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Keele redundancies halted


Keele University Council has had to halt its redundancy proposals following massive protests from the University and College Union (UCU). The Visitor of the university, the Baroness Ashton, has asked the university council to take no further steps towards implementing its proposals pending her inquiry into a complaint that it bypassed university rules to get the job cuts agreed.

The council established an unprecedented "redundancy committee" on 6 December 2007, bypassing the normal consultation and decision-making processes at the university's senate or faculty meetings – without the approval of senate, as required by the university's charter and statutes.

That committee then agreed plans that have left more than half (38) of the 67 academic staff in Keele's world-renowned School of Economic and Management Studies (SEMS) facing compulsory redundancy if they did not agree to voluntary severance. This is not an acceptable procedure, and it is, as a matter of elementary logic and law, not voluntary severance. The SEMS staff are refusing to send in "personal information profiles" because these would facilitate selection for redundancy.

This is not the first time that Keele University has ignored standard practice to try and push through controversial plans. During the pay dispute of 2006, where lecturers were not marking coursework or setting exams, the university agreed to award degrees based on work already submitted, rather than wait for students' full marks. That policy prompted serious questions about the potential quality of degrees at Keele, with the Quality Assurance Agency refusing to back its plans. Fortunately the dispute was resolved before graduation day.

The chair of the SEMS action committee, Mike Ironside, said, "Keele UCU has repeatedly called on university management to follow normal procedures. We welcome the news that the Visitor will be fully investigating what has happened here, and we hope that management will now take more notice of our members' views."

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said, "No institution should think it can ride roughshod over its own constitution. Trying to rush these job cuts through at a quiet time of the year and outside its own internal structures was cowardly and offensive. The University can rest assured that UCU will be fighting this decision all the way."

The redundancies plan has already caused enormous damage to Keele's reputation.