Letter from UCU Exec to Vice Chancellor in support of 235 and occupation

http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/b/g/sussex_update_feb13.pdf

Professor Michael Farthing
Sussex House
cc VCEG, UCU Members
February 18 2013

Dear Vice Chancellor,

Thank you for your response to what we expect must have been a deluge of
messages you have received from faculty and staff regarding outsourcing and the
occupation of the Terrace Room in Bramber House.

We are pleased and relieved by your guarantee that force will not be used on this
occasion. We also appreciate that you are allowing free access to the conference
room from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

We similarly welcome the fact that there is now in place ‘a jointly agreed approach to
making available to affected staff the opportunity to explore the possibility of early
retirement or voluntary severance as a potential alternative to transfer to the chosen
partners’, and that you have arranged a meeting later this month to consider the
issue of pensions. We look forward to our dedicated pensions meeting on the 28th of
this month, and are encouraged that Management has – after some considerable
pressure on the Unions’ parts – agreed to two further meetings on the 20th and 27th of this month.

These are, however, minor concessions in light of the Unions’ over-arching aim to
halt outsourcing. Further, we have some questions and concerns about some of the
statements you made in your letter, which we will now address.

You state that ‘the managers of the services tell me that those who work in Bramber
House do not welcome the third floor occupation’. Our understanding is that the
majority of affected workers are supportive of the occupation. Many of the staff who
you propose to outsource to a private company regularly attend events in the
occupied space. A letter sent from a staff member to the student activists just last
night is, we feel, far more representative of staff views than what staff managers
have told you are the case. We quote:

‘Dear Occupiers…
Thank you for your hospitality this evening. The Bramber house conference
centre has never felt so warm and welcoming. I was absolutely blown away
by how much you have all achieved in one short week. For the first time sincei was told my job was going to be outsourced (told, not consulted) i actually
felt there was some hope that this privatisation can be stopped. You are all
truly amazing and this action on your part is something that i, and many
others on the staff at the Uni have been hoping for. Dont stop til you’ve won.
You are truly inspiring. Massive thanks to each and every one of you for your
participation.’

Moving on, we would also like to report that the UCU has already received messages
from faculty expressing outrage over your comments that costs incurred by
Management as a result of the occupation might be made up by redirecting monies
from the Students’ Union and ‘our teaching and research funds’. If this is what you
meant to communicate, we must say in total frankness that such comments appear
to be in the service of nothing more than dividing allegiances among students, staff
and faculty. Comments like these are, we maintain, precisely why so many members
of our community insist Management practice is counter to the Sussex ethos.
However, we acknowledge that we might be misunderstanding your intent in this
case. As a matter of urgency, we would therefore like you to clarify what you meant
by these particular comments.

In terms of meeting with student occupiers, you state that you “offered to meet with
[the activists] on Tuesday of this week – and to report their views to the project board
who are leading on our work with external partners and to the Council – on condition
that they leave the Conference Centre. But the offer was declined.”
The reason why your offer was declined is because, as students have made clear in
their many interviews with local and national press, they are under the impression
that consultation between Management, staff, and students has been disingenuous
from the start. They feel that abandoning their occupation for what they perceive to
be yet another one-sided conversation serves no one’s interests. Whether this is the
case or not is, of course, a matter of debate. What is clear, however, is that the terms
of engagement have obviously changed.

We encourage you and Mr. Duffy to do something extraordinary in this case and
meet the students on their terms. They have asked you to talk to them in the
Bramber conference room. We encourage you to do so as a way of showing you
understand the seriousness of the situation and to show you are willing to make real
compromises yourselves over how and when consultation between Management and
students take place. This would be a tremendously heartening move to most staff,
students and faculty here at Sussex.

After all, outsourcing was presented from the beginning as a fait accompli.
‘Consultation’ as Management defines it has been based entirely on the precondition
that there would be no actual consultation as to whether services would be
outsourced in the first place. Student activists have concluded that without a
possibility of influencing the decision to outsource, talks on offer by you and the
Registrar cannot be defined as meaningful consultations. We say this particularly in
light of your quoting from one student’s email that expressed reservations about the
occupation. This single email does not, we believe, represent the majority view. We
would observe that the most recent demonstration in support of the occupation and
against outsourcing was reported in the national press as being one of the largest
demonstrations in Sussex’s history. Given the widespread support for the occupation,
we think it is crucial that Management show some willingness to adapt to the new
paradigm.

Your letter to concerned faculty and staff appears to equate opposition to outsourcing
with hostility towards improving the quality of life on campus. And yet, we who
question outsourcing 235 staff want this University environment to ‘be high quality,
focused on students and staff and offer good value for money’ as much as you do.
Indeed, your pointing out that ‘our grounds maintenance are already provided by
contractors’ provides us with all the more reason to oppose outsourcing, given the
regularly dilapidated and filthy condition of said grounds – conditions widely
commented on disparagingly by prospective students and their parents at Open Days
and similar occasions. We would also observe that without having received any
information from you about the aims of this privatization and no guarantee that either
staff’s terms and conditions or the level and quality of services would be maintained,
most assume that you are going through this process simply as a money-saving
exercise on the back of those with comparatively little leverage.

Finally, regarding the ways in which Management has consulted with the Unions, it is
our sad duty to remind you that these meetings have been publicly criticised by the
unions themselves. As procurement specialist and former national secretary at
Unison, Malcolm Wing, stated in an article published in the Times Higher Education
on [date], the consultation process at Sussex was ‘”without doubt the worst in terms
of engagement with staff and their trade unions and the most secretive” in his
experience.’

The UCU is in broad agreement with Mr. Wing’s assessment of the situation, and
believes things have to change dramatically if there is to be a satisfactory conclusion
to the current occupation and an improvement in morale generally across campus.
This is why the UCU has called for an emergency meeting of Council to discuss
outsourcing. We hope you support our call for such a meeting, and that you and Mr.
Duffy meet with student activists in the Bramber conference room as soon as
possible.

Yours sincerely.
Sussex UCU Executive Committee

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About sussex against privatization

Workers and students at the University of Sussex who are opposed to the plan to privatize 235 jobs.
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