5 things you need to know about the Goldsmiths marking boycott

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  1. Goldsmiths wants to sack hundreds of staff, disproportionately affecting BAME, women and younger academics.

Frances Corner, Warden of Goldsmiths, is threatening to sack hundreds of lecturers and professional staff by making at least £6 million of job cuts. BAME staff, women and young academics will be hit the hardest. GUCU, the Goldsmiths lecturers’ union, is asking Frances Corner to pause these plans and guarantee no jobs cuts for two years. 

GUCU has made alternative proposals on how the college can save money, including selling expensive properties and building on Goldsmiths’ strong potential for growth. So far, all these suggestions have been ignored, leaving lecturers no choice but to launch a marking boycott to save their jobs and protect Goldsmiths.

Lecturers are willing to negotiate on their demands, but so far Frances Corner is sticking to her disastrous plan. 

  1. The lowest-paid academics are most at risk.

Figures from 2019 showed that associate lecturers (ALs) did 40% of the teaching at Goldsmiths, including the majority of seminar teaching, for only 7% of the total pay budget. These lecturers on temporary contracts are most at risk of being sacked. 

In the summer, Frances Corner announced she would not automatically renew the contracts of 472 lecturers on temporary contracts. Campaigning forced the university to renew many AL contracts, but hundreds of colleagues lost their jobs. These are hourly paid academics, many of whom are paid only £2-3k per year.

Why is Frances Corner threatening the livelihoods of the most precarious academics when this will result in poorer learning conditions for students?

  1. Goldsmiths is hitting BAME workers and women the hardest.

These cuts will hit BAME lecturers, young academics and women hardest. We know that academics from these groups are more likely to be on temporary contracts, and so are more vulnerable to being sacked. 

Goldsmiths has failed to carry out a full equalities assessment to determine how badly workers from disadvantaged groups will be affected by its plans, but numbers from 2020 show that in some areas, up to 75% of academics who faced losing their jobs were BAME. The majority were women. Goldsmiths Anti Racist Action (GARA), along with black academics in the Art department, have recently accused senior management of failing to address its problems with racism.

Now Goldsmiths has said that lecturers taking part in the marking boycott won’t be getting furlough pay to allow them to work from home. This spiteful move will hit women hardest, and may go against equalities law. 

Why is Frances Corner, who markets herself and Goldsmiths as progressive, feminist and anti-racist, targeting BAME and female staff in this way? Or is that image just a marketing gimmick?

  1. Goldsmiths doesn’t care about its staff or students.

Frances Corner promised students face-to-face teaching during the pandemic when it was clear this would neither be safe nor realistic. Later, she forced staff and encouraged students to return to an unsafe campus. Many students ended up locked down in halls of residence, paying full rent with little support received. Now, she is refusing to meet the demands of both students asking for rent reductions and staff asking for a pause in job cuts. 

The increased workload on the remaining staff will also lead to worsened learning conditions and courses being cut. Who does this benefit? Why is Frances Corner focused on pushing through damaging cuts rather than keeping students and staff safe and secure?

  1. Students and staff can win better treatment through collective action.

Students at Manchester University went on rent strike in autumn 2020 and won a 30% rent reduction from university management. Lecturers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh voted to strike over management plans to cut 100 jobs; the university withdrew the cuts and the jobs were saved. 

Students and staff can win if they support each other and oppose Frances Corner’s plans to cut jobs and centralise control. Support the rent strikes! Support the marking boycott!

Justice for Workers is holding a week long virtual picket, 1st-5th March. Sign up here to take part

Goldsmiths Dispute Autumn Update

Casualisation, coronavirus and KPMG: a perfect storm is brewing at Goldsmiths

The new academic year at Goldsmiths is about to begin, amidst a backdrop of redundancies (compulsory and voluntary), concerns over senior management (SMT) compelling workers to return to risky face to face teaching and the questionable role of accountants KPMG in a proposed “recovery plan” for the university. The challenges faced by Goldsmiths’ casualised academics, who led an inspiring wildcat marking boycott throughout June 2020, are of fundamental importance to this new context. This most precarious group of teaching staff faced down a hiring freeze at the outset of the pandemic, and are now likely to be delivering face to face teaching, while remaining at risk to further cuts proposed by KPMG. The lessons learned from the action of casualised academics in the face of callous and short-sighted decisions by SMT in the early summer, are now crucial to challenging the current cross-Goldsmiths context of a looming health and safety catastrophe, workload crisis and “recovery plan”. 

Back in July, as associate lecturers (ALs) and academics on fixed term contracts (FTCs) ended their unofficial action and Goldsmiths UCU members voted overwhelmingly to move towards an official dispute with the university, the concessions achieved by the action were significant. These included commitments that ALs would be re-hired, payments for additional hours worked during lockdown and protection from disciplinary action or loss of pay for boycotting workers. It remained clear however that amidst the stress and precarity of casualisation, the real threat of the mass job losses remained. Subsequent events have borne out that fear. 

A reminder: in the spring, SMT indicated that they planned to lay off 472 casualised academics. The vocal and sustained action of casualised staff and their permanent comrades in GUCU shifted management’s calculations, and better than projected students numbers means that many casualised staff have been offered work for 2020/21. Yet it is a mixed picture across Goldsmiths, with some departments facing programme closures and many casualised contracts allowed to expire (the economistic metrics Goldsmiths uses to judge the “contribution” of different degree courses means some departments are in a much worse position than others). There has no doubt been an overall reduction in staffing levels which will mean increased workload for remaining staff (many of whom have barely had a break this summer), all amidst SMT’s negligent approach to the return to campus during an incipient second wave of COVID.

There has been great inconsistency in the way that contract non-renewals/redundancies have been handled. In some departments, ALs whose contracts have not been renewed have been invited to end of contract meetings with representatives of the department and HR, where their statutory redundancy rights have been honoured. In other departments, ALs have been let go without any redundancy rights being honoured. All ALs who have worked for 2 or more years are legally entitled to redundancy pay if their contracts are not renewed. Moreover, and according to Goldsmiths policy, ALs should also be added to a redeployment register and suitable posts should be ring-fenced for staff on this register. The information below gives a sense of this uneven picture (note this is a non-exhaustive view of an ever-changing situation):

  • Art – three of the five FTCs (all academics of colour) initially due to be laid off will now be rehired in some capacity. The other two FTCs have lost a substantial number of additional hours that they had a reasonable expectation to retain this year. The hourly paid budget is to be cut by 20%, but many ALs expect to be rehired (though they have not seen contracts as of 23 September). The department is, however, advertising for two Graduate Trainee Tutors (GTTs – current PhD students) to develop and deliver a series of four lectures and seminars. This is work that should be paid at a higher grade than GTT, and this proposed arrangement may contravene the assimilation agreement between unions and SMT, designed to reduce reliance on casualised labour.
  • Sociology – two lecturers on fixed term contracts (both women of colour) were threatened with redundancy. One appealed against the impending redundancy and won; another was effectively made redundant but was offered another backdated contract on a temporary basis following a lengthy and incredibly spirited individual campaign, supported by the SU, J4W and GUCU.
  • Anthropology – a number of ALs have been rehired, but under new contracts whose changed terms have not been approved through consultation with UCU (for example, new contracts are for nine months compared to ten previously). A number of non-PhD student ALs have not been retained on the basis that priority over available posts has been given to the existing pool of ALs. Yet, at least one non-PhD student AL has been retained. Meanwhile, the department reports a significant reduction of the AL budget based on recruitment predictions that were made before the final number of students was known (which have turned out to be line with targets). The department has made no effort to request an amendment of the AL budget based on the new recruitment figures.
  • Visual Cultures – none of the three FTCs have been renewed and the AL/GTT workforce has been reduced from 14 last year to just five this year (all GTTs).
  • Politics – only ALs on permanent contracts will be retained this year meaning the non-renewal of at least 19 AL contracts.  
  • Media, Communications and Cultural studies – three FTCs have had their contracts extended, and most ALs who were expecting offers of work have received them (though have not yet been issued contracts as of 23 September).
  • Centre for Academic Language and Literacies (Formerly the English Language Centre) – all three of the existing ALs have been made redundant. This comes after a number of permanent posts were externally advertised. These posts should have been ring-fenced for the existing ALs staff members but were not.

Amidst staggeringly negligent planning proposals for the return to campus, SMT has insisted that in order for courses to be approved for 2020-21, departments guarantee that face to face teaching comprises at least 20% of seminars for theory modules and 50% of seminars for MA core theory modules. The proportion of face to face teaching for practice based courses will of course need to be higher, but this is all the more reason to keep off-campus as much teaching as can be conducted online. This policy of face to face teaching contravenes the national UCU position that universities should teach online only until Christmas to prevent universities becoming “the care homes of a second wave”. In addition, workers are unhappy with the inadequate measures put in place on campus, and GUCU will (at a meeting on Wed 23rd Sept) vote on a motion condemning “the absence of any significant infrastructure investment (barrier screens, one-way robust signage that physically diverts traffic, rather than floor stickers)” and “the filling of halls of residence to almost maximum capacity”.

This panic inducing and regrettable approach is completely unfair to those with disabilities, with existing health issues, or living in households with those who are at risk or shielding. It also disproportionately impacts casualised members of staff, who, with less information and (until now) without contracts, are also in a much weaker position than permanent staff to refuse to return to campus on health and safety grounds, and many will not have adequate sick pay in the event they need to self-isolate. Casualised workers, both academic and non-academic, will be placed most at risk from the virus if these inadequate measures are not resisted. While most lectures are taught by permanent staff and will be delivered remotely, ALs will teach the lion’s share of face to face seminars. In between their classes, since ALs do not have private offices, they will be forced to work in communal spaces like campus cafes and libraries that are a clear risk. With its reckless plans for a return to campus, SMT will put the most precarious teaching staff (who, like the cleaning and security staff who have already been forced back to campus, are disproportionately women and people of colour) at the greatest risk.

Meanwhile, rather than engage with workers around their justified concerns, SMT pushes ahead with its plans to bring in corporate accountants KPMG to conduct an “independent business review” of the college’s finances in order that Goldsmiths can access a £25m loan. This audit is not only undemocratic in that it allows an external private organisation to dictate terms to a public university, but it is highly likely to recommend further cuts that may involve job cuts and further casualisation. The move to bring in auditors for a loan that is not needed, to justify cuts and “streamlining”, sounds suspiciously like “Evolving Goldsmiths”, Warden Frances Corner’s plan to centralise financial control, appoint new senior managers and cut staff costs. This plan was withdrawn in the spring after overwhelming and unprecedented opposition from across the Goldsmiths community. The suspicion is that SMT seeks to exploit the financial crisis created by COVID-19 to resurrect Evolving Goldsmiths under a new name. 

The terms of the dispute that GUCU entered with Goldsmiths in July refer to the measures proposed by SMT in the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 lockdown; these threatened the jobs of 472 hourly paid and fractional staff and looked to increase the workload of our permanent colleagues to an unbearable degree. The redundancies that have struck Goldsmiths are not as bad as was feared but many jobs have been lost and these losses have been exclusively among casual academics. Meanwhile, the equalities impact of the cuts that have taken place remains unclear since SMT has yet to complete a full equalities impact assessment or provide GUCU sufficient data on these redundancies. 

While health and safety has become the most urgent issue in recent months, as universities look intent on forcing staff members and students into unsafe teaching and learning conditions during the pandemic, the terms of the dispute reflect perennial structural issues that require medium and long-term attention if we hope to make substantial changes in the university.

Job cuts, COVID-19 and the KPMG review all threaten casualised workers. But these intersecting injustices can be fought with a militant, self-organised campaign like that which organised the wildcat marking boycott and energised the university in early summer. 

Goldsmiths UCU votes for dispute with college and marking boycott comes to an end

A full month after ALs and GTTs from Art, MCCS and the Anthropology department first announced their wildcat marking boycott, the Goldsmiths UCU branch has unanimously supported a motion to call a dispute with the institution. The dispute relates to equality issues surrounding measures introduced by senior management to ‘control staff costs’ since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic in early March 2020. These include the blanket non-renewal of AL and GTT contracts and the non-renewal of FTC contracts unless approved by SMT. The branch calls on Goldsmiths to conduct Equalities Impact Assessments (EIAs) for all staff that will be made redundant or will have lost their jobs due to cost-cutting measures brought in since March. They also resolved that senior management must rescind any or all of those policies that demonstrate a potential to be discriminatory, such as contract non-renewals specifically targeting fixed term contracted staff. Should Goldsmiths refuse by July 10, 2020 to present the EIAs and draft EIAs in all the areas listed by July 10, Goldsmiths UCU will ballot its members for industrial action.

In light of the successful passing of this motion, and also due to Heads of Departments ramping up the pressure and some frankly contemptible intimidation tactics from senior colleagues, including private phone-calls along with threats of picket crossing, ALs and FTCs in MCCS and Anthropology will submit their marks this evening. Boycotters of the Art department, who initiated the action, continue to withhold their grades, though the department is currently working on these marks being covered. This decision has not been taken lightly and comes after long, considered and collective discussions with all staff members involved in the action. After a month of courageous struggle, we now move forward to a new phase.

There are lessons to be learned and we have not achieved all of our demands and we have not rid ourselves of the real threat of the mass job losses which hangs over our heads. We will continue to defend every worker under threat by contract non-renewals, but as this phase of our campaign comes to an end, here is a non-exhaustive list of positive outcomes of our action:

– This action has provided a beacon of hope at a time when there has been little to no national campaign to actively resist mass layoffs of casualised academics across the sector.

– We have taken an unofficial action that lasted a month without any legal disciplinary repercussions. All boycotters will be paid in full for handing over grades.

– Payment of all additional hours worked by ALs and GTTs during the lockdown has been honoured.

– We have received positive commitments in writing from Head of Departments regarding the renewal of contracts of ALs and GTTs:

“we have every reason to believe that there will be contracts on offer, for each of the kinds of ALs currently employed in the department (including those GTTs who have time left on their three-year appointment).”

‘Graduate Trainee Tutors who very likely include our PhD students or those who have recently been awarded their PhD and who teach on particular modules and programmes as a ‘career development opportunity’ … should ordinarily have contracts for periods within the academic year … And we should also be very clear that Goldsmiths as a research university has a responsibility to contribute to the future of the sector, training and supporting researchers and teachers, but also a deep responsibility to support our PhD students in their ambitions for their careers as researchers and teachers.”

“we are very confident that we will be able to offer a large number of AL contracts in September.”

– MCCS has agreed to extend 10 AL contracts by 10 hours for the Summer in MCCS to provide additional support/tutorials for undergraduates over July/August. A similar offer has been made to ALs/GTTs in the Visual Cultures Department. 

– Agreement to redundancy pay for staff working over 2 years.

– Agreement to review Fixed Term Contracts which are due to end within the next couple of months involving meaningful consultation with individuals concerned. 

– A schedule of relevant Equality Impact Assessments scheduled to be undertaken and to be provided to GUCU by the end of July 2020.

– Agreement to review how FTC’s are managed within the College to be undertaken. 

– Permanent lecturers in Art and MCCS refused to cover work of boycotters on health and safety grounds through their union branch.

– Hundreds of casual workers have mobilised to take control of this campaign autonomously but in close collaboration with their trade union and invest themselves in this struggle for more than a month. This includes those who were directly involved in the boycott and those supporting the action. This is a crucial step for developing long term organisational infrastructure and trust relations for a sustainable and committed political program centring precarity. In view of J4W’s longer term project, this action moves us closer to forging an axis of solidarity across precarious workers in the university including casualised academics, facilities workers and other contractually insecure staff.  

– Several statements of support published, including amazing support from permanent colleagues and students in Art which drew wider attention to the institutional racism prevalent in the department and university more broadly. 

– Media coverage – Guardian, Tribune, The Art Newspaper, THE, New Statesman, Art Monthly, Counterfire 

– National and international conversations – we spoke with UCU comrades from across the country, and numerous branches passed motions in support of our campaign. We participated in calls with the COLA Agitation Committee from the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) campaign and activists from New Delhi, New York and Edinburgh with comrades from Angry Workers.

– Virtual pickets: We carried out a very effective social media campaign that significantly raised the profile of the boycott. Highlights included solidarity actions by Forensic Architecture statements and the Politics dept

– We secured a meeting with SMT, which we thought they’d never grant us, and AL/FTC reps were able to raise many of the intersecting issues underpinning casualised work in the university and directly put forward their demands to management.  

– Established a mutual aid hardship fund for those impacted by cuts and involved in the action at Goldsmiths. The fund raised over £10,000 with support from colleagues and allies at Goldsmiths and across the UK. 

– The union has been compelled to put pressure on HoDs, adopt our demands, force SMT to meet us; now GUCU has unanimously passed a motion to enter into dispute on the basis of our campaign.  

– We have put the issue of casualisation at the centre of GUCU’s agenda.

 

As today marks 2 years exactly from when the Justice For Cleaners campaign started, we say with the confidence of experience, the struggle continues.

 

#livedexperience: statements delivered by AL/FTC reps 29/06/20

Below is a transcript of two opening statements delivered by AL/FTC reps at a meeting held by Goldsmiths senior management team with officers from the UCU branch on 29/06/20. The two speakers were asked to ‘set out their lived experience’ and then leave the meeting. Following the delivery of these two statements, both reps remained present for the remainder of the meeting.

 

Jacob Mukherjee

I am a lecturer on a 12 month fixed term contract in Media, Communications and Cultural Studies. I did my Masters and PhD at Goldsmiths, and I’ve taught here on different temporary contracts for three and a half years now.

I feel a real affinity with the institution. I’m proud of being part of the Goldsmiths community. I really value its commitment to critical inquiry and its support for equality and diversity, and I love the energy and diversity of the student body as well. 

I have worked in my time here on teaching and convening five different modules in Media, Communications and Cultural Studies, each time with new content, including convening Masters core modules.

I have also been on AL contracts and now a fixed term contract, and in total I have been on seven different contracts, in five years, at three different institutions. 

Now despite having been told verbally earlier this year that it was likely that my contract would be renewed for another year, I’ve since been told that no renewal can yet be authorised. I know that my heads of department have put in proposals for renewal, and these have not yet been approved. 

I feel that I’m in limbo, I feel that I’m waiting. And it’s not just about me – I know that there are dozens and dozens of casualised colleagues who feel the same way. We feel that we have been made to take the hit for a crisis that is not of our making. 

And I have to say that the intensity of feeling among both casualised and permanent staff is extreme. We feel that our hard work is not valued, that there is no account being taken of the workload impact of reducing staffing levels. And we feel that the students will suffer if staffing is not maintained at current levels.

We know that there is work to do. We know that the courses we teach on are popular, that they have run for years and that they should continue to run. We know that the University cannot continue with the current levels of student provision without maintaining current levels of teaching staff. 

I also have to say that, as an academic of colour, I am deeply concerned that there does not appear to have been an equalities impact assessment of any proposed reduction in staffing levels. We don’t know the equalities data on staff on fixed term contracts and ALs who face being laid off. But what we do know is the picture in departments like Sociology and Art where the overwhelming majority of academics on fixed term contracts who face being laid off are black or people of colour. I think this a real problem for an institution like Goldsmiths which prides itself, rightly, on its commitment to racial justice.

I’ll end by saying that what would improve our situation, what would improve our lived experience, what would reduce the intense anxiety and frustration we are feeling at the moment, and what I think would reassure permanent colleagues as well, is for us to be given contract extensions, for us to be given clarity over our futures by being contacted with a timetable for the review of our contracts that we have been led to believe would take place. And we also want real negotiations over the whole set of issues that are related to staffing levels for next academic term – that includes equalities and representation, that includes student provision, it includes workload for remaining staff. And we would like the unions, as well as representatives of fixed term and AL workers, as well as the student union, to be involved in those meaningful negotiations.  

 

Feyzi Ismail

We think it’s important that you have an idea of our reality, and I’m glad that we’ve been invited to talk about this. Because inequality has become rampant across the sector, with vice-chancellors earning hundreds of thousands of pounds, while academics who are doing front line teaching can’t make ends meet and have no security. And there is inequality in terms of the gender pay gap and the race pay gap – these are things that have been raised now at a national level. And I just think it’s really important that you know, that you hear from us about our reality, about what’s really going on in the sector. 

I’m on a 0.5 at Goldsmiths and I’m on a 0.6 at SOAS at the same time. I’ve been at Goldsmiths for two years, I’ve been a SOAS for six years. I’ve had nine contracts over the past seven years, and countless hourly-paid contracts before that. It goes without saying that I can’t plan my life. 

I also want to let you know, because you may not be aware – though most people who work in academia will know – that a 0.5 is not actually a 0.5, it’s more like a 0.8. Working at two institutions means you’ve got to deal with two different administrations, two sets of emails, two organisational cultures. You can’t attend 0.5 of a staff meeting or exam board or whatever. You have to do a lot more than half a full-time staff member. I convened four courses this past term – two at Goldsmiths and two at SOAS – plus all the other admin that goes with that. And my situation isn’t unique. Of course, teaching quality will tend to suffer then if you’re working less than 12-14 hours a day most days. Yet people who are on these contracts often tend to put in that time, and they do get very good feedback for their work because they have that commitment. But that commitment is being exploited to levels that are unsustainable. 

I also want to reiterate that the work is there. What’s happening is that as casualised staff are being let go, permanent staff are being made to work harder – we know this is the aim. And of the people being let go, it’s now clear that women of colour disproportionately hold these temporary contracts. We see it over and over again at different institutions. And so I have to emphasise that this is extremely important – Goldsmiths has a legal requirement and a moral obligation to undertake an equalities impact assessment on the kinds of impacts that cuts and redundancies will have on the lives of people of colour. People can’t be seen as expendable simply because they hold fixed-term contracts. If Goldsmiths is supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement and of ending structural racism then we have to make concrete progress within the institution to prove that this is where we stand. 

 

#livedexperience

boycott

On Thurs-Fri last week (18-19 June), the #saveourjobs virtual picket on twitter was extremely successful, with a huge number of views (one single tweet was viewed over 65000 times), and a range of organisations and groups backing the campaign. See for example this tweet from Forensic Architecture and Goldsmiths Politics department coming out in support. This Times Higher piece  also came out on Friday and this article in The Art Newspaper on Monday.

This pressure along with our Goldsmiths UCU branch threatening a formal dispute, has prompted senior management to agree to meet representatives of the boycott alongside Goldsmiths UCU branch officials on 26 June. The precise terms of the meeting have been stated as follows by our employers: up to two Fixed Term Contract /Associate Lecturer reps could attend to set out their ‘lived experience’ as the first item, but they should then leave the meeting so the Warden and senior management colleagues can have a conversation with the formal officers of the trade union. 

Providing a space for individuals to be heard – for their particular suffering to be noted – is one of the many ways that university bureaucracies effectively stutify efforts to make meaningful changes to operations management. At Goldsmiths we’ve seen this method rolled out to buffer attempts to address institutional racism, a mental health crisis caused by staff and student suicides and sexual harassment scandals. The phrase ‘lived experience’, which once had a vital political function in activist milieus, has been today recuperated into the repertoire of soft-power techniques of neoliberal labour discipline.

What Goldsmiths management and some of our senior colleagues don’t seem to understand, is that we have moved past the point of appealing to victimhood as a form political subjectivity. We are no longer waiting for the good consciences of management to be turned on this issue. This prospect evaporated with their refusal to furlough eligible applicants during a global pandemic. Neither is the horizon of our campaign to have management recognise the ‘reality’ of individual circumstances. In days gone by we published testimonies about the lived experience of casualisation. If senior management wants to be better acquainted with this, they can seek these out. But frankly speaking to have people empathise with our ‘lived experience’ does not provide us the modest security of another 6 month contract next term, which after all is all we are asking.

No! This is a class action. Our individual life circumstances may differ, and indeed our contractual terms may not be the same, but our collective cause is singular and we will not be bought off by ‘recognition’ on the paltry terms put forward by senior management. Rather than becoming acquainted with the difficulty of our individual lives, senior managers will be forced to know our collective determination on our own terms.

Several weeks into the campaign and workers have faced down numerous efforts to break the organisational strength of the boycott: threats of disciplinary measures, intimidation, emotional blackmail, divide and rule, nepotism, these have all been used by senior academic administrators and managers. But this once deeply fragmented and precarious workforce are holding the line, unshaken by attempts by employers and senior colleagues alike to undermine their campaign. To their own disfavour,  heads of departments and departmental business managers have underestimated the scale and the organisational capacity of the boycott. They say to us ‘trust me, i’m privy to confidential information, it is in your interests to follow my advice’ which we know represents an inflated sense of their standing with senior managers (which is diminishing by the day) and their complete underestimation of what we are very well aware of, which, in fact, is usually far more than what they know, because our epistemological horizon is not limited to the perspective of a single-department, we’ve got eyes and ears everywhere!!!!

But they too, it seems, imagine our political horizon is merely to attain recognition for our lived experience. Let us tell another story about the lived experience of casual workers in the university – one that makes clear that while we acknowledge the hardship of precarious labour, we will not be limited to this condition. Our ‘lived experience’ as casual academics has been getting rooted in our workplace, confronting the crisis that has been endemic to our sector long before Covid-19, developing sustainable organising practices by working alongside other precarious comrades in cleaning and security, establishing trust links with members of staff across the college at various levels, playing an active role in our union branches of UCU and IWGB, learning our rights and embedding ourselves in the anti-racist praxis of our most radical and committed students. This has been the lived experience of casualised academics at Goldsmiths over the last 3 years and now we are prepared to defend ourselves. We will win.

J4W

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Cash Cows and Silent Elephants

A call from international students at Goldsmiths

Our position is that Goldsmiths is failing in its duty of care towards international students. We come to this conclusion through a variety of shared experiences. As international students, conflict and negotiation with Goldsmiths’ administration begins from the moment of admissions. At different stages we must deal with stringent visa requirements, payment of fees, the lack of funding and work opportunities within the university, and limited opportunities with regards to teaching possibilities and bursaries. We no longer want to regard these as issues that we as individual students must deal with, but rather as pointing to the systemic nature of the forces that plague the university system in the UK. We wish to reiterate that these are ongoing fundamental problems that have been made clearly visible through the pandemic. We believe that our concerns must be addressed collectively so that Goldsmiths’ egregious practices don’t continue as business as usual, impacting the most vulnerable amongst us. The university should not be an extension, let alone an intensification of Theresa May’s racist, ethno-nationalist hostile environment policies.  

We represent a body of scholars who are absent from the conversation around institutional racism, whose labour helps establish diversity as a branding strategy and asset for Goldsmiths. But their very access to higher-education at Goldsmiths is blocked via astronomical tuition fees for international students, inadequate bursaries and scholarships, and the UK’s discriminatory visa policies. These neo-liberal measures effectively impede lower-income students from the Global South who consider studying at Goldsmiths. Goldsmiths SMT’s continuous appeals to diversity remain tokenistic if these claims are not backed by substantive actions that support, both emotionally and financially, existing and new scholars. 

Goldsmiths’ Annual Reports and Financial Statements (2018-2019) illustrates the conflicting positions at the heart of the issue, which has implications for more than just international students. It clearly states that the budget deficit in the university is primarily tackled through increasing tuition fees (a “strategy of tuition fee growth”) on an annual basis. The financial plan shows that 24% of the university’s total income derives from its 18% international student body. Considering that a number of the casualised teaching staff are international PhD researchers themselves, Goldsmiths’ current actions to lay off its 472 temporary teaching contracts means cutting the income of those whose tuition fees are essential to the university’s survival. It is likely that Goldsmiths’ strategy to counteract its budget deficit and preserve its BIPOC staff would further increase tuition fees and aggravate restrictions for candidates from lower-income backgrounds, who are majority BIPOC home/EU students, or are based in the Global South. Without a structural adjustment to UK’s defunct education model institutional racism could only trickle down from staff to students or vice versa. Education in the UK (legacy of Tony Blair’s third-wayist government) is a vicious circle: To enroll more students, to extract more tuitions, to offset universities’ operating costs, to meet the target that allows universities to raise their tuition. 

We write this letter to reach out to other international students across Goldsmiths. We hope to connect in order to find ways to share experiences and assemble together. Some initial shared concerns include: 

  • The situation of international students who were left without adequate support, finances, food and housing security during the lockdown
  • Inappropriate and threatening letters from Fees, debt-collection agencies, Credit Control (including reporting students to the home office) demanding immediate payment of tuition during the lockdown 
  • The lack of advice and contradictory communication about basic services such as implementation of payment plans, questions on visas, and how to access healthcare 
  • Leveraging of exorbitant fees for compromised educational programs during the lockdown, especially with regards to practice-based degrees
  • The loss of income opportunity due to Goldsmiths canceling Associate Lecture and Graduate Teacher Trainee positions 
  • Unclear status of future annual bursaries in some departments, initially promised to international students to curtail exorbitant tuitions. 
  • Lack of active outreach for funding for scholarships or active institutional commitment to reallocate budgets towards scholarships for students from the Global South. 
  • The current role and mode of communication of the Immigration Advisory Service as one that polices students, rather than a body that enables and supports them. 
  • The control the Home Office asserts over higher education, rendering students disposable outside their capacity to pay fees (for example, by making post-study visas extraordinarily difficult) 
  • The continous abuse of diversity rhetorics in UK’s structurally gentrified educational model due to the reasons mentioned above

As we start this process, we recognize that our positions as international students are not all the same. We are simultaneously advantaged and disadvantaged in different ways. Sometimes these differences prevent the creation of common grounds of debate and engagement with the university.  But collectively we hope our desires for a different type of university align with the ongoing, long-standing, and important groups engaging the university on multiple fronts: the anti-casualisation campaign, GARA (Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action), Goldsmiths Housing Action group, Justice for Workers, the Goldpaper, and many organizing groups that emerged out of the the previous and most recent strike. 

Please show your support with international students by signing this call.

 

Title reference taken from Stuart Tannock, “Educational Equality and International Students: Justice Across Borders?” (2018), Palgrave: London

A Factsheet of Events So Far…

This statement contains a fairly comprehensive summary of events. Key points to pick out, and other aspects not mentioned in the statement, are listed below.

Non-renewal of contracts and racial and gender inequalities

Figures sent by SMT to UCU show 472 temporary contracts are due to expire this summer: 309 AL and GTT contracts, and 163 FTCs. The University has never denied that this figure represents the number to be laid off. 

We are not aware of any cases (apart from positions funding externally) where an FTC contract has been reviewed and renewed. In one department, FTCs have had end of contract meetings but in all other cases HoDs have been given no conclusive answer one way or the other about the renewal of FTCs. This is despite SMT claiming in a recent Human Resources and Equalities that they would “review” renewal of each FTC. No reviewing has happened and, despite HoDs pressing SMT repeatedly on this, no timetable has been given for review. This is despite some contracts expiring in a matter of weeks. 

In addition, Carol Ford, Director of HR, said in her June 8th email to all staff that AL needs would be reviewed in Autumn. 

There is also significantly, a glaring issue around racial inequalities here: figures we have collected suggest that around 75% of those being laid off are from a Black and Minority Ethnic background. An overwhelming majority are women. This confirms the findings of other reports that show BAME people and women are heavily overrepresented among casualised academics. 

The FTC staff are Lecturers and Senior Lecturers who bring significant expertise and experience in their specialist fields. Goldsmiths has claimed it wishes to “address the BME degree attainment gap and wider racial justice issues”, but sacking hundreds of BAME teaching staff will leave all students, and particularly the 45% of Goldsmiths’ student body that is BAME, with fewer role models, a narrower curriculum and an impoverished all round educational experience. 

Given the above evidence, and in the absence of any clearer information, the only plausible conclusion is that SMT is allowing all FTCs and AL contracts to expire before reviewing the situation in Autumn. At a time of national crisis, where there is an international pandemic and almost sector-wide hiring freezes, where all academic staff are having to cope with the pressures of moving all teaching online and contend with working from home for the next term, and the various associated pressures such as home-schooling and caring responsibilities, as well as dealing with bereavements, the decision by College to not renew these contracts – knowing that this will produce greater workloads on permanent staff and simultaneously leave  472 staff without recourse to employment elsewhere – is contemptible behaviour. 

Furlough scheme

The AL campaign requested for ALs to be furloughed, and the majority of FTCs with contracts expiring this summer made requests for short contract extensions until Autumn and to be furloughed for that period. All requests were denied, with applicants told they were “not eligible” for the scheme. Academic staff who had put in applications for furlough received communication from their HoD’s that ‘SMT have considered their nominations and decided that Academic staff should not be furloughed as they can continue to carry out their teaching and research remotely.’ Carol Ford also repeated the “not eligible” claim in her all staff email on the 8th June, where she only addressed the issue in relation to AL’s and GTT’s, not FTC staff. We know this claim of ineligibility to be false – UAL has furloughed academics and Goldsmiths itself has furloughed 80 staff. There is an excellent rebuttal of SMT’s arguments against furloughing academics here. It makes clear that the government guidance does allow furloughing of academic staff, and that the Universities Minister herself made clear in April this was within the rules. The HR position is also contradictory to earlier emails sent out to staff (23rd April)  where they acknowledged that HE institutions can furlough their staff. 

Equalities impact

It is important to note that Goldsmiths has not provided any information on the demographic breakdown of FTCs. In a comment emailed to a Guardian journalist on June 16th, the PR department gave some (incomplete) figures for ALs and GTTs, but not for the 163 FTCs to be laid off.

In the absence of official figures, we have had to collect our own. These show that 75% of FTCs facing layoff are Black and Ethnic Minority. In Sociology, all of the FTCs to be laid off are women of colour. In Art, five of the six BAME academic staff are on FTCs and being laid off (with the one permanent black member of academic staff in Art withdrawing their labour in response to racism). In MCCS, 2 of the 3 FTCs being laid off are BAME.   

Key Questions to ask SMT and the Warden

  • Why isn’t Goldsmiths fulfilling its public duty not to discriminate by refusing to audit the equalities impact on making FTC’s redundant until after all those in FTC’s will have been made redundant?
  • Why hasn’t Goldsmiths provided data on the protected characteristics of FTC staff being made redundant?
  • Why has Goldsmiths refused to furlough all FTC staff, AL’s and GTT’s when there is clear provision in the CJRS Guidelines that states HE staff are eligible for the scheme? This is also despite evidence of good practice in other HE institutions that have  furloughed teaching staff who are either unable to work due to Covid-19 and caring responsibilities for instance, or have been told that there is a diminished capacity for their teaching due to Covid-19? Both scenarios are clearly covered in the CJRS.
  • Why hasn’t Goldsmiths provided figures of ALs/GTTs that will be retained next year?
  • Why hasn’t Goldsmiths explained to students how the reduction of hourly paid teachers who make up 40% of teaching will impact content delivery next year?
  • Why hasn’t Goldsmiths explained to students how redundancies among FTC staff will impact staff diversity?
  • Why hasn’t Goldsmiths explained how reducing hourly-paid teaching staff which represent 7% of total salary spend is going to alleviate the deficit long-term?
  • Why hasn’t Goldsmiths explained why you are still hiring staff in spite of the supposed hiring freeze?
  • Why hasn’t Goldsmiths explained why you are expanding your short courses arm while plundering the teaching resources available for degree programmes?
  • Why hasn’t Goldsmiths explained how short course teachers are covered by Goldsmiths existing employment, pay and equalities policies?

Finally, 

  • Why hasn’t Goldsmiths still responded to the FTC’s, AL’s and GTT’s request for a meeting – especially since the deadline for one of our demands (writing to each casualised worker with a timetable for review of their contract) is 19th June 2020?

 

Please donate to our solidarity fund for causalised staff facing job losses: https://opencollective.com/goldsmithsmutualaid

 

AN OPEN LETTER FROM STAFF IN THE ART DEPARTMENT AT GOLDSMITHS, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON

This letter was submitted to the Warden of Goldsmiths, Professor Frances Corner, on the 10th June 2020 in the face of proposed cuts to all fixed-term members of staff. The letter was written to protest the severe and disproportionate impact these cuts would have on BAME staff in the department. In the email to the Warden a response was requested by 15th June 2020, one that would acknowledge the department’s concerns and outline a provisional course of action. The letter has not received a response so far, except to acknowledge receipt and a promise of a reply in the near future. The original staff letter is reproduced here with minor redactions. A dossier of statements from students and alumni is available from: goldartopenletter@gmail.com

Summary

  • On June 10th 2020, 92 members of staff in Goldsmiths Art Department wrote to the College Warden (Vice Chancellor) noting her letter on 2nd June  to the American Ambassador Robert Wood Johnson about the killing of George Floyd and the vital work of anti-racism that all individuals and institutions must now undertake. 
  • Goldsmiths announced a policy that fixed-term contracts would not be renewed as part of the financial response to Covid-19. Casualisation is part of the structure of institutional racism. On the flagship BA Fine Art programme in 2019/20 there were 25 white lecturers and 1 South Asian Fine Art lecturer on permanent contracts. On the same programme 5 BAME staff employed on fixed term contracts will be lost if the policy goes ahead. This ratio of unequal job security for white and BAME staff is paralleled across the department’s staff profile, as made clear in an open letter dated June 15th written by Evan Ifekoya, the only black member of academic staff on a permanent contract in a department of 85 academics. These cuts will devastate BAME, and in particular black, presence within the department.
  • The colleagues under threat are of tremendous international standing and have shown their work in high-profile British and international art institutions. They are active, trusted and cherished colleagues and members of a wide and politically-engaged art world. 
  • In recent years there have been ongoing efforts to address the whiteness of the Art Department. The work is far from complete but has already had a critical, life-affirming impact for students. The letter states that we must not perpetuate systemic inequality through tokenistic gestures and risk undoing the work that has started.
  • Students and recent alumni are aware of the potential cuts and have flooded staff with over 100 testimonies and messages of  support of their threatened tutors in recent days: a few quotations are included in the letter below.
  • The letter asks the Warden to intervene to make these members of staff contracts permanent, and to properly assess the equality impact of cutting casualised staff in the College.

                                                                                                                                 June 10th, 2020
Dear Professor Corner,

We are writing as staff members from the Department of Art motivated by your public letter of 2nd June 2020 to the American Ambassador Robert Wood Johnson about the vital work of anti-racism that all individuals and institutions must now undertake. We entirely agree with you that,There is no doubt that all institutions must place racial justice at the heart of their mission.’ We also felt encouraged by your clear commitment to ‘working with our community to build new cultures and ways of working, with each and every one of us at the College responsible for being part of this change.’

Five out of six members of BAME staff on the flagship BA Fine Art programme are on fixed term contracts. These contracts will be cut if the College policy to not renew FTC goes ahead. So, we write to you today with the urgent request that you support our highly-valued and vital BAME colleagues in the first instance by extending their contracts, with a view to making them permanent as soon as possible.

These colleagues are a core part of our internationally renowned team. They are employed on the basis of world-leading research, diverse outputs and creative engagement in social and political matters. Our current BAME colleagues bring to the department immense knowledge, strong reputations and a vast range of experiences. They are sensitive to social marginalisation and better-equipped to support any student who experiences intersectional violence through race, class, gender, sexuality and (dis)ability discrimination. They embody the diversity that the College publicly values. 

We are committed to the responsibility of anti-racist work in our research and teaching, and increasingly in how that’s reflected in our working relationships and staffing infrastructures. In recent years, through critical introspection and engaging in difficult conversations there has been ongoing efforts to address the whiteness of the department, work which has not been completed but which has already had critical, and for many a life-affirming impact on student experience. We have learned we cannot remain passive and we do not wish to perpetuate systemic inequality through superficial and tokenistic gestures, a common and increasingly visible pattern within public institutions. The loss of these colleagues would substantially undo this work, would break the trust of our students, would disrupt the anti-racist solidarity work among staff, and would risk doing irreparable damage to our reputation of supporting world class artists now, and for the next generation.

These colleagues are of tremendous international standing, having exhibited, screened, spoken and performed their work in some of the most high-profile British and international art institutions, festivals and biennials. They are active, trusted and cherished members of a wide and politically-engaged art world and their outstanding artistic research is matched by their ongoing commitment to education. They enrich teaching at all levels from Extension and BA, to MFA and PhD, and deepen debates connected to those at the many public fora in which they speak. They work to decolonise curricula and they provide invaluable visibility as artist role models to our POC students and student body as a whole, irrespective of background. They are ambassadors for Goldsmiths and through their research profiles, help the department appeal to the best prospective domestic and international students. At this moment, across the world, Higher Education needs to invigorate its offer to students with the perspectives of artists and educators of colour, and we need to publicly and contractually support such highly-valued educators. 

We are keenly aware that Goldsmiths, already shouldering financial deficit, expects like most universities, to go into significant debt next year due to the Covid crisis. We are also acutely aware that in the Department of Art at Goldsmiths (as in departments nationwide), BAME staff are much more likely to be on temporary contracts and so face deeply unequal impacts of financial deficits in the coming year. Our five colleagues are each on fixed-term contracts and we on the wider staff body are seriously concerned that we stand to lose them all. If we are to come out of the Covid crisis thriving, this will require a great amount of connected and creative change and we believe that such change is unlikely to happen effectively unless we safeguard our BAME staff now.

Students and recent alumni are aware of the potential cuts to come in the new academic year and have flooded us with over 100 emails in recent days. The urgent need to keep our valued colleagues is reflected in this student feedback. On one BAME fixed-term lecturer’s influence, a 1st year BA Fine Art student wrote, ‘without her I don’t know who I’d have seen myself in, I don’t know who would’ve understood my agony to such a personal degree.’  She described her BAME Critical Studies fixed-term lecturer’s presentations as ‘the most hard-hitting, powerful, poignant, and passionate critical studies lecture on Decolonisation’. Another 3rd year BA Fine Art student asserts that the presence of BAME tutors is essential, ‘to the multicultural and dynamic atmosphere that makes this course successful. They offer models and opportunities for critical thinking outside of a Euro-centric framework. Their voices have been essential to the growth of my practice and understanding of art, not as a monolithic entity but as a rich ecology.’ The potential loss of such colleagues brings sadness and anger. A 2nd year student wrote, ‘I chose Goldsmiths as the place to do my degree because the way the department advertised itself and the student body as “diverse”. I am both Black and German, which in my experience is rather solitary, with little understanding provided for the specific needs and experiences for anyone not white… Cutting any of these valuable staff (as well as not having them on permanent contracts in the first place) is not only illogical but also inexcusable when compared to the front the university is putting up when it comes to anti-racism and social justice. I should not have to beg my department to be less white, especially not right now.’ 

While we face the future in a deeply changed world, we cannot overlook the fact that our BAME colleagues face greater precarity while a majority of white colleagues hold permanent contracts. We are yet to put in place measures that continue to support the promotion of our BAME colleagues and, most urgently, that this lack of commitment causes these colleagues anxiety, exhaustion, pressure, and a deep loss of morale. As the Covid crisis coincides with a global outcry for racial equality and systemic and structural reform – and the Goldsmiths webpage ‘Racial Justice’ states that the university is working to advance race equality – we urge the College and our department to honour these commitments. And we ask you as a Warden publicly committed to racial justice to begin the changes you want to see in our sector, and make permanent the contracts of our five brilliant and indispensable co-workers. 

As our request is urgent we ask that you provide us with a response that includes a provisional course of action by the end of Monday 15th June.

Signed by 92 members of staff across the Department of Art

 

 

 

Please donate to our solidarity fund for causalised staff facing job losses: https://opencollective.com/goldsmithsmutualaid

Fixed term workers join marking boycott, demand contract extension and clarity

wildcat

 

Overview:

Goldsmiths senior management team (SMT) is laying off 163 academics on fixed term contracts, along with 309 Associate Lecturers (ALs) and Graduate Trainee Tutors (GTTs). Having refused all of our requests to have our contracts extended until the autumn and be furloughed for that period (a solution which would have allowed Goldsmiths to retain its staff at low cost until student recruitment figures made clear whether we could be kept on longer term), the University is now simply allowing fixed term contracts to expire. 

These are redundancies on a huge scale: they will leave hundreds of academics unemployed during a recession and a pandemic, significantly increase workload for remaining staff and threaten the viability of undergraduate and postgraduate courses across the university. Furthermore, figures we have collected suggest around 75% of those being laid off are from a black and minority ethnic background: if these job cuts go ahead, Goldsmiths will lose a large proportion of its BAME teaching staff, leaving students with fewer nonwhite role models and a significantly narrower curriculum.  

We, Goldsmiths academics on fixed term contracts, will not accept this treatment. From today, Monday June 15th, we will join the marking boycott begun by our AL and GTT colleagues. In addition, we will work to rule until further notice. Our demands are for an extension of our contracts until October 31st, for SMT immediately to provide each of us with details on the timescale and process for review of our contracts, and for the University to meet and negotiate with us as a group. Further details, including a full list of demands, are below.

We do not want to take this course of action. We are deeply committed to working hard for our students and have no desire to cause them disruption. However, each time we have attempted, as individuals, to discuss our contractual situation with SMT, we have been ignored, told that no decision can yet be taken or given other unsatisfactory answers. We therefore have no choice but collectively to withdraw part of our labour. We also feel that our action, if successful in persuading SMT to renew contracts, will protect rather than undermine the Goldsmiths student experience in the long term.

Our demands:

  • Contract extensions All casualised contracts, including AL, GTT and FTCs, should be extended until the end of October, when it will be clearer from student recruitment figures and other financial indicators whether contracts can be renewed for a longer period. Given that the University has refused to furlough its casualised academic staff, it is up to SMT to investigate and offer financially viable ways to extend our contracts.
  • Clarity SMT must immediately contact all casualised workers whose contracts are due to expire this summer / autumn, including ALs, GTTs and fractional and full time workers on fixed term contracts, to give them a timetable for the review of whether their contract should be renewed, to arrange review meetings, and to make clear the criteria for the review process. Since arranging these meetings is well overdue, SMT should contact workers by June 19th.
  • Negotiation The University must  arrange to meet, at the earliest possible opportunity, representatives of University and College Union (UCU), along with elected representatives of those fixed term and casualised workers due to be laid off, to discuss with them planned levels of staffing, workload and student provision for the next academic year
  • Workload impact The University must publish estimates of the impact on workload for remaining staff of cutting 472 teaching roles.
  • Equality, diversity and racial justice The University must provide figures, where available, on the ethnic, gender and disability characteristics of the 472 staff to be laid off, and publish, by the end of June 2020, an equalities impact assessment of the plans to lay off 472 casualised workers.
  • Redundancy The University must  publish details of a system of enhanced redundancy payments to be offered in the event that any job cuts go ahead
  • AL hours The University must honour additional hours worked by ALs/GTTs during the lockdown: HR must ensure that Departmental Business Managers contact all ALs/GTTs and request pay claims for all hours worked in addition to contracted hours during the lockdown. 
  • Reduce pay inequality The University should enact temporary salary cuts to Senior Management, explicitly ringfenced to fund the contract extensions of ALs and GTTs (approx £2.1 million per year budget for ALs/GTTs). This should include the Warden’s Office, Executive and Governance Services, Finance Services, Goldsmiths Strategic Venture, Strategic Planning & Projects, Organisation and Strategic Services and Planning).

Our action:

From June 15th, academics on fixed term contracts will join the marking boycott begun by ALs and GTTs, and will continue this action until our demands are met.

  • We will boycott any outstanding assessment responsibilities, including marking and moderation, until the University meets our demands.
  • If called upon to mark work that has not been marked as a result of the AL/GTT marking boycott, we will refuse.
  • We will work to rule, i.e. perform only our contractual duties, until further notice.

Background:

The University has produced figures showing that 472 casualised workers, made up of 309 Associate Lecturers and Graduate Trainee Tutors and 163 academics on full time or fractional fixed term contracts, will be laid off during the summer and autumn of 2020.

Though SMT has refused to provide a demographic breakdown of those whose contracts will be terminated, figures we have collected suggest that 75% of those to be laid off are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and an overwhelming majority are women. This confirms the findings of other reports that show BAME people and women are heavily overrepresented among casualised academics. Goldsmiths has claimed it wishes to “address the BME degree attainment gap and wider racial justice issues”, but sacking hundreds of BAME teaching staff will leave all students, and particularly the 45% of Goldsmiths’ student body that is BAME, with fewer role models, a narrower curriculum and an impoverished all round educational experience. 

Communication from the University has been very poor over this issue, and academics on fixed term contracts feel they have been treated callously and with disrespect. Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us had been told verbally by our heads of department that we would likely have our contracts renewed. Since then, the University has instead announced that all hiring was on hold and that SMT would “review” whether each fixed term contract should be renewed. None of our contracts have thus far been reviewed, however, and nor have any of us been given a timescale or process for this review. Our contracts end in a matter of weeks and we still have no clarity on whether we will be unemployed next academic year.

In order to offer a cheap solution that would allow the University to retain its staff, many fixed term workers requested to have our contracts extended for a short period, until October, and be furloughed for that period under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The Associate Lecturers campaign similarly requested that ALs be furloughed for the same time frame. All requests were refused, with the HR Director Carol Ford, in an email to all staff sent June 8th, wrongly claiming that academic staff are not eligible for furlough, despite the fact that other universities including the University of the Arts London has furloughed casualised academics and the Universities Minister confirmed on April 8th that university staff could be furloughed.

The university seems intent on allowing our contracts, most of which end between June and September, to expire. This suspicion is reinforced by Carol Ford’s suggestion in her June 8th all-staff email that the University would “not be able to confirm AL/GTT requirements for the next academic year until student numbers and choices for the 20/21 academic year are clear”. We cannot wait until the autumn, well after most of our contracts expire, to find out if we will have a job at Goldsmiths next academic year. 

The University is not being open about the fact these layoffs constitute redundancy for a huge proportion (perhaps around half) of academic staff, which will surely mean significant increases in workload for remaining staff and/or cutting courses and reducing the teaching time to which students are entitled. As such, the University’s plans should be the subject of collective consultation with the unions – including the Student Union. 

Please donate to our solidarity fund for causalised staff facing job losses: https://opencollective.com/goldsmithsmutualaid

Precarious teaching staff at Goldsmiths take action to resist unfair and unreasonable cuts to almost 500 staff

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Precarious teaching staff at Goldsmiths take action to resist unfair and unreasonable cuts to almost 500 staff

The most precarious teaching staff at Goldsmiths have today launched an unprecedented defence of their livelihoods, their students and the future of the institution itself. Associate Lecturers (ALs) and Graduate Trainee Teachers (GTTs) will withhold unpaid labour and marking in response to management actions that unfairly attack casualised academic staff and will do lasting damage across Goldsmiths. 

Goldsmiths management have decided that the financial uncertainty caused by Covid-19 should fall upon the most precarious teaching staff (mirroring the course taken by senior bureaucrats at other myopic institutions including Exeter, Warwick and Sussex). All this while ALs and GTTs make up approximately  7% of Goldsmiths’ wage bill but do about 40% of the teaching.

These short-sighted and illogical actions from Goldsmiths management include a hiring freeze for the lowest paid teachers (ensuring effective redundancy for up to 472 employees on short-term/termly contracts); withholding of payments for additional hours worked responding to the lockdown; and the refusal by the college to use the government furlough scheme to support precarious staff through this crisis, with no explanation. In pursuing what may be a discriminatory approach to these most casualised staff, a high proportion of whom are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and/or with caring responsibilities, Goldsmiths is taking a reckless and heartless course at odds with its legacy of work in the areas of social justice and the creative arts. 

The most precarious teaching staff at Goldsmiths have therefore come to the conclusion that they have no alternative but to take collective action to save their jobs, protect their students and shift the disastrous course pursued by Goldsmiths senior management.

This collective action is to withhold unpaid labour through the refusal to return assessment grades until Goldsmiths changes course and negotiates with Associate Lecturers and GTTs. Grades will be withheld until that point. If Goldsmiths refuses to act then they risk further disruption for students, who have already been impacted by strikes and Covid-19 in this academic year. The last thing that precarious teaching staff want to do is impact their students, but it is clear that not acting would do more harm to these students in the long term – ensuring significantly lower numbers of teaching staff next year, enabling Goldsmiths (along with institutions across the sector) to continue its disastrous course of action imperilling the very future of higher education.

This action was launched in one of Goldsmiths’ main departments and is now sweeping through departments across the college. By treating valuable staff in key departments as if they are worthless and expendable, Goldsmiths management have shown a serious error in judgement. 

As one graduate teacher put it, ‘it seems like Goldsmiths has shifted their financial concerns onto the most precarious among us. As frontline staff, we are often the only people the students have direct and sustained contact with. This has become clearer through this lockdown, as we have worked tirelessly and over our contracted hours to make sure our students stay connected with the college, providing pastoral care alongside our teaching roles’. 

Senior management formally agreed on 21 April to pay the additional hours worked, but most ALs and GTTs are yet to see those payments made. And now they fear this won’t happen at all, with management adding the qualification on 22 May that these hours had to have been agreed in advance with management, which simply wasn’t practical in the scramble to support students through an unprecedented pandemic. 

Another Associate Lecturer added: ‘They keep telling us that the finances are unavailable, but we know that these are choices they are making. I earn just over £20 per hour while the head of Goldsmiths (the ‘Warden’) is paid more than £238,000 per year. Why couldn’t the Warden and other senior managers take a temporary pay cut instead of harming the livelihoods and cancelling the careers of the most precarious staff?’ Indeed a 20% wage reduction for the Warden alone would cover the costs of furloughing ALs and GTTs. 

Goldsmiths also has the finances for expensive projects like the new gallery and the future £6million enterprise hub. And just last week a new senior manager position (salary £65k) was advertised. Another staff member said: ‘We can’t help but question if less damaging cuts could be made elsewhere. Alongside the Goldsmiths UCU branch, ALs and GTTs have requested an extension to all fixed term contracts that end during the Covid-19 crisis until at least October 31st. This measure could be financed by temporary salary cuts for senior management, with the government furlough scheme used as a cost saving measure if necessary. But instead Goldsmiths have announced a hiring freeze.’

These cuts have much wider implications for the college too. With almost half the student body (45%) from BAME backgrounds, access to BAME staff (a high proportion of whom across Goldsmiths are on precarious contracts) will be radically reduced through this freeze. This move by senior management is an attack on women of colour and black colleagues, and further undermines the demands fought and won in 2019 through the inspiring 137-day occupation by Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action (demands that were only agreed to by senior management after issuing a possession order to have the students removed at the end of their occupation). It comes too after two successive strikes by UCU asking universities to address this issue, with its ‘Four Fights’ campaign making explicit the race and gender pay gaps apparent across the board, and how this relies specifically on job insecurity for these members of staff.

Please donate to our solidarity fund for causalised staff facing job losses: https://opencollective.com/goldsmithsmutualaid

On behalf of the Warden, Frances Corner, Goldsmiths Communications team have corrected the early claim we made that the Warden’s salary was £370,000. It is £238,000.