Email sent 2.15pm Friday 18 September 2020 on behalf of UCU University of Leeds Branch to the University of Leeds deputy vice-chancellor for student education, copied to the university secretary and to the director of Human Resources.
Dear [deputy vice-chancellor]
We are writing to you in relation to the increasing pressure which is being experienced by staff to provide face to face teaching on campus over this academic year. Over the summer, staff involved in teaching and student support have worked incredibly hard to produce teaching materials, and design teaching and student support and community building processes that operate online in order to provide student education in safe circumstances. A number of Schools and Faculties had had plans approved to provide student education wholly online in Semester 1, because of their judgment that teaching and student support can not only be effectively provided online but, in many cases, can be better provided online given social distancing rules that will impact how we work face to face. We now understand that those Schools are being required to provide face to face activity where none was previously planned, requiring changes in planning, staff to teach face to face and in many cases provision to be less good than it would have been online given the requirements of social distancing.
We are deeply concerned about this. Any face to face activity constitutes a risk of COVID-19 spread; measures can be taken to mitigate that risk, but the only way that University activity can be COVID safe is by conducting it online. The fact that some Schools had not planned for face to face activity means that such activity cannot reasonably be considered as necessary. Consequently, the University is asking staff and students to run the unnecessary risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, impacting not only our University communities but the wider communities of which we are a part. Given the rising transmission rates both locally and nationally, this is irresponsible. In addition, we note that staff have been asked at the last minute to develop new activities which may or may not go ahead depending on the local and national situation. This creates huge uncertainty for both students and staff, and exacerbates the workload problem which we have spoken to you about on a number of occasions.
Whilst we all wish that we were able to start the new academic year as we usually would, that is simply not possible. Our position both nationally and, following a General Meeting on 15th September, of the local branch, is that there should be no face to face teaching or student support at least over Semester 1, unless there is genuinely no other alternative (such as some practical classes). The amount of work that staff have put in to developing an online student experience over the summer has been exceptional, particularly given difficult working conditions, and the University should be confident, and speak confidently, about the quality of provision we can offer, whilst protecting the health and safety of our wider community. We request, therefore, that the requirements on Schools to provide face to face teaching and student support be lifted, and that the University adopt a policy of all teaching and student support being provided online over Semester 1 at least, unless there is no alternative. We further request a review of the situation in December 2020 with a view to considering provision in Semester 2, and that the campus trades unions be fully involved in that review.
With best wishes
Vice-president, on behalf of Leeds University UCU branch committee