Liverpool Philosophers Object to Planned Layoffs at University, Call for Support


The members of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool have authored a letter in support of the actions being taken by their union in response to planned layoffs (redundancies) of colleagues in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

While the Department of Philosophy has not been targeted in the latest round of redundancies, they write, “these redundancy proposals, and especially the disreputable manner in which individuals have been targeted for redundancy, should be greatly alarming to academics across all universities and disciplines.”

Here’s the letter:

We are members of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool. We belong to a branch of the University and College Union (UCU) that is currently undertaking industrial action in response to redundancy threats against colleagues in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences (HLS). The way in which these redundancy proposals have been drawn up and pursued would, if it came to be regarded as acceptable outside our University, have severely detrimental consequences for the working conditions of academics in the UK.

This is a plea for support.

47 colleagues in Health and Life Sciences were originally targeted for redundancy under ‘Project SHAPE’. We share our union’s view that the University has, during this redundancy process, blatantly abused research metrics and that it has deployed inappropriate grant income thresholds to ‘rank and yank’ academic staff. UCU models demonstrate that >50% of Russell Group staff in matched disciplinary areas would not meet these redundancy criteria. Please see further: https://ulivucunews.org.uk/project-shape-redundancies/flawed-selection-criteria-for-redundancies/.

We believe that these redundancy proposals, and especially the disreputable manner in which individuals have been targeted for redundancy, should be greatly alarming to academics across all universities and disciplines. The redundancies at Liverpool, if allowed to go through, would set a dangerous, intellectually indefensible, and unjust precedent for dismissing academics on the basis of inappropriate citation metrics and crude grant-capture statistics. Furthermore, the deeply flawed criteria that management at Liverpool is attempting to apply ‘perpetuate research and higher education barriers for women and minoritised groups and those with caring responsibilities’ (https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/metrics-are-clearly-weaponised-against-psychology).

Our industrial action against the redundancy proposals is democratically mandated, under legal statutes that place high demands on unions before industrial action can proceed. Our ballot had a 59.8% turnout, with 83.7% voting in favour of strike action and 90.3% in favour of Action Short of a Strike (ASOS). This was the largest ballot turnout in the history of the branch.

Our industrial action has included working to contract as part of ASOS since 10th May. From 24th May, there were three weeks of continuous strike action. The number of colleagues under threat of redundancy has now been reduced to 21. Nevertheless, management at the University has continued to employ redundancy criteria that UCU members, and >60 full professors in HLS who have written to our University’s Council, regard as deeply flawed and unethical: https://www.hls47.co.uk/new-tab/.

The highly regrettable industrial dispute in which we are now involved would probably have been avoided had management accepted our union’s requests to go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS, https://www.acas.org.uk). UCU requested in writing that both parties agree to seek the assistance of ACAS in resolving the dispute on 27th January. This was declined by management in writing on 29th January. UCU reiterated this request on 3rd February during collective consultation. This was declined again. Management at the University has not made its reasons for not going to ACAS clear, stating only that it ‘does not consider it appropriate to engage the services of ACAS’ (https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/11349/Outrage-as-University-of-Liverpool-threatens-health-and-life-science-jobs-during-pandemic). Collective consultation with UCU was ended by management during the three-week strike.

Since 18th June, UCU has been undertaking an assessment and marking boycott as part of ASOS. Our employer’s response has been to dock 100% of the pay of those UCU members who are participating in this boycott. Shockingly, the employer describes this 100% pay docking as ‘proportionate and necessary’ (https://news.liverpool.ac.uk/2021/06/17/important-information-about-the-ucu-assessment-and-marking-boycott). The employer insists that any work that we do for the University while participating in the boycott will be voluntary, unpaid work. The employer only made this statement at 4pm on 17th June, without providing us with any clarity at all as to the practical details of how this highly punitive, union-bashing measure is supposed to work. Punitive actions have continued since, with many union members reporting that they feel intimidated by management communications during this time. In addition, members of staff in many departments, including our own, who have been participating in the industrial action have now had their annual leave requests rejected, apparently regardless of whether they had already taken the statutory minimum amount of holidays.

We call on the wider academic community to aid us in persuading, and putting pressure upon, senior management at the University of Liverpool to revoke the redundancy plans under Project SHAPE. In the face of the extreme and aggressive tactics against organized labour at our institution, we call on the wider academic community to support our industrial action and our union branch.

We would greatly appreciate your support in this very grave situation. Ways in which you could help us and our colleagues include the following.

Thank you for considering supporting us in this distressing and important dispute.

1st July 2021

Dr John Adams, University Teacher
Thomas Brown, Ph.D. student
Dr Rebecca Davnall, Lecturer
Harry Drummond, Ph.D. student
Dr Lucy Frith, Reader
Dr Katherine Furman, Lecturer
Dr Nikolaos Gkogkas, Lecturer
Professor Simon Hailwood
Dr Daniel Hill, Senior Lecturer
Dr Jan Jobling, Lecturer
Zishan Khawaja, Ph.D. student
Dr Robin McKenna, Lecturer
Dr Stephen McLeod, Senior Lecturer
Dr Elias Markolefas, University Teacher
Dr Vid Simoniti, Lecturer
Lauren Stephens, PhD Student
Jack Symes, Ph.D. student
Paul Taylor, Ph.D student
Dr Panayiota Vassilopoulou, Reader
Dr Elizabeth Ventham, Postdoctoral Research Associate
Dr Rachael Wiseman, Senior Lecturer

The letter is also available here.

(via Robin McKenna)

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