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Friday the Thirteenth could see international boycott of Keele University

6 June 2008

Keele University has one week to avoid the ignominy of becoming the first university to receive an academic boycott from UCU.

The union warned today that unless the university halts its attempts to make 38 academic staff compulsorily redundant and to deduct money from the salaries of staff taking part in ongoing lawful industrial, it will 'greylist' the institution.

Greylisting is the ultimate sanction available to UCU members and is only ever used where a university or college refuses to engage in meaningful negotiations with a branch or local association. No institution has ever been greylisted in UCU's two-year history.

The union has specifically asked the university to:

  • engage in meaningful negotiations with the branch and regional officials
  • remove the threat of pay deductions relating to the ongoing industrial action
  • commence the engagement of academic managers with teaching groups in discussion about future teaching programmes
  • agree an acceptable process for voluntary severance - including an extension to the time period of the current scheme.

Greylisting Keele would specifically mean a voluntary boycott of academic and other university activities where appropriate. If the union is forced to pursue that course of action it would follow the greylisting of Nottingham University by one of UCU's predecessor union, the Association of University Teachers (AUT), in 2004 for imposing a new pay structure. That successful campaign resulted in a negotiated settlement and agreement on a constructive relationship between the union and management following the imposition of a new pay structure.

The union made clear today that it does not want to have to greylist Keele but warned that if it does it then it will be asking colleagues in the union, other trade unions, labour movement organisations and the international academic community to support its members at Keele in any way possible including:

  • non attendance, speaking at or organising academic or other conferences at Keele
  • not applying for jobs at Keele
  • not giving lectures at Keele
  • not accepting positions as visiting professors or researchers at Keele
  • not writing for any academic journal which is edited from Keele
  • not taking up new contracts as external examiners for taught courses.

The dispute between the union and Keele stretches back to December last year when the union accused the university of ignoring normal procedures to rush through plans which have left more than half (38) of the 67 academic staff in the world-renowned School of Economic and Management Studies (SEMS) and the Centre for Health Planning and Management (CHPM) facing redundancy.

The proposed redundancies were agreed after Keele University Council established an unprecedented 'redundancy committee', which bypassed normal decision-making processes. Members of the union felt they were left with no alternative but to consider industrial action and, in February, voted overwhelmingly to strike and to take action short of a strike.

Lecturers in SEMS took the strike action on Thursday 21 February and the following day all UCU members at Keele began the action short of a strike, which is still ongoing today. The action short of a strike is designed to cause the maximum impact on the university without disrupting the education of students. It includes:

  • non-cooperation with the institutional audit
  • non-cooperation with the development of new degree programmes for the new business school
  • non-participation in learning and teaching committees and the design and approval of a new university-wide degree structure due to come into effect in September 2009
  • non-participation in visit days and open days
  • non-compliance with the collection of data for full economic costing.

Chair of the SEMS action committee at Keele University, Mike Ironside, said: 'It really is a sad state of affairs when Keele University finds itself facing an academic boycott because of the behaviour of management. Nobody associated with the university wants to see this happen and I urge the vice-chancellor to call off the dogs and get back round the table before further, and possibly permanent, damage is done to our proud international reputation.'

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'The university's actions have already been condemned nationally and internationally. We do not want to have to further highlight the shortcomings of the university, but their actions so far have left us in this awful situation. Keele UCU members have the full support of the national union in their continuing action and can rest assured that we will be fighting these non-sensical redundancy plans with them all the way.'

Last updated: 14 December 2015