The UCU committee wrote to the deputy vice-chancellor for student education on 18 September expressing the serious concerns of UCU members about the pressure, in some cases last-minute, from the university executive group to plan in more face to face teaching than staff in schools felt was necessary in the circumstances. The letter asked 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 understand that a clarification we received from the HR team is intended as a response to our letter. It emphasises that management’s approach has been consistent that teaching will be “Hybrid: Large groups online; small groups & practicals [face to face] where safe and practicable” (23 April). The response notes the university executive group ‘affirmation’ in August that the “offer is hybrid, [the] guarantee is online.”
The implementation of this University-wide approach has been determined within each Faculty
This confirms the University position and that it has been consistent throughout.
The communications are on-going and an open house Q&A about delivery planning is being arranged. It would be much appreciated if, where relevant, you would relay this information to anyone who is raising concerns with you and suggest that they raise any specific concerns directly with the relevant Dean who will be best placed to respond to them as they will have been involved in the above decision-making process.
The UCU committee raised serious concerns about the unnecessary risk to the health of staff, students and the wider public of this insistence on bringing staff and students to the university for classes even when those delivering the modules don’t think it is necessary or the right approach pedagogically in the circumstances. The situation with the pandemic has changed significantly recently, with increases in infection rates both nationally and locally, so the teaching approach needs to be adapted accordingly. But the reverse has happened, with disciplines who had planned wholly online delivery being told they must provide face to face activities as well (optional ones, because many students themselves will not be able to attend campus).
We have seen what has happened in the US when campuses re-opened, and more recently in Scotland whose term started about two weeks before ours. We are not being “emotional” when we insist that the health and safety of our staff, students, and everyone they come into contact with should be the top priority. This is rational, and it is based on empirical data. We believe that minimising the number of people on campus is the best way to reduce the risk for everyone, including essential workers and staff teaching or supporting activities which can only be done face to face.
But the response from the senior management of the university seems to be that any fault lies in those who thought online teaching was the best approach for most modules – that they ought to have listened more closely to the “blended learning” message from the university executive group.
Members of the UCU committee are extremely disappointed that, instead of addressing widespread concerns about the safety of staff, students and the wider community, the response from management is that any concerned individuals should speak to their faculty deans.
The UCU committee is organising another emergency general meeting to collectively decide our next steps if the university executive group continues to put the health of our university community at unnecessary risk as the pandemic second wave escalates.
In the meantime, any Leeds UCU members with specific health and safety concerns about being required to work on campus should contact the branch for support – email firstname.lastname@example.org.
See further details of the Leeds UCU position on face to face activity on campus.