Oxford UCU Response to the Second consultation on possible revision to Statute XII
Following the publication in the Gazette of the Second consultation on possible revision to Statute XII the Oxford UCU Committee launched a consultation of our members, which included discussion at our Termly meeting, two general meetings at which the Branch unanimously adopted a Resolution, and an online survey. The following remarks reflect the views of our members as expressed at those meetings and in the survey.
The revised proposals are in effect a restatement of the original proposals published in 2014 in that they appear to seek the same end result: that it is to say, the weakening or removal of the current protections of the Statute for senior staff of the University. Oxford UCU responded in detail and at length to the original proposals and the comments that follow add to that response.
The current Paper seeks views on four points: provisions for disciplinary cases; a draft Statement of Freedoms; redundancy provisions, and changes to the bodies that would implement the new proposed procedures. Our members have observed that the changes proposed raise a number of issues relating to University governance, which this response will address first, before turning to the specific questions asked in the Consultation Paper.
Our members have raised a number of concerns about the future of the University’s governance.
Firstly, there was a strong view that the creation of a standing redundancy committee to deal with redundancies among core-funded staff would undermine the authority of Congregation. At present, it is for Congregation to decide whether or not there should be a reduction in the academic staff of any part of the University, and these proposals would remove that authority from Congregation; Congregation would merely receive a report ‘at regular intervals’ through the Gazette.
Both the original and most recent Consultation Papers cite privacy issues as a key motivation for proposing such a standing committee. However, it is clear that once a standing redundancy committee for established posts were in existence, it would enable the Administration to undertake large scale redundancy programmes without consulting Congregation. This would open up the possibility that the University could ‘out-source’ services that are currently provided by staff in established posts. This would run contrary to national UCU policy and the Branch also opposes it.
The University has put forward some safeguards presented by Personnel Committee. These provisions are inadequate, and would remove the ability of Congregation to make decisions about potential job cuts at the formative stage. UCU is concerned that this represents the intent of the Administration of the University to remove key decision making powers from the academic community, and as such represents a potential threat to the University’s long standing ethos as ’a representative democracy, culminating in Congregation’.
Secondly, many of our members have expressed concerns about the way in which the ‘Other proposed changes’ would also reduce the authority of Congregation by concentrating power in the hands of the Administration. There is particular disquiet over the exceptional level of authority and influence that would accrue to the Registrar. For example in the Disciplinary process, the Registrar would be involved at almost every stage: to advise the Vice Chancellor on whether or not issues of academic freedom were at stake; to appoint members of the Review Panel, and to populate the Staff Disciplinary Panel.
1. Proposed revisions to the redundancy provisions
A very large majority of Oxford UCU members opposed the proposal to set up a standing redundancy committee without the requirement to consult Congregation. This was made clear at all three meetings and in responses to our survey.
The proposed model, the redundancy committee for staff on open ended but terminable (externally funded) contracts, has apparently met only once, and so cannot be considered to be the well-tested model that the Paper implies it is. Further, a situation in which redundancies were made among established posts financed from University core funding, would not be directly parallel to a situation in which redundancies might occur due to the withdrawal of research funding by an external body.
If the arrangements regarding scrutiny of potential redundancies discussed in the 18 February 2015 Gazette were to be adopted, the University of Oxford would have less effective oversight than any other pre-1992 university in the United Kingdom. None of these institutions have in their Governance provisions a standing redundancy committee to consider the redundancies of core funded academic or academic-related staff. This would mean that University of Oxford would become a leading institution in the casualization of the academic workforce in the UK. This would have detrimental effects on the security of employment for these staff and would place the University at considerable risk of reputational damage.
Members have expressed concern that establishing a standing redundancy committee would enable the Administration to reduce the size of the workforce without consulting Congregation first, and that redundancies among administrative staff would be likely to result in more administrative work falling on academics.
In sum, a large majority of the Oxford UCU members, who expressed their considered views on the second Consultation Paper via three meetings and a survey, thus strongly object to the proposals affecting redundancy. In particular they perceive such proposals as drawing an unwarranted dividing line between academic and academic related staffs, undermining the role of Congregation, and being contrary to the spirit of the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel.
2. Draft Statement on the Freedoms protected by Statute XII
The University has clearly sought, to some extent, to incorporate the requirements of the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation, at (1)i, ii and iii. However, the exact meaning of imprecise formulations, such as, ‘appropriate according to the standards and norms of the relevant department, faculty or college’ or ‘according to standards of professionalism reasonably expected of the holder of an academic post in the University’ is unclear, and the draft Statement does not address the question of institutional censorship as defined in the national UCU statement on academic freedom.
Oxford UCU notes that it is extremely difficult to define the freedoms guaranteed under the Statute, which derive from the Education Reform Act 1988, and that some may also be assured by other legal (or quasi-legal) instruments, including Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to freedom of expression. Attempting to define these freedoms narrowly and then using such definitions to restrict the access of some groups of staff to certain employment procedures may leave the University open to legal challenge.
Our members have observed that the proposal explicitly to recognise these redefined ‘Freedoms’ for all staff ‘whose contracts require them to engage in academic teaching or research’ implicitly withdraws those ‘Freedoms’ from other staff who have hitherto been covered. There is a lack of clarity in the latest Paper as to which staff groups would be affected. However, Oxford UCU considers that this move would result in the withdrawal of protections of the Statute from the majority of the senior staff of the University holding established posts paid for from University core funding. Annex A to the first Consultation Paper identified 3074 such staff.
The first Consultation Paper suggested that the Statute’s protection extends to ‘arguably a broader range of staff than is appropriate for the Statute’s declared first aim’ (that is, the aim ‘to ensure that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges’). The protection of ‘academic freedom’ is not, in fact, the primary purpose of the Statute: the purpose of the Statute is to provide a mechanism for the disciplining or dismissal of staff as required by the Education Reform Act 1988. It should also be noted that the three groups implied by the Annex to that Paper not to merit the coverage of the Statute include ‘Libraries, Museums’ both of which were already long established and represented among the senior staff of the University for decades before the date of the Education Reform Act 1988. The third group is IT Services, but even the Computing Service was established as a separate department as early as 1978.
3. Proposed provisions for disciplinary cases
The Paper proposes the introduction of a new strand of procedures to deal with disciplinary cases that are deemed not to involve questions of ‘academic freedom’. A small minority of those responding to our survey were generally in favour of some, at least, of the proposals, but a large majority of those who have commented are either opposed to them or have raised serious reservations.
Particular concerns are the small sizes of the bodies that would be making decisions that would determine the professional future of senior members of the University, the lack of independence of those bodies from the influence of the University Administration and Personnel Committee, the extent of the influence of the Registrar at almost every stage of a disciplinary process, and a perceived democratic deficit in the appointment processes by which those bodies would be populated.
There was no broad support for reducing the size of the Visitatorial Board, and there was opposition to the abolition of the Medical Board. Those that expressed a view considered that medical capability procedures should be separate from disciplinary procedures. Oxford UCU considers that it is regressive and outdated human resource practice for the University to consider issues of medical incapacity solely under disciplinary procedures. The lack of a distinction between ‘performance’ and ‘conduct’ was also noted with concern by some members.
The choice of disciplinary procedure would be determined by whether or not ‘academic freedom’ were deemed to be at issue in the case. As explained in section 2 of this response, Oxford UCU anticipates that there would be likely to be difficulties in determining at the outset of a disciplinary case whether matters of ‘academic freedom’ were involved, and even in defining the freedoms that would (or would not) be guaranteed by the Statute. Oxford UCU also considers that the freedoms protected by the Statute are relevant to the situation of all the senior staff of the University and not only to staff falling within the definition of Statute XIV 7 (1) – (3).
Oxford UCU, following a careful consultation with our members, and reflecting their views, is unable to support the proposals in their present form. Oxford UCU acknowledges that there is some scope for reforming the University’s procedures for dealing with matters of discipline and incapacity. However the Branch, representing the views of our membership as expressed in the resolution in Appendix A, opposes the creation of a Standing Redundancy Committee for staff holding established posts and any other move that would diminish the role of Congregation in the governance of the University.
27 March 2015
Resolution unanimously adopted by Oxford UCU on 12 March 2015:
Oxford UCU finds that Statute XII has offered, and continues to offer its members, following the abolition of academic tenure in the Education Reform Act 1988, a high degree of protection on key employment issues, including redundancy and disciplinary matters.
Further, Statute XII helps sustain the mutually committed and unified style of employee relations, which Oxford UCU values, and also sits comfortably alongside the University`s democratic scheme of governance.
Oxford UCU notes:
1) that the proposals in the Second consultation on possible revision to Statute XII would weaken or remove the current protections of the Statute for senior staff of the University;
2) that these proposals would remove in many situations the current protections of the Statute from a significant proportion of the senior staff of the University on the basis of their employment contracts;
3) that the proposed standing redundancy committee for professional and administrative staff would bypass the authority of Congregation to determine in the first instance whether or not there should be a reduction in the numbers of such staff in any part of the University.
Oxford UCU therefore strongly opposes both any move on the part of the University to diminish the role of Congregation and a weakening of the Statute’s guiding principles, and instructs the Oxford UCU Committee and Negotiators to take all reasonable steps to preserve the protections that guarantee the just and democratic processes of the University.
Oxford UCU notes that while the Strategic Plan for 2008/9-2012/3 firmly describes academic freedom as ‘The most fundamental value underpinning all of our scholarly activity’ http://tinyurl.com/oxz4hqt the Strategic Plan for 2013-2018 makes the bland statement ‘Over the period of this Plan we will build on the University’s long traditions of independent scholarship and academic freedom while fostering a culture in which innovation plays an important role.’ http://www.ox.ac.uk/about/organisation/strategic-plan
In particular, ‘freedom from institutional censorship, including the right to express one