Please see below correspondence sent from GUCU and Goldsmiths UNISON to SMT calling for a full response to members of the occupation and to engage seriously with the demands of the occupation.
Dear SMT colleaugues,
In the light of the continuing occupation of Deptford Town Hall, we call on SMT to demonstrate their commitment to addressing institutional racism at Goldsmiths. We recognise that racism cannot be undone in a matter of weeks but we believe that immediate action must be taken to show that SMT is willing to engage seriously with the demands of the occupation. This should include, but is not limited to, the following pledges:
1. To respond fully to each point of the letter from the occupation of 7th April 2019 and, then to organise a meeting between all members of SMT and members of the occupation;
2. To grant mitigation in the current assessment process to those members of the occupation who request it;
3. To guarantee that no disciplinary action will be taken against any student for participating in the occupation
4. To recruit a mediating agency that is acceptable to both occupation and SMT;
5. To contact Lewisham Council about launching a public consultation on the statues on DTH;
6. To launch an open consultation in the College about anti-racism training for all staff;
7. Following Glasgow and Cambridge, amongst others, to commission an investigation into Goldsmiths’ connection to the slave trade and colonialism including scrutiny of material preservations of these links;
8. To provide a clear timetable for the production of a comprehensive strategic plan that addresses all issues raised by the occupation.
9. To pause the roll-out of SEAtS Software until all issues concerning surveillance, discrimination and privacy have been fully resolved.
These actions must be launched immediately and, we believe, will foster a much improved climate in which institutional racism can be meaningfully addressed.
We expect to receive a satisfactory response from you within three working days from the date of this email. Should we not do so, we intend to consult our members on taking further steps.
GUCU and Unison Goldsmiths Branch (17.05.2019)
Dear Marian, Sheila and colleagues,
Thank you for sending us your statement.
We begin our response by stressing that, throughout the occupation of Deptford Town Hall so far, SMT has repeatedly stated its commitment to meeting the majority of the protestors’ demands, has repeatedly acknowledged the legitimacy of the concerns they have raised, and has repeatedly offered to meet with the protestors to seek to discuss in detail how we can most effectively address those concerns.
We have recently published an updated summary of our response to the protest so far and the wider work to which we have committed to address the BAME attainment gap and how we handle instances of racism on campus. This is publicly available on Goldsmiths’ website: https://www.gold.ac.uk/students/dth-protest-college-response/
Some of the issues you have raised were addressed by the Warden in his email to the GARA protestors of last Friday (17 May), which we trust you have had the opportunity to read. In that letter, Pat makes the point that we are not convinced that extending further the considerable written correspondence between SMT and the protestors will help resolve the serious issues underlying the occupation, and he called directly on the protestors to set a time and place for us to meet.
However, we are deeply conscious of the concerns which motivate your own letter to us, and we remain keen to help inform your members of the steps we have already taken to build upon and accelerate our current work in this area.
We take your points in turn:
1. To respond fully to each point of the letter from the occupation of 7th April 2019 and, then to organise a meeting between all members of SMT and members of the occupation
As noted above, we are unsure how an inevitably lengthy response to GARA’s 15-page response to SMT’s letter of 1 April will help resolve this dispute. Further correspondence risks the perception that SMT and GARA are engaged in some kind of performative debate rather than focused on taking concrete action. However, we will reflect further on this point, if it would help break the current impasse. We share the view that all members of SMT should meet with the protestors (as the protestors have requested) so that we can place the voice of BAME students at the heart of our response, and have again made this offer on repeated occasions. We hope our campus unions will acknowledge the fact that the reason such a meeting has not taken place since the end of March is the decision of the protestors, and not SMT. If the unions would like access to the full correspondence supporting this point, we would be happy to share it.
2. To grant mitigation in the current assessment process to those members of the occupation who request it
As we set out in our response to UCU executive on this matter (3 May), any student who feels they are subject to extenuating circumstances should do so in the usual way. Consideration of applications is undertaken by academic departments, using their professional judgement and discretion to ensure parity for different cohorts.
We note that the protestors are able to enter and exit DTH freely during the day in order to attend classes, sessions, activities, the library, meet with tutors and so on. Wifi connectivity has also remained available within DTH. GARA have also been advertising their own quiet study space within DTH.
3. To guarantee that no disciplinary action will be taken against any student for participating in the occupation
As we set out in our response to GARA of 1 April, “We are happy to make clear that students engaging in peaceful protest will not face any form of disciplinary or legal action. However, this does not constitute permission to remain within the building, and continued occupation does remain unauthorised. While students engaging in peaceful protest will not face disciplinary action, if behaviour breaches our usual community standards or College property is damaged, we reserve the right to investigate through our usual procedures: those engaged in the protest cannot expect to be automatically immune from any form of disciplinary action where this is warranted. All students and colleagues on campus should be treated equally and fairly in this respect.”
4. To recruit a mediating agency that is acceptable to both occupation and SMT
SMT has approached a number of mediation agencies with specialist experience in the area of racial justice. In Pat’s email of last Friday (17 May), he made clear that SMT “would welcome any suggestions of additional organisations we could approach. We would suggest that the Students’ Union could help both GARA and the College in appointing a group to undertake this work.” We await a response from the GARA protestors on this matter and would welcome any steps the unions could take through their own channels to help progress these discussions.
5. To contact Lewisham Council about launching a public consultation on the statues on DTH
We can confirm that SMT has contacted Lewisham Council to explore the formal process for consulting on changes to a Grade II listed building. We await their response.
We have also committed to undertaking a community consultation on this subject, but we are reluctant to confirm a project plan without proper discussion with the GARA protestors to try and reach consensus on the best approach. GARA have thus far declined to engage in such talks and again we would invite the unions to do what they can to encourage the protestors to meet with us.
6. To launch an open consultation in the College about anti-racism training for all staff
SMT has asked the HR team to support work on delivering this commitment for the next academic year. We are conscious there are a range of views across academic colleagues on the best approach to such training, and that a wide consultation will be essential (including with the Goldsmiths Race Equality Group staff network and Goldsmiths staff with particular expertise in this area) to ensure any training has a meaningful and lasting impact. Our colleagues in the Equality and Diversity team will be supporting this work and will be in touch with the unions about how your members can engage.
7. Following Glasgow and Cambridge, amongst others, to commission an investigation into Goldsmiths’ connection to the slave trade and colonialism including scrutiny of material preservations of these links
As per SMT’s response to GARA of 1 April, we undertook to ensure that Dr Nicola Rollock’s proposal to conduct a comprehensive institution-wide audit of the experience of BAME students and staff at Goldsmiths includes consideration of these matters. We expect that the team supporting Nicola will make contact with the University of Glasgow to learn more about their approach.
8. To provide a clear timetable for the production of a comprehensive strategic plan that addresses all issues raised by the occupation
Dr Nicola Rollock is in the process of producing such a timetable to address relevant issues.
9. To pause the roll-out of SEAtS Software until all issues concerning surveillance, discrimination and privacy have been fully resolved
We fully share your desire to address any residual concerns about the technological functionality of potential student engagement systems. For the record, our implementation of the SEAtS software currently being piloted does not add any additional reporting requirements to third party organisations such as the Home Office and does not change our relationships or interactions with these statutory bodies.
The system is being explored following explicit requests from student representatives for us to look into more effective and consistent ways of identifying when students are disengaging from their studies, in order to target interventions to help those who are struggling. Departmental staff have also been requesting such support to facilitate their efforts to more easily identify and support student needs.
We are currently undertaking a full equalities impact assessment of the proposed system which we will gladly share with the campus unions. We would also be happy to facilitate attendance by representatives of the UCU and UNISON representatives at a future SEAtS project board meeting, to again discuss these concerns.
While SMT fully acknowledges its leadership role for the College and our ability to direct central resources, we have previously written about the need for the whole Goldsmiths community to engage with the concerns behind the GARA protest. As you acknowledge in your email to us, this is a long-term process – but one which demands an urgent response from all of us.
With this in mind, we hope that alongside writing to us, you are giving appropriate consideration to how your two unions might encourage your members to engage with the heart of the GARA concerns – that BAME students’ academic experience is tainted by the legacies of colonialism and behaviours they perceive to be racist. It might be helpful for you to share with us how you intend to work with your membership to highlight these issues, and the importance you place on them supporting the work SMT is seeking to co-ordinate centrally.
We are conscious that this is a difficult time on campus and that many colleagues have been directly affected by the impact of the protest. If you would like to meet with SMT to discuss these matters, we would be happy to make such arrangements.
In the meantime, we hope the response above confirms our position on the points you have raised, and underlines our commitment to working with you to help ensure all our students can benefit from a positive, safe and productive learning environment at Goldsmiths.
Goldsmiths’ Senior Management Team (23.05.2019)
Dear SMT colleagues
GUCU and Unison executives wrote to SMT on 17 May asking them to take some immediate and concrete steps to address the demands of the GARA occupation of Deptford Town Hall. One of those steps was for SMT to respond fully to a 15 page letter from the GARA occupiers sent on 7 April that the occupiers see as a precondition for any meaningful negotiations.
We received a response from SMT to our letter on 23 May. Its contents demonstrate that there is a fundamental problem with the attitude of SMT to the GARA occupation. SMT is unwilling to respond to GARA’s letter because they believe that this would put ‘performative debate’ above ‘concrete action’. They argue that they have offered to meet with the occupation and that it is the students, and not SMT, who are therefore blocking such a meeting.
GARA, however, have already made it very clear that they feel that a meeting with SMT, without a detailed response to their demands, would be one marked by a significant power imbalance. As they wrote to SMT: “We will not willingly enter the unlevel playing field of a face-to-face meeting without context. Our agenda may be set, ours may be clear, but yours is not”.
We are, therefore, in an impasse that serves no one – except that this is an impasse caused by SMT’s ‘performative’ actions in publishing many thousands of words outlining what they say they have already done (much of which may indeed be welcome) without actually responding fully to the specific demands of students challenging institutional racism in the College.
We call once again on SMT to recognise that the occupying students are not refusing to meet them but rightly seeking to meet in a context in which all sides have access to the relevant facts and are mutually able to set a productive agenda. We ask that SMT immediately communicate to GARA their answers to the precise points of the 7 April letter such that a meeting can take place in good faith and that ‘concrete action’ can be pursued.
Finally, we would be happy to share with SMT how we intend to engage with the issues raised by the GARA occupation. We are, however, surprised that SMT would wish to equate the College’s institutional connections to racism and colonialism with that of individual staff members who work under its aegis. That is the kind of power imbalance that the GARA students are specifically referring to in their call-out of structural racism and to which the management of the College have a special responsibility to address.
Unison Goldsmiths Branch and GUCU (05.06.2019)