy committee as Statute 18 requires for compulsory academic redundancies. The redundancies were averted and Llewellyn Smith eventually resigned as Provost. A prime example of how the statute protects academics against management raids.

Myth 2: Legal representation in UCL proceedings for academics is a "formalism" that it is not in staff interests to keep and staff have a right to legal representation anyway, if a dispute goes to an external employment tribunal.

While most disputes are resolved “in-house” with the help of your union, it is important that our statutes give you the right to legal representation in cases where internal resolution is not possible. Management claim that it is a cumbersome tool that is not necessary because lawyers are available at the stage of an employment tribunal. Yet management themselves admit that legal representation is rarely necessary, making it hard to argue credibly that it is a serious barrier to the ordinary efficient management of the university. Equally, the legal representation available in an external employment tribunal (i.e., one taking place outside UCL) is no substitute as the overwhelming majority of successful cases rarely bring reinstatement. In truth, management want your right to legal representation at UCL out of the way precisely because it does offer a qualitatively higher level of protection to academic staff. The Provost has claimed that legal representation leads to confrontational situations and that academics “would not like to be cross-examined by lawyers”. This is, however, a choice that academics should be allowed to make for themselves. As difficult as it may be, like in all other areas of life, it sometimes becomes a necessary recourse without which academics would be in a weaker position.

Myth 3: The majority of other Russell Group Universities are carrying out this reform of model statutes" and nothing bad has happened as a result.

Some Russell Group Universities have changed their statutes but none of them are going as far as UCL in ripping out established rights. Most of them, like Manchester, Birmingham, Southampton, and so on, have retained protections in their redundancy procedures in the form of ordinances. UCL is proposing no such protections. Other universities, like Aberdeen, are also doing this in genuine consultation and negotiation with the campus trade unions, in marked contrast to UCL. At the LSE a attempt to railroad through reform was stopped by academics and there the consultation has been extended indefinitely. We say UCL is right to look at what happens at other universities, but it has to look properly and not just wave the word "reform" around. The lessons from comparable universities are that UCL is approaching this issue in a crude and confrontational way. We already know where this could go. At KCL, the loss of statutory protections resulted in a messy public industrial dispute, while Oxford and Cambridge, academic bodies have derailed management plans completely, for similar reasons to those articulated by academics here. We say UCL should learn the lessons of the sector and negotiate with unions and the academic community to make sure it gets this right.

If you are a member of Academic Board and would like to add your name to the petition to extend the period of consultation please drop us an email: ucu@ucl.ac.uk

For more information visit: www.ucl.ac.uk/unions/ucu/campaigns/statute
Follow us on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DefendStatute18
and Twitter: @savestatute18

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3) Appendix (link)

REPORT FROM SPECIAL ACADEMIC BOARD ON STATUTE 18 REFORM (10/07/2012)

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