As you have no doubt heard by now, the University of Leicester has spent much of this academic year embroiled in controversy over its ‘Shaping for Excellence‘ plans, which initially proposed 145 compulsory staff redundancies. While this number has since been reduced to 26 (a fact that upper management seems far too proud of, considering the impact this will still have on students and the careers of staff), many more have seemingly been pressured into taking voluntary redundancies instead.
The University’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nishan Canagarajah, stated that the plans would help them to provide ‘an exceptional educational experience for all students.’ You will have to forgive me if I am missing something, but I fail to see how making so many staff redundant (during a pandemic, no less) somehow improves our education. Am I supposed to believe that I will have a better experience with fewer staff in my department? It would be laughable if people’s livelihoods weren’t on the line. It is obvious that these redundancies are simply a vain and short-sighted attempt to cover up the Executive Board’s own failings. If they think students are naive enough to swallow this reasoning, they can think again.
As an English student, my subject has been at the heart of the controversy. One of the things that drew me to Leicester was the breadth of study available on the course. From Geoffrey Chaucer to Toni Morrison by way of Leo Tolstoy, it seemed to have it all. However, before I was even halfway through my first year, there was talk of significant ‘restructuring’ (management speak for redundancies) in the department. Indeed, it emerged that the University would no longer be offering modules in English Language on either undergraduate or postgraduate courses, and that the teaching of medieval literature would be significantly stripped back. It has left me feeling cheated out of the course that I worked so hard to get onto.
Even if the redundancies were necessary from a financial point of view, (although that line of reasoning is questionable at best) it does not excuse the alleged behaviour of the University’s upper management during the process, with accusations of bullying and manipulation rife. Dr Anne Marie D’Arcy, an Associate Professor in Medieval and Renaissance Language and Literature, felt compelled to close her Twitter account after it emerged that her private social media posts were being used against her during the redundancy consultations. Similarly, Peter Armstrong, a now former Professor Emeritus of the School of Management, was threatened with the removal of his title, and the privileges that come with it, for daring to speak out against the plans.
Perhaps most shockingly, however, Dr Ronald Hartz, a lecturer in Organisation Studies, was made redundant for doing work that ‘displays the profound questioning of the authority and relevance of mainstream management thinking.’ If the Executive Board’s plans do indeed aim to create ‘Citizens of Change’ removing any staff whose research threatens the status quo doesn’t exactly seem like the logical way of achieving that, does it? It is a shame that staff from the Business and Management department have been hit so hard; Prof. Canagarajah and co. could learn a thing or two from them.
Other academics have resigned from their posts, citing a ‘toxic work environment,’ and some have even suffered suicidal thoughts as a result of the University’s mismanagement. Whether the University is in financial trouble or not, this is unacceptable.
We, as students, are not doing enough. While there have been occasional protests, such as the seemingly inconsequential vote of no confidence, we need something more difficult to ignore. I appreciate that there are fewer of us on campus this year due to COVID restrictions, but we cannot simply stand back and watch while our university is destroyed from the inside.
The UoL Rent Strike group have announced a protest on campus on the 1st June, and I encourage every student reading this to attend. We can take inspiration from other recent student protests around the country; students at the University of Chester, another institution staring down the barrel of widespread redundancies, made their voices heard in a socially distanced protest outside their town hall. Over at the University of Warwick, students organised a long-term sit-in on campus in response the poor handling of sexual assault cases by the University, who have now given in to a number of their demands. We can see that change is possible, but we need to take action before it is too late. The future of our university is at stake.