On Friday 12th November papers were circulated to members of Senate in advance of the meeting set for Wednesday 17th November. These papers contain three major governance changes which we are profoundly concerned by.
Firstly, Council have agreed to change the method of selecting its members, such that elected staff members will be replaced by staff members nominated by the Nominating and Governance Committee. This committee consists of the Pro-Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor and three lay members of Council. The rationale for this is unclear. A review was undertaken of governance processes at the University by Advance HE last year, and that review, it appears, refers to a need to ensure that members of Council have the appropriate skills and experience needed. That review is available with Council papers for July, when this was discussed, which can be accessed by University staff here : https://forstaff.leeds.ac.uk/homepage/374/governance. It raises some concerns about the expertise of non-staff members of Council, in relation to their understanding of the Higher Education sector, but is silent on issues relating to staff members of Council. The review also reports concerns that Council lacks diversity, and notes that elections can prove a barrier to members of under-represented groups putting themselves forward. The same can be said of appointment processes. This proposal has already been agreed by Council: Senate is being asked to comment on it.
Secondly, Senate is being asked to agree a substantial reduction in its size and composition. Senate currently has up to 189 members, of whom up to 83 are ex officio or co-opted, up to 84 are elected staff, and 19 are drawn from the student body. The Advance HE report suggested that this be reduced to 80 or fewer and that that could include a rebalancing of the composition of Senate in favour of elected, as opposed to ex officio, members. The proposal before Senate is for a Senate which has 49 members as a maximum – quite a lot fewer that what is proposed by Advance HE. Ex officio and co-opted members are reduced to 27, elected members to 16 and student members to 6. This means a rebalancing of the membership of Senate in favour of ex officio rather than elected members. It also means an almost complete removal of professional services staff from Senate. Heads of Services are stripped of Senate membership, with the exception of the Librarian and it is not clear by what mechanism, if at all, Professional Services/Academic-related staff will be able to stand for election. Any justification on this on the basis of the Senate’s role as focused on student education and research is flawed and an insult to our Professional Services and Academic-Related colleagues who contribute so fundamentally to the core business of the University. Senate is being asked to agree this proposal.
Thirdly, the proposal is to reduce to remit of Senate to only academic matters, narrowly understood. At the moment, as well as its academic remit, Senate may consider various important aspects of the university work and governance:
“In addition, the Senate
(a) may discuss and declare an opinion on any matter whatsoever relating to the University;
(b) shall be consulted about the allocation of general revenue;
(c) shall be given the opportunity to comment on proposed policies or modifications to policies, and on major business proposals affecting the academic work of the University;
(d) shall be consulted about any material modifications to the constitutional and organisational structure of the University.”
See https://www.leeds.ac.uk/secretariat/documents/senate_statement_of_role_and_responsibilities.pdf) In the new proposals, this is reduced to merely:
“The Senate may discuss and declare an opinion on any academic matter relating to the University.”
Taken together these proposals reduce the ability of ordinary staff members to participate in the decision making of the University at the highest level. They are the very opposite of participatory democracy. The proposal appears to be that representation in Senate and Council will be replaced by ‘town hall meetings’ to ‘air concerns’: this is by no means adequate, particularly given the tendency in recent similar meetings across the university to the use of a webinar format and selectivity in the taking of questions.
Finally, the proposals violate the University’s Code of Practice on Corporate Governance – https://www.leeds.ac.uk/secretariat/documents/code_of_practice_on_corporate_governance.pdf
Under ‘Collegiality’ the University commits “to maintaining elected seats on the Council, the Senate and all policy boards (in the case of the Senate the elected seats to constitute a majority of the total membership)”. This statement was negotiated with UCU in 2010 and we are thus gravely concerned to see it so comprehensively violated. UCU believes that the participation of elected staff representatives on governance bodies is a central tenet of academic freedom and that these changes thus add to the continuing undermining of academic freedom that is being seen across the sector.
Finally we note that no Equality Impact Assessment has been conducted of these proposals and we are concerned that they will exacerbate the already existing lack of diversity within Senate and Council. It is not enough to make general commitments to equality; if we are to have confidence in the University’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, proposals such as this one should contain specific assessments as to the impact on the diversity of Senate and Council, before either body is asked to agree them.
We urge all Senators to support any call for a vote on these proposals and to vote against them. In a General Meeting on 7th October this year the branch resolved to lodge a dispute with the University if proposals which reduce the involvement of professional services staff and undermine democracy are not removed. See https://www.leedsucu.org.uk/substantive-motions-passed-at-general-meeting-7-october-2021/#senate
Chloe Wallace, branch president
This page was last updated on 15 November 2021