Exclusive: Controversy as leaked Bristol email suggests hall consultation is a ‘sham’
The consultation was launched last month
Following the unveiling of Bristol University's new 'model' for halls of residence, a leaked email from a key member of Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) staff is said to have cast doubt on the good faith in which the consultation is being carried out.
On Monday 18th December, the University announced a series of major changes to halls, including the abolition of Wardens, Deputy Wardens, Senior Residents and Student Support Advisers. Wardens learnt of the changes on Wednesday 13th December with the rest of halls staff being briefed two days later on Friday 15th. According to a press release from the University, the following six weeks have been designated as a period for RHS to consult on the changes with "staff directly affected by these proposals".
However, an email sent on Tuesday 12th December from Caroline Court, Head of Student Residential Life at University of Bristol, suggests that halls staff have not been briefed adequately and may have misunderstood what this consultation period will entail. Intended to be sent to RHS Director Simon Bray, Faculty HR Manager Lesley Houareau and senior figures involved in the briefings, it was accidentally misdirected to the wrong members of staff.
In the email, Ms Court writes: "I think that the team still think that consultation means they can shape/change the proposed structure, and that consultation means debate."
"I think you need to explain consultation requirements from an employment law perspective- including our mandatory requirements/timescales etc to consult, as most will not be familiar with this concept, and therefore will always go to the 'academic' definition of consultation. In my mind, this is necessary to lay this out firmly in order to close some of the current conversations down- it is being transparent after all!'"
A number of halls staff are therefore concerned that the distinction between the consultation merely being a legal formality and a genuine interaction of views.
However, one Senior Resident told The Tab the email: "Directly flies in the face of what we were told". Another gave The Tab the following statement: "I think in this situation, one must not confuse distress felt as a result of RHS’s handling of the pastoral review plan, and the plan itself. These are separate entities.
"However, to actually read this leaked email in full does make me feel this is just a legal formality to RHS. The team seem to have no intention of reconsidering their plan even with the student and staff body in uproar. It’s rather brutish bulldozing."
Commenting on the news, senior member of the Manor Hall Advisory Committee Tom Phillips said: "Calling this stage of the review a 'consultation' is utterly disingenuous. They want people to feel listened to but in reality this is a sham."
The Tab tried to contact Ms Court for this story but she has been on sick leave for the past week. In her absence, a University of Bristol spokesman told The Tab: "The University has an established HR protocol for consulting with individuals affected by any restructure or change.
"This email appears to attempt to describe this process rather than the overall consultation around the proposed new model. We are currently going through an extensive consultation process to hear as many views and opinions as possible. The Vice-Chancellor himself made this clear in an email to all staff and students this week in which he outlined the importance of the consultation including extending the period for this round of feedback until February 9th.
"We are confident that the way the message is being interpreted is not what was intended. However, we want to assure all staff and students that their views and thoughts about this proposed change are essential and will be taken into consideration before any final decisions are made."
In response to the high levels of engagement so far, the University has extended the consultation deadline to February 9th and has decided to hold two open meetings to "allow all staff and students to hear more about the proposal, ask further questions and make further comments." These are set to be held on Tuesday 23rd January 5-6pm and Thursday 25th January 1-2pm in the Reception Room, Wills Memorial Building.
In related news, a student led campaign page called 'Keep Our Communities', has been set up on Facebook to oppose the changes, whilst concurrently hall Junior Common Rooms (JCRs) are believed to be drafting an open letter about the proposals. The online petition "Stop Abolition of Wardens and SRs" has meanwhile reached over 3,300 signatures.
Petition founder and Stoke Bishop fresher Leonardo De Rezende told The Tab: "After reading about the changes facing Halls next year I felt compelled to do something. I knew that it was not what students want or need, and that this cost cutting exercise by the University would mean that Bristol would have so much less to offer future students here."