As the new academic year approaches, the UCU Executive wanted to give you an update on various important and ongoing issues. Due to its salience, we are giving most space in this update to health and safety issues, but there are other important updates that you need to be aware of.
Health and Safety
Over the summer, KUCU’s health and safety representatives (Phil Catney, Becky Richards and Mariangela Palladino) have engaged in consultations over risk identification and management for Covid-19. We are generally satisfied that the assessment of buildings and the mitigations put in place are as robust as they can be, despite ongoing concerns over the issue of ventilation of classrooms and corridors. Members of staff will be given a set of protocols for the buildings they use. It is essential for the safety of all members of the University community that these are strictly adhered to.
The individual risk assessment form you have been asked to complete, and the process by which it is to be processed, has been a source of concern for KUCU. In particular, we worry that the workplace activities listed in the form are hard to map onto the activities academic members of staff do. For the benefit of most members, when completing the form, a typical tutorial/seminar will be a ‘Group 3’ activity (if you believe it is not, please contact HR to query this). KUCU is also concerned that the risk assessment form takes no account of the number of hours a member of staff will spend in situ. Our final key concern is about the role of line managers processing these forms. While we are aware that HR has provided some opportunity for training, we know that some colleagues might have problems with raising a health concern with their line manager. We strongly recommend in cases like this that you contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss how you can be supported through this process.
UCU has developed a series of tests to assess whether an institution should reopen. We have colour coded these to enable members to judge how much progress we believe Keele has made:
1. full consultation with UCU1
2. no default face-to-face teaching2
3. facemasks to be worn in indoor spaces
4. widely available sanitising stations and facility cleaning regimes
5. members who are required to work on campus and want to do so must have suitable and sufficient risk assessments
6. testing, tracing, and quarantine measures
7. social distancing of two metres, unless otherwise specified and sufficiently risk assessed
8. infection levels must be stable and not increasing
For the avoidance of doubt: KUCU is clear that in situ teaching should only be required where physical presence on campus is an essential element of a course and that online should be the default option. We have made representations to senior management and to HR to make it clear that we do not support large volumes of in situ teaching on the grounds of safety or workloads (see below). We are also clear that vulnerable staff and students should be protected.
If you are aware of any cases where vulnerable members of the University community are being compelled to enter the classroom, please contact us at email@example.com.
Many thanks to all those members who emailed us questions to pose to senior management about health and safety. You can read the responses here: https://www.keeleucu.co.uk/keele-responds-to-members-health-and-safety-questions/
Please do keep on raising your concerns with us.
A consequence of socially distanced in situ teaching will be a significant increase in the number of hours colleagues will be asked to teach, as well as having to adjust to blended delivery, learn new technologies and produce online content from scratch. Some colleagues have already received their timetables and noticed a doubling (or more!) of their contact hours. The University has promised that timetables will be released on Monday 14th September so all academic colleagues should have a clear idea of the impact of in situ teaching on your workloads. KUCU is concerned about the potential for intolerable workload pressures, alongside increasingly unrealistic research expectations when it comes to probation, promotion and retaining research time in future years. At a time when Keele has shed many posts from programmes as a result of the Financial Sustainability Plan, we are fully aware of how fragile programmes are. KUCU has received no assurances from senior management about relaxing Academic Role Expectations in response to the increased pressures upon staff at this time.
Be assured that the issue of workloads and the various knock-on effects are firmly on KUCU’s agenda and will be at the core of future discussions with senior management. If members have questions that they want to pose to senior management on this issue, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will post responses on our website.
Coming soon: OneKeele
As keen readers of the staff intranet will be aware, the Financial Sustainability Plan (FSP) has not gone away. KUCU has not been given any further information at this stage other than that the proposals are far-reaching and the consultation process will be lengthy. We expect the consultation document to land with KUCU in the space of the next couple of weeks. We are aware of the anxieties that this will raise for PSS members, as well as those who rely upon the excellent work they do. We will be in touch as soon as this consultation process has been launched.
1 This is amber due to KUCU not being given representation on every committee during the process.
2 This is amber since management is only requiring partial in situ teaching. It is worth noting that much of this is not ‘essential’ teaching and need not be in situ.