UCU launches campaign to reinstate dismissed lecturer

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A number of lecturers at Bristol University have started a campaign after the controversial dismissal of a Veterinary Sciences Lecturer.

Dr Alison Hayman was dismissed on grounds which are 'spurious and one-sided', according to a statement from the ‘Reinstate Alison Hayman!’ campaign, led by a number of University College Union (UCU) members. The statement also says that 'UCU is currently fighting Alison’s case'.

UCU states that Hayman lost her post 'for not securing enough grant monies'.

'This is despite the fact that she is described as having made a considerable Research Excellence Framework contribution', the statement says.

The campaign, as well as the petition also set up, are being run by a group of lecturers which include Bristol UCU’s Vice-President, Dr Jamie Melrose, an Assistant Teacher in the School of Politics, Sociology and International Studies (SPAIS).

Hayman first took up the position of Lecturer in Connective Tissue Biology in the Department of Clinical Veterinary Science in 2000. Though she had no ambition to rise to the position of Senior Lecturer, in 2007 the University made it compulsory for staff to progress up the academic ladder, or face dismissal.

At the same time, however, new criteria were to be enforced for staff to be promoted to Senior Lecturer, largely focused on securing large amounts of external grant money. When Hayman was judged not to have met these, she was placed on ‘capability’ – a period of constant evaluation – with the idea that the University would give her extra help to hit the targets they were setting her.

But her account described the procedure as far more stressful than it was supportive. Being on capability meant Hayman was subject to frequent meetings, and constantly had to submit evidence that she was ‘capable’ of getting the desired grants, a situation she described as “demoralising and paralysing”.

Although Hayman claims to have been awarded £5,000 in funding from the Langford Trust in 2012, she said the University deemed this insufficient, and in 2013 she was put on a stage 2 warning, with another 5 months to prove herself.

And after her next grant application, to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, failed to net any funding, she was required to attend a stage 3 hearing in July of 2014 – at which she was given three months’ notice and sacked.

Hayman, a mother of two who had been the 'sole breadwinner' for her family told Epigram that her dismissal and the years of stressful evaluation that preceded it 'put enormous pressure on me and my family. I am currently registered as unemployed with the label of dismissed hanging over me.

“The last 5 years have been an ordeal. I have found the capability process to be an extremely stressful and harassing process”
“I was even described as being a former employee on the University of Bristol website, back in August 2014, long before my final date of employment in October 2014”, she explained.

Hayman also points to data, allegedly obtained by UCU via Freedom of Information request, showing that between 2010 and 2014, nearly 400 lecturers in the same category as her (non-clinical ‘pathway 1’ staff) had in fact secured no grant money at all.

According to those figures, reportedly from Bristol’s Online Management of Research Contracts and Applications (ORCA) database, from January 2010 to July 2014 the University had a total of 387 staff members of Hayman’s category who had no funding – including 114 lecturers, 173 senior lecturers and 100 professors.

This is not the first time in recent years that the dismissal of a member of academic staff at Bristol has caused controversy. In March 2012 Epigram reported about the ‘Keep Maggie’ campaign.

The student-led campaign resolved to reinstate Sociology Teaching Associate Dr Maggie Studholme. As part of their campaign students held a demonstration outside Wills Memorial Building during February graduations.

The University’s Director of Human Resources, Guy Gregory, told Epigram 'It would not be appropriate to comment on the majority of questions […] raised as the time limit for instituting any legal proceedings has not expired.'

But when asked whether he was aware of the campaign, Gregory said, 'I was not aware of a campaign seeking Dr Hayman’s reinstatement'.

When asked whether campaigns such as ‘Reinstate Alison Hayman!’ and ‘Keep Maggie’ would have any impact on the calibre of staff the University hopes to attract, Gregory said,

‘We do not have any evidence that such campaigns affect our ability to attract high calibre staff.’
Melrose raised some questions brought up by UCU:
"Should securing grant applications be the be-all and end-all for “good” research? Doesn't it fly in the face of the principle of academic freedom and the autonomy of research? The pursuit of knowledge dictated to by external bodies (rather than researchers themselves) at all costs?”
While Bristol was ranked in the Top 5 in the UK in recent research rankings, some students have recently expressed concerns that research is being prioritised at the expense of teaching.

Hayman’s case also seems to have similarities with some recent redundancy issues at Warwick University, where the treatment of academics has been likened to that of City Traders.

In one Times Higher Education article, Warwick has been accused of singling out academics for redundancy due to their research income.

Purportedly, in November academic staff at Warwick’s medical school were told that anyone who had not secured an average of £90,000 of research income, from a project where they were the principal investigator, or £150,000 of research income, from a project where they were a co-investigator, would be at risk of redundancy. This has caused outrage, with Warwick’s branch of the UCU launching a petition calling on the Vice-Chancellor to overturn the process.

In response, a spokesperson for Warwick University said this new criteria had been emplaced since schools had failed to meet prior set financial targets.

*Featured Image:*Flickr/DiamondGeezer


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