UCU members agreed at our general meeting on Thursday 2 May to ask the university to withdraw the new process, which will see heads of school appointed by the university senior management without appropriate consultation with staff.
UCU members argue the head of school role is about the academic direction of the school which is why, in most schools, academic staff are involved in the recruitment process and are able to review and ask questions about the research and plans of applicants. The tradition – enshrined in many school constitutions – of academic staff having a major role in choosing which of their colleagues will lead the school for the next three to five years is one which helps to create a collegial environment, and helps to prevent the head of school role being primarily about delivering the managerial decisions of the University Executive Group (“UEG”).
Appointing managers to toe the line
UCU has raised our concerns with the university via HR in the first instance, and we will raise it in the next formal meeting with university management (the Joint Committee of the University and UCU, or “JCUU”) on 20 May.
HR have claimed that the new policy is about improving equality. UCU agrees that this is very important. However we do not believe that changes to the process made without appropriate consultation with staff are adequate to ensure equality. UCU believes that there are many meaningful actions that could be taken to promote equality and diversity at every level of our university workforce, and the imposition of new procedures without consultation or equality impact assessment falls short of best practice.
HR have also indicated to UCU that another justification for these changes is that external appointments are needed to get people with the “right skills”. We find it deeply offensive to imply that staff here don’t have the skills needed to be heads of school. Crucially we feel, a degree of academic integrity is required to lead an academic department and, more importantly than having the right skills, a Head of School needs to have the trust and support of her colleagues. We agree that certain managerial skills are also required but these can and should be provided through appropriate institution-led training.
Many members have concluded that the real motivation behind these changes is to increase the control over schools held by the University Executive Group. The role of Head of School has traditionally included ensuring staff are adequately consulted regarding decisions that will affect them and their area of work. Sadly, UCU is aware that some members of the University Executive Group have expressed frustration at heads of schools who won’t “do what they’re told”. Given current concerns about threats to academic freedom it is more important than ever that the University ensures that appointments are made with that in mind and that academic integrity is preserved.
Appointing anti-union managers
Several sources reported that the Vice Chancellor was very angry that so many heads of schools went on strike last year (as is their legal right) to defend our USS pension scheme, and voiced his opinion that he does not think heads of schools should engage in such action. UCU does not think our senior management should have actively encouraged USS to scrap our defined-benefit pension scheme, but we don’t always get what we want. (See the 9 April open meeting video for the latest on the USS pension dispute.)
Naturally, this context is concerning when we witness these plans to bring in such external managers, possibly as permanent heads of school. Given that, it is absolutely crucial that the process be fair and transparent and inclusive, as such processes have typically been until now. It is absurd to suggest that confidentiality dictates that certain parts of the appointment process be restricted on an ‘invitation only’ basis, as they have been in some Schools already. Colleagues can of course be trusted to maintain confidentiality where appropriate as indeed they have in the past. Again, it is an insult to suggest otherwise.
Putting our opposition into practice
UCU members voted unanimously for a motion (below) calling on UCU to press university management to halt the process and enter into talks. HR tell us there is no new university policy, it just happens that all the Deans have suddenly decided this is the way forward.
We will make these requests formally, and we will report back to members and consult on further action if our calls to stop the practice are ignored.
Text of the motion passed unanimously at the UCU University of Leeds general meeting 2 May 2019
Emergency motion: new process for appointing Heads of School
This meeting notes the introduction of a new institution-wide process for appointing Heads of School and that this process
- was introduced at short notice and without appropriate consultation across the institution as a whole
- requires the post to be externally advertised, even when the School has internal candidates willing to take up the role and who have been approved by their colleagues;
- undermines collegiality and democracy within a School
- may over-ride School constitutions that require such appointments to be made in consultation with members of the School
- may have significant budgetary implications
This meeting resolves to ask University management to
- withdraw the current imposed and unnecessary process
- initiate discussions with UCU and other interested parties with a view to agreeing an appointment process that is fair, transparent and equality tested, that allows for internal appointments to proceed where agreed by members of the School concerned and that respects the collegial and democratic environments of individual Schools across the institution.