Pricing lecturers out of protest


Photo: Sy

Photo: Sy

Bristol University has announced that it will withhold 100% of pay from staff who participate in the upcoming marking boycott. Pandeia republishes the stance of the university’s paper Epigram, who believe this boycott is the only remaining leverage to staff, and to undermine it threatens their very right to protest.

In Vice-Chancellor Eric Thomas’s welcome message, he is enthusiastic about what makes the University ‘so special’ – ‘It comes down to people,’ he asserts, ‘First, the academics […] And, of course, there are our students’.

However, the value the University places on its ‘people’ unfortunately does not translate to reality. In fact, if lecturers refuse to mark work, the University places no value on their other work at all – the hours of preparation, the lectures, tutorials, office hours and more will mean nothing in monetary terms while marks are being withheld, as 100% of pay will be too.

The University’s attitude to the pay dispute also devalues its students. Eric Thomas states that we are a student population ‘united by exceptional ability, motivation and potential.’ If that is the case, we deserve lecturers who are dedicated, motivated and inspirational – not ground down by plummeting pay and increased workloads.

There are some lecturers who may be able to take the hit and continue working but not marking in the hope that their actions will be effective. But for many more, the 14.9% pay cut they have experienced in real terms over the past five years is already too much. They simply cannot afford to work without pay, priced out of the right to protest by the University.

By reducing the ranks of marking boycotters in this way, the University drastically dilutes the potential power of those who continue to protest, leaving the worrying possibility that their sacrifice will have been in vain. No pay withheld will be reinstated at the end of industrial action.

The University’s decision has sparked outrage amongst students and staff, but senior management hide behind a lukewarm defence of their actions.

They claim that the decision is in line with that of many other institutions.Anyone who successfully navigated primary school can tell you that just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t make it right.

They claim that the conversation is happening on a national level and that decisions on pay are out of their hands. Bristol has the power to speak up and influence decisions, despite the fact that it is the UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers Association) that tracks pay across Higher Education. The University is choosing not to do this.

They are unwilling to admit that the disparity of pay between teaching staff and senior management is unfair and unacceptable. They defend themselves by saying that the salaries of senior management rose in line with those of teaching staff, by approximately 1% last year. While the percentages may correlate, in 2010-11, Eric Thomas received a salary of £314,000 – equal to the combined wages of ten lecturers and £64,000 more than the average national salary for vice-chancellors.

While the issue of pay remains of great importance, the University’s decision also displays a worrying attitude towards its staff’s right to protest. Union members have tried to get the University to listen through various strikes during the year. The University has denied them the opportunity to negotiate and this has forced UCU members to their last resort: a marking boycott. Now, by threatening to withhold pay, the University is also denying them this avenue of protest.

Bristol is a university that prides itself on its academic excellence and integrity. It is time we started paying more than lip service to these values. Our Vice-Chancellor is right – it is the people who make this university so special, but the efforts of these people must be matched by the support of the University if Bristol is to continue to thrive and excel.

We are therefore calling on the University to revoke their decision to withhold 100% of pay from staff participating in the marking boycott.  Show the Vice-Chancellor that Bristol students do not agree with the University’s stance on the pay dispute and their stamping down of staff protest by signing and emailing this letter.

This industrial action needs to end, but it needs to end through conversation and negotiation, not through a systematic silencing of protest.

Josephine Franks 

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