Cllr Alan Hall has joined thousands of academics, artists and local residents to express ‘grave concern’ at the plans for 52 staff redundancies and a restructuring at Goldsmiths University sited in New Cross within the London Borough of Lewisham.
The letter explains that Goldsmiths serves the needs of some of the most diverse communities in the UK, with a high proportion of its students coming from ethnic minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Cllr Alan Hall has been a long standing supporter of closer links with the prestigious higher education college and local residents. He said: “Goldsmiths is a part of Deptford’s and Lewisham’s history – it is an integral part of our rich diversity.”
The publication of the letter hit headlines in The Observer recently. The national newspaper noted that new university job cuts fuel rising outrage on campuses claiming that Goldsmiths targets humanities faculties in round of redundancies.
The trade union – UCU – has started to ballot for industrial action over pay, pensions and conditions in the higher education sector nationally. This is looks like a winter discontent.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “University staff propped up the entire sector during the pandemic, but they are now being thanked with huge cuts to their pensions, unbearably high workloads, and another below-inflation pay offer – all whilst universities continue to generate a handsome income from tuition fees.
“The truth is that very well paid university leadership, who manage institutions with bigger turnovers than top football clubs, are choosing to exploit the goodwill of staff, repeatedly refusing to address the rampant use of casualised contracts, unsafe workloads or the shocking gender and ethnicity pay gap in the sector.
“Our members across the UK know that working in a university does not have to be like this and are clear that they are ready to take action to stand up for their dignity, defend pensions and win long overdue improvements to their pay and working conditions. There is still time for university chiefs to resolve a situation which is entirely of their own making, but they must return to negotiations and make credible offers.”
The Goldsmiths Letter in full.
We are academics, researchers and artists who have in various ways collaborated with members of the Goldsmiths community over the years or have been members of staff or students ourselves – or are simply acquainted with the College’s stellar reputation.
Goldsmiths, University of London, is internationally renowned for its progressive and critical education, its commitment to social justice and for hosting some of the most respected and creative scholars in the world. Its researchers, writers, musicians, performers, artists and media producers are world-leading; its alumni go on to outstanding achievements, in all areas.
Goldsmiths serves the needs of some of the most diverse communities in the UK, with a high proportion of its students coming from ethnic minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Currently, many of these students and their families live in boroughs hardest-hit by the Covid-19 crisis.
We are writing to express our utmost concern at the plans for radical restructuring, which threaten not only the jobs of staff members at a time of grave economic crisis, but also the very identity of Goldsmiths as we know it.
We were dismayed to read about the jobs already lost last year through voluntary severance, and are appalled now by the 52 redundancies recently announced for professional and academic staff.
We are distressed to discover that the detailed and crucial expertise of administrative staff central to departments is being disregarded and will be lost, through a misguided centralisation and drastic reduction of the number of posts.
We understand that academic redundancies are confined to the departments of English & Creative Writing and of History in this first round, but that there will be more. If they go ahead, these cuts will irremediably damage research capacity, academic practices and cultures, the student experience, as well as the viability of important and world-renowned departments, home to leading, and often unique, research hubs such as the Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies, the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought, the Decadence Research Centre, the Centre for Comparative Literature, the Centre for the Study of the Balkans, the Centre of the Body, and the Centre for Queer History.
We are shocked to hear that the redundancies are being managed by external consultants with no disciplinary expertise, and who do not understand the immediate, middle- and long-term consequences of their decisions.
We hear with consternation that academics with high specialisation are under threat of redundancy even when their area of expertise is being retained – as though Black British and Caribbean Literature, Queer and Black British History, or Critical Theory were mere adornments on a portfolio rather than fields built upon rigorous training and deeply rooted scholarship. Presumably, their posts will be filled by cheaper, precarious staff; or staff with different expertise, asked to take on their (“redundant”) colleagues’ work. But a discipline is nothing without expertise; a degree is not a brand. Yet it appears that Goldsmiths’ management sees its core mission as no different from fast fashion, as a business built on precarity and the misguided flexibilization of a labour force rendered unable to develop long-term commitment to their discipline; in this, Senior Management show utter disregard for the integrity of the education they want to sell.
We are outraged that the Warden, Frances Corner, OBE, and Senior Management appear determined to pursue this damaging course of action instead of, with the same determination, proactively fundraising and lobbying the government for assistance as peer institutions have done – while also making a powerful case against the present ruinous and bankrupt system of funding for Higher Education, and in favour of the recognition of the immense contribution of the humanities and the arts to society and to the economy.
We call upon Frances Corner, upon Council, and upon Senior Management to halt the decimation of the departments of English & Creative Writing and of History, the redundancies within professional services and the current restructuring plans, and to find, in collaboration with their staff, more sustainable and more effective solutions that will protect not only the livelihood of their dedicated and loyal employees, but also the reputation of the institution.
Cllr Alan Hall
London Borough of Lewisham