GUCU Officers Letter to Council Members

For information, a letter sent by GUCU Officers to Council Members regarding the strength of feeling about the current situation at Goldsmiths, and requesting a meeting to discuss these issues and find a way forward.

Subject: FAO Council Members – please forward 22nd October, 2020

Dear Council Member,

We are writing to you to convey the strength of feeling that our membership has been voicing about the current situation at Goldsmiths. Alongside our large membership, we are hearing similar sentiments expressed by our technical and professional services colleagues, as well as a large proportion of the student community.  We would like to see if Council members would be willing to meet with staff to discuss these issues and ways forward.

The sentiment we are hearing across our community can best be summed up as follows: we are facing a double crisis. The first is a severe health and safety crisis where staff do not feel protected and heard, and the second is a crisis in leadership and governance. A large-scale restructuring plan is being imposed without consultation in the middle of a pandemic, whilst our resources are stretched to breaking point. Staff are bewildered at this decision: it is hugely damaging to morale in what is already an impossible situation that sees staff working around the clock, providing teaching and pastoral care while coping with often-vulnerable IT systems – all in the attempt to maintain and exceed our commitment to our students and the successful running of the College. 

Staff are deeply concerned that any significant restructure will introduce further chaos and cuts to staffing and departmental resources at this moment when they are needed most; and that this in turn will significantly worsen the student experience and oversee a rise in student withdrawal and deferral requests before the winter break that we can scarcely afford. Indeed, if league tables and the National Student Survey are a key concern, restructuring at this time constitutes a clear and present reputational risk and will undoubtedly result in further moral and financial damage to the University’s brand. Staff feel strongly that we should be allowed to focus all of our attention on our students and on campus and community safety now, and not be forced to defend ourselves against threats of redundancy during a pandemic. What we keep hearing is that management’s priorities are very much misplaced at this time, and that they are insufficiently attuned to student and staff wellbeing, which of course will have consequences for student retention.

Staff have been briefed on the IBR and understand that the current deficit (£7.1m) and close to £13m of the Covid funding gap can be addressed through quick action on capital expenditure (Enterprise Hub; sale and leverage of land and buildings; and cancellation of non-urgent capex – close to £20m). Staff understand that a loan will likely need to be sought to address cash flow in Spring Term, but making huge restructuring decisions prior to actual reforecast figures, and in the absence of transparency or any meaningful consultation is deeply perplexing, damaging and counterproductive. 

Staff are concerned about how the College’s finances got into the state they are in. In all-staff Comms from the Warden there is a strong and consistently negative narrative that indicates staff failure is the explanation: we are repeatedly encouraged to look at ourselves. And yet, the IBR shows that our financial situation stems primarily from massive capital expenditure from 2015-18, increases in pension contributions, and only a small net drop in student enrolment. League table and NSS scores are deeply uneven, and the only recent drop in NSS scores can be mapped directly to the tenure of this current SMT, who have consistently failed to consult with students on restructuring. We have recommended many times that the Warden joins with other Vice Chancellors to encourage UUK to take a more robust approach to USS valuations, and work with UCU nationally and their commissioned auditors on stabilising pension contribution rates. This is in all of our interests. Staff want to be part of positive, considered, collective change (see the many initiatives that staff have poured time and energy into  – Gold Paper, Alternative to Evolving Goldsmiths, Collective Change Document). We likewise agree with KPMG that revenue generation is the only sustainable path for the institution, not ill-considered cuts.
The strength of feeling we refer to has already been articulated in a number of communications to the Chair of Council, including the most recent letter from the Professors’ Forum, staff letters from the Sociology department, and the letter collectively signed by the majority of the teaching and a number of the professional services staff in MCCS. 

We would also underline that Goldsmiths UCU is in official Dispute with the College over the measures being undertaken to reduce staff costs. A formal notice to this effect was issued 30 July. It is notable that Goldsmiths UCU branch had not gone into a local dispute with the College for over 20 years. It is only under current management that we have seen two local disputes called (over ‘Evolving Goldsmiths’ and now the ‘Recovery Plan’) in one year alone. 

Undertaking industrial action is the last step we and our members want to take right now. All we want to do is focus on ensuring Goldsmiths’ students receive the quality of teaching and support they deserve, and on working together to improve Goldsmiths’ financial situation and ensure its bright future. Yet we and other College groups have found our every attempt to pursue an alternative path has been blocked or frustrated by the decisive lack of genuine consultation and limited, top-down governance we have been experiencing since the appointment of the current Warden. 

In light of all this, we would like to know if it might be possible to have a meeting with Council members who might be available to speak with us. This would give us an opportunity to give more detail and context to the staff conditions and feelings we have outlined here, and to hear your concerns and suggestions for how we can best move forward together in these circumstances.

The GUCU Officers