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Produced by Belfast Association of University Teachers Issue No 7 June 1998

Annual General Meeting

Thursday 24th June 1998 — 1.00 p.m.
Room 121 Lanyon South, Staircase R

Agenda

1) Apologies

2) Minutes of 1997 A.G.M.

3) Matters arising from minutes

4) Annual reports

President

Honorary Secretary

Honorary Treasurer

Local subscription rate

Secretary for Local Issues

5) Elections 1998-1999

General members nominations (4 places)
Gaynor Creighton
Jill Stewart-Moore
N
icole Mezey
Duncan Mercer

Officers — nominations

President Renee Prendergast Honorary Secretary Paul Hudson
Secretary for Local Issues John Lynch
Honorary Treasurer Susan Harte
Membership Secretary Max Goldstrom
Assistant Hon. Secretary George Dunn

As these were the only nominations, the above people will be duly elected.

6) Changes to the local rules (copies available from the secretarial services - ext 3090)

7) The Academic Plan - consequences for staff

8) Any other business

 


ACADEMIC RESTRUCTURING:WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

Report is approved despite misgivings

At its meeting on 2 June, Senate approved the APG proposals for the academic restructuring of the university. An amendment was proposed specifically to review the closure of Geology, but it was defeated. Whatever one thinks of the outcome, Senate’s treatment of the debate was, in the main, quite responsible. It recognised the fact that there is a strong desire within Queen’s to raise our game, both in the province vis--vis the UU, and in the national league tables, and in the end that is what counted most when Senate decided upon endorsing the strategy. But it did not rubber stamp the proposals, and paid a great deal of attention to their costs and implications. At least one member of Senate spoke up on behalf of each of the areas identified for closure, though, obviously, without in the end being able to amend the plan. Three major themes emerged. One was a highly critical view among a number of lay senators of the area of clinical medicine, and a concern that this area should not be able to avoid the kind of review to which the rest of the university had been subjected. Second, following on from the concerns expressed at Academic Council, was that there should be a process of reviewing contributions other than research which individuals who may be targeted as a consequence of the Report could make to the university. And thirdly there was a concern that the process of ‘disinvestment’ [sic] should be handled in a sensitive and humane manner, and that opportunities should be afforded for advice, counselling and help to be given to staff in the targeted group. Not much of a consolation prize, but hopefully a stance which will constrain some of our more gung-ho academic managers.

AUT has made its criticisms of the APG plan crystal clear. We have said that it is over-ambitious; potentially highly disruptive; has sent out a distorted message about the balance between research, teaching and ‘good citizenship’, and undermined existing informal agreements covering individual allocation of time and effort among the three; may not, in the end, bring major financial returns; and we have supported those individual subject areas designated for closure on the grounds that the cases made in the APG report are by no means well-founded. The report, though, has now been approved.

The ‘implementation stage’.

It is all very well drafting reports and putting them through the decision-process. The real test is whether they can be implemented. So what is intended to happen now?

There is currently a short hiatus, during which Provosts have been instructed to draw up and sign off definitive lists of individuals who will be approached with offers of voluntary severance and early retirement. In the process, they have also been instructed that every individual should be informed directly and confidentially that they are on the college/faculty list. Formal letters have been drafted, and are due to be distributed, I understand, during this week starting 15 June. Two separate letters will go out, depending upon whether individuals are in an area identified for closure or not. At the moment, we should emphasise, there is no threat of compulsory redundancy, and I understand that the next meeting of the Standing Committee of Senate - the body which alone can appoint a Redundancy Committee to select individuals for redundancy amongst those not blessed with pre-1987 contracts - has been cancelled. The letters set out a timetable. Staff are invited to give a preliminary indication by the end of the summer about whether they are interested in accepting the offer. A definitive decision will be sought by March, and it is anticipated that severance will take place at the end of the next academic year.

Overall responsibility for what senior management terms the ‘implementation phase’ will fall to Professor Malcolm Andrew, as the incoming pro-vice-chancellor dealing with policy and planning. In addition, an Implementation Group (this title may not be exact) has been established consisting of Professors Sean Fulton and Robin Shanks, with support on pensions etc from Abigail Larkin (Bursar's Office). This team is committed to meeting every individual targeted in the plan with the aim of discussing their personal circumstances and future.

In this context, the Association has a number of tasks. One is to ensure that the university is able to facilitate those individuals who might wish, or be prepared, to take up an offer of severance earlier rather than later. Given the climate that has been created by the APG plan and public pronouncements surrounding it, as well as the changed culture which is being set for the university, it may well be the case that some members of staff are prepared to sever their attachment in the very near future. We are emphasising that not only should this not be prevented, but also that positive assistance should be available. The second is to engage with the problems of areas targeted for closure. While we are not, in the strictest legal sense, in a redundancy situation, the fact of the matter is that this is what has, in practice, arisen as a consequence of the Senate decision. In his article in the Irish News of 1 June, the Vice-Chancellor explicitly used the word ‘redeployment’ in this context, and in truth there is now more than a merely moral responsibility upon the university authorities to address alternatives to severance for staff in these areas. What these alternatives might be is something that is likely to be the subject of hard thinking and intense bargaining.

The third issue, which encompasses but is broader than the second, deals with what we may loosely call the ‘McLaughlin proposal’ which received strong support at Academic Council. This is for a ‘second review’ of those staff targeted for severance on the grounds that they may not hit the right grade in the next RAE, in order to evaluate any ‘other university contribution’. Being realistic about this, we cannot anticipate that the university authorities, having endorsed such a wide-ranging severance package, will willingly and easily draw back from their target figures. However, the Implementation Group will have to confront a number of issues.

The most obvious is the fact that some staff still retain pre-1987-style tenure. Another is that some jobs may simply not be done unless targeted staff carry on doing them, or are slotted into jobs which others abandon because there seems to be no payback for non-research activities. A third is that severances in some areas may risk the continuity of degree programmes. Fourthly, staff who are not targeted may be reluctant to assume additional workloads created by the loss of colleagues in their area. A fifth is that redeployment may make it possible for the university to undertake new tasks, or develop areas which have so far been restricted or had a low priority. Finally, there is a problem of letting staff go when it may prove difficult to recruit ‘high calibre’ staff in an increasingly competitive academic market. All this against a possible background of continuing flak inside and outside the university over the rationale for targeting specific subjects for closure. There are also issues about developing a new system for managing performance, with the threat of disciplinary action, as indicated in the APG report. Any such system would almost certainly have to apply to all academic staff, and not just those targeted for severance. It would represent a change in conditions of service and would have to be the subject of negotiations.

As your trade union, it is our task now to do the best we can to ensure that your interests, if you are affected by the proposals, continue to be articulated and protected in the best way possible. We shall help to ensure that, if you wish to leave, you get the best deal possible. If you want time to decide, we will back you against any Heads or Deans who seem anxious you give you the bum’s rush. Please be absolutely clear: you are under no obligation at this stage to indicate your future intentions (though, if you do want to go early, contact us for advice). If you want to stay, don’t allow yourself to be intimidated out. Consider your options, and discuss them with us before you are called, next semester, to discuss them with the Fulton-Shanks group. We shall seek a meeting with them, and with Professor Andrew, at the earliest possible opportunity to consider how they propose to implement the commitments which were made at Academic Council and Senate.


HQ is Moving

AUT headquarters is moving to larger premises which we have bought in the area south of Kings Cross. From Monday 6 July the new address will be

Egmont House,
25-31 Tavistock Place,
London, WC1H 9UT
Phone: 0171-670 9700
Fax: 0171-670 9799

At present you can phone AUT HQ by dialling #6 223 on QUB telephones and we will try to get this facility transferred to the new number.


AUT Mortgage

Many university staff have difficulty in getting a mortgage in the early part of their career because they are employed on a fixed term contract with the consequential risk of a break in employment. The AUT has negotiated with Unity Financial Services a mortgage package which is especially designed to meet the needs of those working on a fixed term contract and which is exclusive to AUT. A payment break of up to six months has been built into the package, as has free membership of AUT for one year and free unemployment cover for up to four years in the event of redundancy.

This ‘Mortgageplan Plus’ is also available to existing AUT members (whether fixed term or not). Details will be mailed to all members in the autumn, but if you want information sooner call Sally Hunt at AUT HQ.


Pay Rise

Your new salary scales - an increase of 2% - will be used for your June salary, but you may have to wait until July for your backpay from 1st April. A further 1.8% is payable from 1st October.