UCU’s position, both nationally and locally, is that all teaching in the coming term should be online (except for very limited cases where this is not feasible), and that all other university work that can be done online should continue online. Keeping the numbers on campus to an absolute minimum is the best way to avoid spreading the virus around the university community and beyond. Our General Meeting on 15th September overwhelmingly agreed on this, see link below to the wording of the motions passed on this issue.
We know many of you are worried and stressed about being required to return to campus, and we are hearing many concerns from departmental reps and individual members where school plans for wholly online teaching are being altered, at the behest of senior management, to include some face to face teaching and other events. Since some students will be unable to attend campus to attend these newly-proposed face to face activities, they are by definition non-essential. Requiring staff to come onto campus is particularly worrying now, given increases in the COVID-19 infection rate both nationally and locally. And we are concerned that requirements to work on campus will fall disproportionally on casualised staff, who are often in a difficult position financially, and also that this may have equalities impacts (because of for example the higher infection rates and mortality rates in BAME communities, which means higher risks for those staff).
Your branch officers, together with the other campus trade unions, have been working hard over the summer trying to improve the university’s support to staff during lockdown and to address health and safety issues. The unions have been meeting with management two or three times a week and doing our best to negotiate and influence the university’s approach. Our input on Health and Safety, aiming to make things as safe as possible for anyone who needs to return to campus and for students (including building checks, room occupancy limits, social distancing, face covering arrangements etc) has been welcomed so far and improvements made as a result. However, we believe that the situation has now changed materially, and staff, students, our families and friends, and the wider local community need to be protected as fully as possible. Hence our position that everything that can be done online must now be done online, until at least Christmas.
At the start of the COVID outbreak, we in Leeds UCU were trying to persuade our management to lock down earlier, as were union branches elsewhere. Sadly that didn’t happen, which across the country probably contributed to the scale of the pandemic. We feel it’s desperately important, both locally and nationally, to avoid universities contributing to a surge in cases, and therefore it is crucial to stay online wherever possible.
We’ll keep you in touch more regularly in this fast changing situation. We may need an Emergency General Meeting to consider potentially raising a dispute on this issue – look out for further emails soon.
- UCU national position (see for example Jo Grady’s article in the Guardian yesterday, and UCU advice to branches on re-opening of campuses)
- Branch letter last Friday to the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Student Education about unnecessary face to face activity
- Leeds UCU position – motions passed at General Meeting on 15th September
I know many of you are working incredibly hard at the moment, and often in very difficult situations. You are important, and together our contributions to the university are important – remember what we said in our strike placards and rallies: we are the university! Please look after yourself as best you can, and if you have problems then do ask the union for help. Please also continue to support each other across roles, contract types and diverse backgrounds – together we are strong! We need to use that collective strength to protect everyone.
University of Leeds UCU President