The Axeman Cometh: KU staff outrage at yet more cuts

How does Kingston’s Gold Commander want to repay all the hard work, loyalty and professionalism shown by teaching staff across the University during a time of national emergency? The brutal answer is: through yet more cuts, closures and job losses.

Dissenter has been relatively quiet during the pandemic, but we feel we must speak out and remind staff, as we have regularly done in the past, about the realities of how they are really seen by ‘Commander’ Spiersy and his close pals on the Senior Lack-of-Leadership Team. While they make much in public and on the KU website about how ‘listening’ they are (proclaiming the student and staff voice ‘is at the heart of decision making’), do not be fooled: in private, they hold many of you in contempt, and will stop at nothing in protecting their own jobs, high salaries, pet projects and increasingly diminishing empires.

If any staff still have doubts, then consider this. On 4th March, trade union reps from UCU were suddenly given the shock news by Senior Mismanagers that the undergraduate courses in Politics, International Relations (IR) and Human Rights (HR), located in FBSS, will be closed to new student entries in 2021-22. In effect, this means the destruction of those subjects and the impending loss of approx 10 f/t jobs. The remaining students will be ‘taught out’ over the next two years, with the inevitable problems and loss of staff morale that process always entails. As UCU note, there has been NO consultation with staff in Politics, IR and HR, and it is a ‘short-sighted, underhand and unjust act of self-harm by the University’, threatening staff, students’ futures and KU’s reputation. The dept concerned has made a huge contribution to the life of the University, has received both local and national praise for its annual Festival of Human Rights (including from former Chancellor Bonnie Greer), and members of staff have developed international reputations for their research, which the University has happily exploited for public relations purposes.

So why does Spiersy and his gang want to throw them to the dogs? The reason they give is low recruitment. Again, don’t be fooled. The reality is that Spiersy and his tinpot SLT advisers are desperate to make further cost savings across the Uni in order to finance new ‘prestige’ projects in the post-pandemic future. According to those in the know, Spiersy himself is driving this, and spends much of his time fantasising about new building and estates schemes, such as further expansion of the main PR campus, investment in purchasing private houses in the nearby street of Pen Road itself, and other bizarre proposals. Two years ago he instructed his Estates Business and Commercial Manager to come up with new ‘visions’ for the Pen Road and Knights Park campuses, including the relocation of engineering, the relocation of the main gym, and the construction of a giant new building on the current smaller back car-park. A ‘project priority list’ was drawn up for acquisitions and disposals, much to the despair of Estates staff, who privately regarded it as cloud cuckoo-land thinking. However, despite the pandemic and current dire cashflow problems, Spiersy remains pathetically determined to pursue these ‘visions’. He regards himself (sadly) as a major authority on architecture and design (stung by criticisms, the long yawn-making defence of the Town House recently placed on the KU website was penned by him), and he also wants to leave another prestige ‘legacy’ bit of design at KU before he retires in what he hopes will be a blaze of glory.

But our deluded Gold Commander has also realised the Uni will simply not have the resources or funding to finance such narcissistic projects – hence he has to find the required huge sums from his shrinking empire. Savings on staff costs will be the name of the game again. In December, 2020, KU was estimated to have approx 2,000 members of staff. Spiersy has been heard boasting that he wants to significantly ‘slimline’ that number. He has therefore forced the SLT to turn the screws on the Deans, who have been required to draw up lists of ‘soft-target’ subjects that will be selected for the axe. It’s another version of the so-called ‘Turn-around Plan’, the failed big plan Spiersy and his cronies thought would get them out of a hole some time ago (it didn’t). Now they are having another go, aware that the Board of Governors increasingly see Spiersy as living on borrowed time.

Unfortunately, instead of defending their staff, the Deans have been only too eager to please Spiersy and massage his over-inflated ego. On 28th January, at a meeting of the SLT at which the Gold Commander was present, the KSA Dean Mandy Ure (known by the other Deans as Mandy ‘Who Her?’), presented a KSA ‘Restructure’ plan, and she was followed soon after by FBSS Dean Jill Schofield, who presented a similar FBSS ‘Restructure’ plan to the meeting. The decision to axe Politics, IR and HR is part of the Schofield plan. Further cuts will come, with other FBSS depts forced to identify additional labour cost savings.

Schofield has been especially keen to get into Spiersy’s good books, as she is aware that a number of the FBSS’s former disciplinary strengths, such as Business Studies, have experienced serious reputational problems and evident decline while on her watch, much to Spiersy’s dismay. She hopes sacrificing some staff and subjects will get her some badly-needed Brownie Points with the VC. Dean Ure’s approach echoes this. As the least qualified Dean in the Uni, ‘Who Her’ owes much for her spectacular rise to VC Spiersy who, after the disastrous Colin Rhodes affair, wanted a pliant and unquestioning Dean in KSA who would be ultra-loyal. And ‘Who Her’ is clearly very loyal, in the most Arslikan way possible. The KSA ‘Restructure’ plan envisages significant cuts and savings, and staff will again bear the brunt, with some subject areas also forced to combine.

The Uni will, of course, deny all this. But, as UCU have found in the past, repeated management assurances about redeployment and avoiding redundancies have counted for nothing. Whether staff will be able to fight the plans is open to question, and depends on solidarity from other staff across the Uni and elsewhere in the HE sector. The Uni’s SLT is hyper-sensitive to bad publicity and prefers to disguise such cuts as innocent ‘restructuring’. The Uni has also been notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to serious campaigns by its own staff to resist cuts. In 2014, when the head of the school of Planning and Surveying, Prof. Sarah Sayce, tried to make the case for resisting the plan to axe her school, the previous VC, ‘Ratty’ Weinberg, ensured that she was told to clear her desk in 30 minutes, and she was escorted off the campus by security guards, in a shockingly heavy-handed manner.

Our current Gold Commander tends to operate in a quieter and more cowardly, but no less lethal, way. He prefers to stay in the background, avoids speaking to UCU and other unions, and gets his SLT cronies and the Deans to carry out his dirty work. As the Uni slowly emerges from lockdown, staff will find that Spiersy and his SLT bosom buddies have some other nasty surprises in store. You have been warned.

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