Response to management’s proposals to restructure five administrative departments

Goldsmiths UCU’s response to management’s proposals to restructure five administrative departments

UCU is sympathetic to the College’s desire constantly to improve its systems of recruitment, student support and governance in order to address any problems that may currently exist. We have, however, two sorts of objections to the current proposals: those that question the process by which the proposals were drawn up and the possibilities for meaningful consultation; and those that take issue with the implications of the proposals themselves.

The Process

  • UCU believes that senior management could have consulted more widely and systematically with senior administrative (and academic) staff who are best placed to consider the cause of any current problems and, perhaps more significantly, to propose strategies for dealing with problems.
  • There is a perception amongst some of our members that senior management did not carry out business process reviews of administrative departments and are thus not 100% familiar with the detailed work of particular sections involved in the restructuring.
  • We wish to know what evidence senior management have that the problems, to which the current proposals are a solution, emerge from the Registry in particular rather than from other College structures? Additionally, we would like to know if the results of the most recent (and expensive) review of the Registry were taken into consideration in drawing up these proposals.
  • We understand that substantial consultation and analysis takes a lot of time but we are concerned that these proposals have been drawn up too quickly and that the time offered for consultation is insufficient. The document presented to staff talks of a two-week period of consultation and it was only after objections raised by the trade unions at the JNCC (15/10/2008) that a possible extension was mentioned. While we welcome the further extension of the deadline until 14 November, we believe that the consultation should not finish until questions raised by staff have been fully answered (although with a deadline of the end of the Autumn term).
  • As well as the lack of time for consultation, there is a disturbing lack of detail in the proposals which makes meaningful consultation even more difficult. Information such as the grades at which the new heads of department will be appointed, departmental structures, HR processes, full timetables concerning implementation, details of the physical location of staff affected and any plans for training – all of that is missing from the document. We understand that job descriptions for the new head of department roles have now been made available – but why were these not included with the original proposals?
  • We understand that other options were presented to SMT but not to those affected by the restructuring proposals. This further restricts the value of the current consultation as we are not in possession of the full range of possibilities.
  • We are particularly worried that the proposals raise the possibility of redundancies and we further note that at the last JNCC (15/10/2008), the prospect of re-opening the College’s voluntary severance scheme was raised.

The Proposals

  • Staff from different administrative sections will be writing to senior management with their concerns regarding specific proposals but there is an overall feeling that the current proposals involve the divorce of operational and strategic responsibilities (inside the Student Office and Planning and Governance Office respectively) that may well undermine the effectiveness of both.
  • There is a related point that roles that require day-to-day access to accurate data are being moved apart, for example with the (presumably physical) separation of presentation ceremonies, statistical returns and programme approval from student records. This is of course not just a matter of the separation of roles but of people.
  • The reasons why certain sections are included and others excluded are somewhat opaque. For example, the Alumni and Development office might well fit inside a Marketing and Communications department while there is no obvious logic to the accommodation of Widening Participation staff inside the Marketing and Communications Department. Indeed, senior management’s proposals hint at this by not even mentioning Widening Participation in the outline of the responsibilities of the new department! Under the new structure, Widening Participation staff would not only lose their link with admissions but would be based in a department that does not have a focus on issues of retention, teaching and learning, community links, college policy, and so on.
  • While there is much to be said for an effective ‘one stop shop’, it is by no means clear that the coming together of prospective and current students at an enlarged counter would do anything to improve service or reduce waiting times. It could well achieve the opposite.
  • Similarly, the relocation of student fees to Finance, situated in a separate building and lacking a student-focused culture, is likely to harm rather than improve the student experience – the stated aims of the proposals. This is another example of puzzling logic: why move a section that needs to interface with enrolment and student loan processes into a department that has a different orientation?

Conclusions

  • While there is a need to ensure that current administrative structures are fit for purpose, the current proposals are flawed in that there is little logic for some of the moves and serious concerns about the divorcing of operational and strategic responsibilities.
  • We note senior management’s claim that these proposals are motivated by a desire to deal with perceived problems in the current administrative structures and not by a desire to save money. However, without any guarantees that no jobs will be lost or existing roles downgraded, there is a strong perception that the restructuring is motivated by cost-cutting principles more than a genuine desire to address fundamental problems.
  • This is exacerbated by the slim consultation period and the lack of detailed information necessary to participate in meaningful consultation.
  • We request that senior management:
  • extend the consultation period until all questions raised by staff involved   have been fully answered (though with a deadline of the end of this term);
  • provide to the trade unions the information mentioned in para. 5 above;
  • address staff concerns about potential redundancies or downgrading.

Postscript

  • We understand that letters have been sent out to staff who have been ring-fenced for leadership posts in the proposed new departments. These letters state that if they are unable to fill the new posts from inside the College then redundancies may follow – a course of action to which we are totally opposed.
  • The letter mentions the existence of a ‘later full review’ of the new departments. Surely, the restructuring of departments depends on a full review in advance and not following any changes. This just compounds the confusion that surrounds the whole process.
  • The selection process of the new leadership posts refer to psychometric tests. What is the justification for this and do you expect such testing to become part of all selection processes in the future?
  • What was the basis for deciding which members of staff could be ring-fenced for which position? Does this mean that staff are not eligible to apply for posts for which they have not been ring-fenced?
  • In particular, we are very concerned that the content of these letters, substantially affecting the employment prospects of the staff concerned, was drawn up without consulting the union in advance. This flies in the face of good industrial relations and is far from the transparent process indicated to us at the last JNCC. Why did senior management not invite UCU to have sight of and be involved in the drafting of these letters?
  • As a result of the inadequate consultation, lack of detail and poor communication that has marked the proposed re-structuring, we now have members of staff who are extremely anxious about their positions and the period of uncertainty that faces them.
  • We will be taking advice from UCU nationally to discuss the implications of the whole process but seek an urgent meeting with senior management to clarify the issues we have raised here.

30 October 2008