Kontinuing decline

We have spoken before about the expensive waste of real estate here at Kingston Hill. There are corridors of empty offices still showing the names of absent, well-paid (or paid off) executives. Only the depleted occupational health team, led by corrupt, shadowy, never to be trusted, Dr Yvonne Cooper, remain as squatters in one building. Vice chancellor Steven Spier is clearly no smart guy when it comes to using office space efficiently. Do his executive assistants realise how dumb he is?

In time away from this blog we have been travelling around the campuses. Steven Spier inherited the ‘Town House’ project at the Penrhyn Road campus when he contrived to have his predecessor Julius Weinberg fired. The Town house has a ground floor cafe looking like the worst kind of coffee chain. It will confirm Spier’s reputation as a low-rent shopkeeper who believes the gig economy is education’s future.

Across at Knights Park, we heard that ‘acting’ dean Mandy Ure is now acting as Steven Spier’s workhorse for managing those art school crazies. Ure has teamed up with her old boss Sarah ‘bony’ Bennett to suck in students faster than Bennett can suck in her cheeks, promising them more space and resources. Ure and Bennett are lying for Spier. We heard how Ure, Bennett and other fakers are actually firing teachers all over the art school. Ure, with her helper Angela ‘part-time’ Partington and someone referred to in papers as ‘FC’ is running the Portfolio Review to clear out all those dull history and philosophy people. Looking at the school staff directory, we think ‘FC’ is Fan Carter. If this is true, Associate Professor in Media Carter is now turning on former colleagues by reviewing their programmes prior to redundancies. We suspect the trio of ‘absent’ Janice Miller, ‘Dandy’ Gander, and Sara ‘where am I?’ Upstone are guilty too. You may giggle at these cosy nick-names, but don’t underestimate the silent pain these inadequate humans are inflicting on colleagues.

Kingston Hill is a total contrast to Knights Park. Up at the ‘Hill, classrooms are empty much of the day. Down at the art school, we saw students working in corridors beside overflowing food bins. Is this the vision Spier wants Ure to achieve? Now she is really in trouble, as a result of a letter from the staff and Union asking her to explain her seriously bad treatment of colleagues. Spier will go crazy when he finds out she has screwed up. Sure, he is right behind her, but only to use her as a human shield.

Back in Kingston Hill, no amount of banners and branding will explain the classrooms without teachers. The place looks more and more like a failed dream paid for by years of students’ fees. Probably NHS and business investment too. Dean Dr Andrew Kent administers the fading health courses from his plush Range rover, not admitting the empty classrooms in his schools are a direct testament to staff shortages in the NHS. Maybe he could show up more often, or do his habits as a former General Practitioner doctor still stay with him?

Steven Spier and his willing harem of managers across the university replay the old patriarchal structure of male control, being used once more to enslave students so the accountants are happy. Only Spier’s accountability is absent from the stressed reality of Kingston University. Only Spier’s removal will fix this abuse of students and teachers. Spier is now a liability, spending the last of your money on his ego. Kingston University Board of Governors wake up and work! Get Spier out

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Sound advice to employees

Current or former employees of Kingston University who are bringing, or considering bringing a case against it before the employment tribunal, should be aware of the following: KU’s strategy is always to refuse to settle a claim until the very eve of the final hearing, which is likely to be over a year after the claim is originally filed. This is because the university calculates that most claimants – even those with strong claims – will lose their nerve and abandon their claims long before the final hearing, as the commitment in time and effort increases and the legal bills begin to mount. However, KU is also extremely afraid of bad publicity, so even if a claimant’s claim is not very strong, they will likely be offered some sort of settlement on the eve of the final hearing; one that will, at the very least, cover their legal expenses to date.

This means that if, for example, your claim has a 60% chance of winning – which is the highest a careful solicitor is likely to give even a strong claim – KU will bluff and refuse all settlement offers until the eleventh hour. On the other hand, even if your claim has only a 40% chance of winning, or even less, KU will probably still offer you a settlement at the eleventh hour, just before the final hearing; at least in the region of £10,000-£15,000 (which is what pursuing your claim will probably have cost you by then). So you can be reasonably sure you can, at the very least, break even, provided your claim has at least some merit to it. The important thing is, once you file your claim, not to lose your nerve.

The university’s finances being as unhealthy as they are, it is finding it increasingly difficult to afford to contest multiple employment tribunal claims. So even if you settle your claim with the university in the end, you will have left it tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket, which will weaken its future ability to victimise staff members.

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The Merry Bribes of Windsor: A Seasonal Tale for Christmas.

‘Twas a cold winter’s day in December, in a bland House in Old Kingstone Towne. Ye olde King Steven (for it was he) sat back in his shiny new office sofa and pondered what was left of his rapidly diminishing Kingdom. The recent collapse of a large building device nearby had left him shaken and in a quiver. His head also throbbed, not from intellectual endeavor and Strategic Leadership but from a stinking hangover after the latest SLT Xmas knees-up and lavish meal in the Great Lodge in Windsor Park (too much mead and fine wine, with bribes of champers for invited members of ye olde Board of Guv’nors to quaff down, no expenses spared).

King Steven (AKA King Bland) was especially pleased to be rid of ye olde chair of the Board of Guv’nors. He rang for his loyal servant, Sir Greysuit Loanalot, who came running quickly up the stairwell, breathless but pleased at the excuse to leave yet another yawn-making meeting in the ground-floor meeting room at the front of ye olde Holmewood House. He entered King Bland’s first-floor office and sighed. ‘Pray, wos up, good Sir Knight?’, inquired King Blandy. ‘Oh, nothing much, my Lord – just been sitting since 8.00am listening to yet another presentation to ye Academic Governance Board on Plan 2020. The Board lived up to its name – I was bored’.

King Steven’s face suddenly crumpled and turned scarlet red with fury: ‘Sir Greysuit, HOW many times have I told you?? DO NOT refer to it as “Plan 2020” – it reminds all the peasants about the date we set. ALWAYS call it ye “Turnaround Plan”, you incompetent fool’. King Steven continued: ‘Anyway, I am becoming increasingly tired of all these cynical comments and little asides you keep making, Sir Greysuit. I get enough of those from my office staff behind my back. They think I don’t know. I don’t want them you, too. Now, I summoned you here because I want some guidance and wisdom on finance and risk, not stupid comments. Forsooth, I have decided to build a wall.’

Greysuit looked puzzled: ‘Sorry, your Highness. A wall?’

‘Aye, I wanna build a wall, a big wall’.

‘In this house, your Blandness?’

‘Naye, naye, you silver-haired knit. Since we moved here and spent half a million notes on sprucing up the place, I have come to be jolly annoyed by ye olde Gymnasium nearby. The peasants, sorry, “students”, make too much noise. They always seem to be dancing to loud, pumping music. I want you to consult Estates and put together a Business Case Plan to build a wall and also move the gym’.

’But, but, where will the gym go, your Blandness? And have you forgotten the add-on costs and the massive, massive debt we are still in? We spent £19.5m on a new 4-storey building at ye old Kingstone Hill, a huge King’s fortune on the Knight’s Park Extension and refurbishment, the new Old Towne House is three months behind schedule and has swallowed millions, you still want a lavish opening ceremony for it, and we have very few farthings left in the (Metro) Bank’.

King Steven turned angry again: ‘That’s not my fault! I am surrounded by fools. I want to move the gym, get it out of my eyeline and far, far away from my ears. I want it put around the side of the PR campus, on the Sopwith side. Get the Business Plan together. Do it now! Find the dosh. Get the Knights of each Faculty to axe more courses, raise the fees, and make more staff savings. Off with their heads. Who needs staff anyway? All they do is teach endlessly and think too much. Now get on with it. And, as you leave, send in Sir Mac the Knife and Sir Simon Shagalot. I have new tasks for the dopey duo’.

And so the eager-to-please Sir Greysuit scuttled off into the depths of ye olde House and set about planning yet more cost savings, robbing from Peter to pay Paul. And so ended another long year in the epic KU saga, with King Steven wishing all his subjects a Very Merry Christmas but a Crappy New Year.

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Beware redundancies

With senior management planning another round of compulsory redundancies this academic year, I’d like to urge colleagues to seek independent legal advice if they suspect they may be targeted. Once you have been made redundant it is virtually impossible to gain meaningful redress. Bear in mind that even if you successfully sue the university for unfair dismissal, the absolute most you can gain in compensation is one year’s salary, which is poor compensation for losing your job (unless you can prove discrimination on grounds of race, sex etc., in which case you can win more). It is much better to take action preemptively, before you have been dismissed.

I’d also urge colleagues to use extreme caution when relying on the services of the UCU, as there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that it prioritises its cosy relations with management over and above protecting the interests of its members.

One of the staff members made redundant two years ago applied for legal assistance from the UCU, but it refused to process their application, and the staff member actually had to threaten the UCU with legal action to force it to do so, whereupon the UCU did process the application but refused to support the claim, and gave a dodgy evaluation exaggerating its weaknesses. This staff member was also accompanied to their appeal hearing by a union rep whose job it was to take notes; when the staff member took the university to the employment tribunal, it transpired that the union rep had destroyed the notes, so that the staff member could not use them in their case.

Another staff member who was made redundant was misled by their union rep about deadlines for filing a claim before the employment tribunal, leading them to miss the deadline. Meanwhile, UCU officials were spared redundancy even when their qualifications for retaining employment were weak. It would seem that the UCU and SMT scratch each other’s backs.

The was a similar case at another London university recently, when a disabled staff member was discriminated against and made redundant. They wanted to take the case all the way to the employment tribunal hearing, but made the mistake of relying for legal services on the UCU, which effectively sabotaged it, forcing them to settle.

Again: if you want to guard against redundancy, seek independent legal advice before it happens. Do NOT rely on the UCU. If you do ask the UCU’s opinion and it tells you that you have no case, or your case is weak, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true.

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Kingston not on strike

This week and some of next the universities are on strike. But not Kingston. The strike is about pay and pensions, specifically the USS scheme which is demanding higher contributions owing to a disputed actuarial decision. While this part of the dispute does not apply to Kingston, except perhaps to a small number of individuals, the pay side of the dispute most certainly does. Union support has never been particularly strong at Kingston. The last figures this blog has seen has a figure of about 50% UCU membership. Previous strikes were poorly supported; only a few stalwarts manned the picket.

Are the staff at Kingston so cowed they cannot even vote in enough numbers to arrest the decline of their pay and conditions? Meanwhile management pay rises above inflation as the academic and ancillary staff’s decline inexorably. The bitter irony of such incompetent individuals being rewarded for the damage they have done to the University must be obvious to all. Yet we cannot fight back, or the majority prefer to leave it to a small number, though will presumably pocket any proceeds from the  industrial action without demur. Management must be rubbing its hands in quiet satisfaction. Dark times indeed.

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Laughing stock

Amazing what you hear in a lift, and KU’s Dear Leader will not be best pleased. According to coffee-break gossip across parts of Uni admin, somebody heard two members of the Senior Leadership Team (who’ll remain nameless for now, to spare their blushes) slagging off Spiersy behind his back and laughing about what he calls his ‘People Impact’ plans. Think about that: that’s two members of the SLT, who often sit with the V.C. in meetings, being nice and loyal to him to his face, then back-stabbing him and ridiculing him in private.

What did they find so amusing? The V.C. has allegedly been boasting to whoever will listen that the ‘refashioning’ of professional and support services will BOTH reduce and enhance the service. He will not listen to any evidence that says otherwise, even though there’s plenty of it. No wonder members of his own team have serious doubts. But they are too gutless to say so. Pathetic, really.

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