UCU imposes global boycott against Goldsmiths over controversial job cuts

Outrage over the uni’s use of ‘rank-and-yank’ firing tactics resulted in ‘ultimate sanction’ from UCU

The University and College Union (UCU) has issued an international boycott of Goldsmiths due to the uni’s “sacking of up to 46 staff.”

The Union explained this widespread layoff as part of the uni’s efforts at reducing its £12.5 million deficit “after years of financial mismanagement.” But the most controversial aspect of this cut is the uni’s usage of the widely-condemned “rank-and-yank” firing tactics, in which academics are ranked against each other by merit of their qualifications, achievements, and skill-sets, with the lowest-ranking staff fired.

“It is rare for UCU to call for a global academic boycott, and doing so reflects the seriousness of the situation. We are calling on academics throughout the world to join us in boycotting the university until management cancel the compulsory redundancies,” UCU general secretary Jo Grady said in a statement. In response, a Goldsmiths spokesperson cited the UCU’s unwillingness to negotiate and told The London Tab that “[the] real losers from any ‘global boycott’ are likely to be our local communities.”

Goldsmiths explained to The London Tab that its annual financial statement last year revealed “a reported deficit of £12.7 million,” meaning the uni “needs to save £9 million in ongoing spend over the next two years to put the College back on a sustainable financial footing.” They cited the financial crisis as caused by “government funding cuts of £2m a year from 2022, ongoing impacts from Covid-19 which has already cost us £10 million, [and] a fall in student numbers in some subjects.”

A “recovery programme” was promised by the uni after “a collective consultation on our Academic Portfolio Review […] from 12 October to 3 December 2021.” According to Goldsmiths UCU, the plan involved firing up to seven academics each in the uni’s English and History department and possibly cutting a further 32 jobs from professional services and support staff. 

The uni justified their decision with the fact that no “viable alternative proposals which would deliver the savings needed by 2023” was proposed, and the “English and Creative Writing and History departments have been unable to meet their savings targets, leaving a joint shortfall of £841,000.” But, as claimed by Goldsmiths UCU, the dramatic job cuts is a deal condition for the uni to receive a £7 million loan from the major banks Natwest and Lloyds. 

While the cut itself is already contentious, the latest UCU censure came after the uni confirmed its usage of the “rank-and-yank” firing tactics, which was largely condemned by academics during a similar incident at the University of Liverpool last year.

So far, UCU’s “ultimate sanction of a global academic boycott” calls for several steps to be taken by its members, other trade unions, and the international academic community in solidarity with Goldsmiths’ staff. Theses include:

Not speaking at or organising events and Goldsmiths that are not part of teaching responsibilities

Not participating in non-research based partnerships with Goldsmiths

Not writing for academic journals produced at or edited by Goldsmiths

Not being external examiners for Goldsmiths

Moving events that were initially meant to be held at Goldsmiths to alternate venues

Not collaborating with Goldsmiths to stand in solidarity with its staff

With agreement from 85.5 per cent of its UCU members in the vote, Goldsmiths staff took three weeks of strike action to protest this job cut last year. These strikes had a turnout of approximately 70 per cent and took place from 23 November to 13 December 2021.

press release from Goldsmiths UCU stated: “Goldsmiths brands itself as a university that supports and promotes the wellbeing of staff in a ‘respectful environment,’ and claims it is concerned about ‘inclusion and social justice’ with a ‘rich heritage of challenging inequality.’ Any claims about social justice and supporting staff wellbeing lack all credibility whilst the university is intent on ranking and sacking staff and destroying their livelihoods.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady elaborated that the sanction came as a result of the uni “[threatening] the academic integrity of the institution and [trying] to make students and staff pay the price for catastrophic failures of governance.

“It is very simple for university managers to end this dispute, they need to work with us to save jobs, protect academic standards and build a university to be proud of once again.”

In response, a Goldsmiths spokesperson said: “Goldsmiths has repeatedly invited Goldsmiths UCU to join the College at ACAS for talks with no pre-conditions on either side to help find a shared way forward. So far this offer has been rejected but we remain ready to meet.”

“The real losers from any ‘global boycott’ are likely to be our local communities. Such a move threatens to undermine our work with local partners and will only damage communities in the Lewisham area struggling to recover from the pandemic and risks depriving local young people of the chance to learn new skills and discover new opportunities.”

The uni also promised to “support and advise those affected and work to minimise the number of redundancies across the College” despite all controversies. 

Goldsmiths’ Students’ Union also issued a statement saying that it “stands in full solidarity with GUCU and workers across the campus and country who are fighting for better conditions.

“We are at a critical time where collective organising guarantees our voices are heard, and our struggles for a better education system are won. The banks will not decide the future of Goldsmiths, our education will not be sold, and staff/students will not be collateral damage to the institution’s financial mismanagement over the years.”

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