Live Sociology Against Casualisation 12 June 2020
Sociology at Goldsmiths is known for its engaged ‘Live Sociology’, based on developing approaches that contribute to dismantling social inequalities and injustice. This commitment extends across research and teaching, which we experience as interrelated flows of imagination and change, producing transformative knowledge and teaching and learning relationships. We feel that recent developments at Goldsmiths to cut jobs, and therefore increase staff workloads, will erode the sociological work and thought that we have been trying to develop and practice.
The signatories to this statement in Sociology regard our colleagues on Fixed Term Contracts, including Associate Lecturers and Graduate Trainee Tutors, as vital to the pedagogic and intellectual life of the department. We strongly oppose the systematic refusal to furlough or to extend and renew their contracts at a time of increased financial and career uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This response to the financial challenges that Goldsmiths and other universities are facing is damaging both to human infrastructures and to staff and student morale. It demonstrates an increasing lack of care and forethought by SMT. We are aware of how other universities are working hard to look for alternatives to the actions that Goldsmiths has been taking, for example by senior managers taking pay-cuts and by the furloughing of those on precarious contracts. As General Secretary of UCU, Jo Grady has argued, “Universities should suspend any dismissals for at least the period of the crisis and then review staff needs. Staff dismissed at this time will find it almost impossible to secure alternative employment whilst the crisis continues.”
We are especially concerned about the lack of recognition of how the vulnerability of our colleagues intersects with wider social inequities. British Academy-funded research from within our own Department explored the experiences of casualised academic staff and found that the burden of anxiety precipitated by precarious working conditions is routinely ‘individualised’ in universities – that is, staff are incited by employers to take personal responsibility for their own anxieties even though stress is exacerbated by wider structural and working conditions. Financial worries and the uncertainty inherent in fixed-term work are significant stressors and these exist in combination with other well-documented pressures – such as high workloads, racialised and gendered institutional inequalities, and how the hostile environment impacts on those without full citizenship and residency rights.
The majority of those in our department on precarious contracts are migrants and/or from racialised minorities; several also have caring responsibilities. The research of our FTC colleagues in particular, covers areas that speak directly to the everyday lived experiences of many of our students, especially Muslim women. The failure to protect and support these colleagues at this time of heightened awareness of racism, undermines the work that both the College and the Department has been doing to strengthen how we put commitments to equality into practice and more fully recognise the varied contributions of our colleagues. It has long been apparent that the broad range of work that academics of colour undertake from community activism, mentorship of racially minoritised students and early career scholars, to non-academic publishing and speaking can go unrecognised, even though employers and universities can benefit from this work in how it reflects upon the reputation of an institution. As sociologists, we can see how the current measures will undermine struggles towards equality and those aimed at decolonising and dismantling narrow and exclusionary knowledge-making. As well as having an immediate impact, we fear the long term effects with regard to capacity building for the future.The plight of our fixed-term contract colleagues is therefore not simply ‘somebody else’s problem’, but should be of urgent concern to our employers.
Practically, we have all experienced the effects of a culture of overwork that has become normalised in universities. In a recent report, universities have been described as ‘anxiety machines’, characterised by an epidemic of poor mental health among staff. Many of us are already feeling close to exhaustion with unmanageable workloads, not least in responding quickly to move teaching online. Significantly, the teaching work that we do also includes pastoral care (and sometimes also to alumni). This labour has increased and intensified during the pandemic. Our students, their families and friends have been infected by COVID-19. They have lost loved ones.They have also lost their jobs and accommodation, plunging them into further debt and insecurity. Many are struggling with anxiety and depression and have been emotionally disturbed by the recent events of police brutality, highlighted by the killing of George Floyd.
Recognition of the increased demand for pastoral care is at odds with cutting teaching capacity. Exhausted and demoralised staff are not in a position to provide holistic, meaningful support to students. In this sense, mental health in universities is deeply entangled, with stress and anxiety for staff having repercussions for students, constituting unhealthy pedagogic cultures.
In agreement with the demands already made by colleagues in the Department of Art, we call for the:
- Immediate honouring of payments across the College for additional work done by ALs across the College
- Extension of AL/GTT/FTC contracts, and furlough to be made available to all
- Full consultation on budget decisions related to staffing based on financial transparency (eg. Senior Management salary sacrifice ring fenced for ALs)
- Assessment of redundancy impact with proper and meaningful consultation with Union representatives both at Departmental and College-wide level
- Publication and distribution of all risk assessments that have been undertaken in relation to Health and Safety, especially in relation to workplace stress
- Publication and distribution of Equalities Impact Statement
As we continue to explore how we can support our AL, GTT and FTC colleagues, permanent staff in Sociology will take steps to protect our health and safeguard our students. This includes recognising how increasing workloads make it unsafe for us to cover the marking and/or course delivery that has been created by staff deficits. We urge you to withdraw the termination of contract notices that our colleagues have received and to work towards a strategy that does not erode the university and equality.
Brett St Louis
Sobia Ahmad Kaker