12th January 2021

Dear all,

We are writing to let you know that members of Goldsmiths University and College Union (GUCU) are currently taking part in an Assessment Boycott and in Action Short of a Strike (ASOS), and we wanted to explain what this means for you and your studies.   GUCU members in our department have been advised not to allocate marks, give final written feedback on assessment, or cover for absent colleagues.

Our rationale for deciding to opt for the marking boycott rather than a strike action is that none of us could face the prospect of withholding teaching from students as before. We recognise that by striking there will be a level of disruption that some of us will find difficult to contend with.  In other words, we recognise that tutor contact time with students is too valuable to withhold so we are instead targeting the metric systems that the university administrative system uses to judge whether students are satisfactorily moving through their degree programme.  College is obliged to have marks returned to students by a certain time according to the Office for Students. 

In this way:

  • we avoid disrupting any actual teaching, seminars, lectures 
  • tutorials will carry on as normal
  •  the return of grades will be delayed for a period of time, but will definitely be returned following the delay (if the dispute gets to the point of delaying return of grades).

We appreciate that you may not recognise what’s at stake in our dispute with management, and would like more information about the principles of our action.  Likewise, we understand your frustration of being further disrupted, particularly at this difficult time.  Not only has the last year been incredibly difficult for students and staff, being in lockdown and learning/teaching online, but whole degree programmes have been disrupted as a result of ongoing tensions between staff and management. 

GUCU members, including a large number of academic and some professional staff, are currently in dispute with our employer (Goldsmiths) over two key issues: 

(1) protecting staff from redundancies relating to an ongoing restructure of the institution

(2) related ‘cost-saving measures’ that have left us without adequate staffing and without adequate working conditions for providing a safe and fair environment for student learning. 

Negotiations between GUCU representatives and senior management are ongoing, and we are making every possible effort to reach a resolution.

Last summer we lost hundreds of valuable members of our teaching staff as a result of management’s decision to cut budgets for staff on temporary contracts. This disproportionately affected staff of the global majority rendered many of those staff unemployed and has added to remaining staff members’ already stretched workloads. Budget cuts and other staff reduction policies such as a hiring freeze and voluntary severance scheme have left numerous academic and professional areas under-staffed as we are already working many extra days and hours to provide online learning and support for students – in many cases while also trying to manage added parental or other caring responsibilities. 

This action comes after a year of requesting meaningful consultation with management. We have not entered into it lightly and have tried to begin with forms of action that have less negative impact on students than, for example, going on strike. Supporting our students remains our first priority, particularly during these unsettling times. 

We find it to be unethical, irresponsible and potentially dangerous for Goldsmiths management to be engaging in a programme of restructuring at a time of such emotional and physical uncertainty and turmoil. It is our strong hope that these actions and our efforts at negotiation achieve a resolution that allows us to avoid taking other forms of action, such as strike.

We are hoping that the very threat of the boycott will force management to concede to our main demand, which is that there should be no compulsory redundancies of staff, before we actually have to carry out the action: especially in view of how little resources are available to students already.  Already across Goldsmiths, the associate lecturers and graduate trainee tutors have lost jobs, and some programmes have been cut.   All of these cuts mean less teacher availability to students and we simply don’t think that is sustainable because we know how students already feel. 

Again, we appreciate that this will be difficult news at this time, so we are keen to hear the voices of our students and the ways our actions affect different constituencies of the community.  If you have any questions or concerns, please speak to your tutors – we will also be holding staff/student assemblies over the coming weeks and encourage you to attend, and we are working closely with student reps and the Student Union.  

If you are a student departmental rep, please join us at a GUCU Staff/Student meeting on Wednesday 13th January at 2.30pm.  A link via Teams will be circulated by tutors.

If you would like to email the Warden, Frances Corner, you can use this template here

For more information online:

 www.goldsmithsucu.org  @GoldsmithsUCU 

 https://www.goldsmithssu.org/  @GoldsmithsSU 

Best wishes,

Members of GUCU, Educational Studies