Northumbria Uni staff are demanding the Vice-Chancellor’s resignation

The UCU Branch of Northumbria are also balloting staff members over potential strike action.

The UCU branch of Northumbria University has announced plans to hold a ballot over potential strike action following staff fury over the leadership’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Last week, Northumbria had the worst recorded outbreak of coronavirus in a university so far, with almost 800 positive cases and many more forced to self-isolate. Despite this, the university has continued to operate as planned, with a spokesperson telling the Northern Echo “Our arrangements for teaching have been designed cautiously and are in line with the Department for Education’s Tier 2 guidance, a key aim of which is to retain face-to-face teaching where it is clearly beneficial to students and is possible to do so safely.”

The UCU Northumbria branch held an emergency meeting with members over their concerns on Friday

It comes after the UCU announced a formal dispute with the University 2 weeks ago “after management failed to address serious health and safety concerns.” The ballot was announced after an emergency meeting on Friday.

UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said in a press release ‘The vice-chancellor has allowed an entirely preventable crisis to take place by encouraging students to move to Newcastle.  We now have a massive outbreak, which risks the lives of staff, students and the local community, yet he is still insisting on in-person teaching. He needs to own up to his failings and resign immediately.”

The University wouldn’t be the first to suspend face to face teaching – the move has already been taken by The University of Sheffield and 2 Unis in Manchester – with Newcastle University also electing to move all non-essential teaching online earlier today.

Vice-Chancellor Andrew Wathey has come under fire for encouraging students to come to Newcastle and enjoy the face-to-face experience available. The 62-year-old has been in the post since 2008, but staff are now asking for his departure in response to his handling of the crisis.

Defending their decision, the Northumbria spokesperson also said “The health, safety and wellbeing of our students and staff remains our highest priority… We are reassured that our risk assessments and mitigation arrangements put in place to ensure the campus is safe are robust.”

“The arrangements, which are in line with government and sector guidance, have been discussed at weekly meetings with UCU, Unison and faculty management teams and shared with all staff in regular updates from the vice-chancellor.”

It’s been a difficult start to the term for the University, alongside an outbreak of coronavirus they also suffered a serious cyber attack over summer, and have mourned the death of 1 fresher over the weekend.

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