Message sent to Leeds UCU members 30th November 2021
This coming week, for the first time in the history of our University, one of us is going to be dismissed on the basis of not doing enough research. Read that again. This colleague is not being dismissed for not doing any research, no, they are being dismissed for not doing enough research, and for publishing but for not publishing enough, and for applying for grants and getting grants but not getting enough. Our dismissed colleague, at grade 8, is currently a Co-I on a £1.4M Fellowship. His research has an h-index of 18 (with over 1390 citations of peer-reviewed papers) and he has had 37 International patents. He was deemed to not satisfy the metrics set for him to retain his employment.
One person set the benchmarks for our colleague, benchmarks that only applied to him, and then that same single person decided that he did not meet those benchmarks. Even the Director of Research in that School was not made aware of these benchmarks, so could not directly support our colleague. What is more, the evidence from Symplectic was clear – this colleague was by no means exceptional in terms of their output over the last five years, many in his school did not meet those ad-hoc benchmarks. Looking further outside that one School, we can prove easily that there has not been equality of treatment. If the University management were truly concerned about equality they too could have found this evidence, but undertook no such research. What is more, our dismissed colleague’s output was closer to his own personal, bespoke benchmarks than some colleagues a grade or even two grades above him. Shamefully, there is also a dimension of ethnicity in those comparisons. The UCU’s National Black Members’ Standing Committee has expressed their concern and support in this case.
Looking at the detail of his contract of employment, our colleague meets the requirements – he has done to the letter everything it says in that contract. He did research, he published research, he applied for and gained grants, and so on. If the University wants to set other benchmarks to complement our contracts as terms and conditions for employment, they are obliged to agree them with the recognised union first. They did not in this case. This illegitimate behaviour now exposes all of us on teaching and research contracts. This has never happened before at Leeds.
It gets worse. This colleague was told that they had to travel to and enter campus during a pandemic to continue their research, and were even given a letter to show to the police to facilitate that dangerous journey. It was a case of ‘put your and your family’s health at risk or lose your job’. In the appeal hearing, remarkably, a representative of the University doubled-down on that and indicated that it was reasonable to demand that he came on campus and go to work in his lab. An Occupational Health report had indicated clearly that he was at greater risk on the basis of his ethnicity and age.
There’s more. When he was first told he was dismissed, it was with immediate effect, which is reserved usually for atrocious behaviour. The University even got legal advice that there was no contractual mechanism to do what they had done, and so they were demonstrably in breach of contract. Such a breach, a failure of procedure, should automatically mean an impending appeal might win, not to mention the potentially illegal behaviour over insisting that someone enters a place they believe to be unsafe, not to mention the strong evidence that there might have been unequal treatment.
A University that makes high claims about its values and how it treats its staff might want to hesitate over such an appeal against dismissal instead of supporting the decision of just one manager over ad-hoc benchmarks that had not been formally agreed with the union. When the evidence is so stacked against the University for an Employment Tribunal, you might think that they would look closely at the processes that would not only lead to such an outcome, but would even strengthen that evidence within an appeals process.
The University still has time to make an appropriate procedural adjustment to this outcome, one that chimes finally with its public statements of values and principles.
This page was last updated on 30 November 2021