I am thankful that finally a debate may be able to commence, in writing, given that the manager who was appointed in 2011 and destroyed the academic department I joined in 2007 has published his version of the story: https://matthewrevans.co.uk/what-happened-at-queen-mary/
I copy below a few of the interesting revelations. No comment is required, really. On this first post, I refrain from referring to the parts where John and I are named (half of the head’s post is about the two of us) to focus on some of the more general aspects that are being revealed and should be of interest for other institutions undergoing restructuring exercises (of which there are sadly many examples, constantly, in the UK) and to those colleagues who still believe that Universities should and can be administered by the academics themselves, instead of being subjected to a foreign social class with their own morality, which will be in plain view below. From the “workers” perspective, the struggle is not about personal conflicts between few individuals, as often perceived by rulers and their pawns. My heart goes to the many whose careers were and are being derailed or delayed (“He who knows most grieves most for wasted time.” – Dante).
“Having survived an attempt to frame me for expenses fraud I really had to move on from Exeter, but getting a new position in the years immediately following the financial crisis as the UK moved into the austerity programme was not easy. After the events of 2009 I applied for several jobs through the next year and finally got an offer from Queen Mary University, in the East End of London in the first few months of 2011. From the outset it was made clear that there was a requirement to undertake a big restructuring of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences of which I was to become the head. Frankly this was not the job I really would have picked, no-one really wants to start a new position knowing there was going to be a big fight. But I felt that I had few options.”
“The way in which these restructurings work, at least in Britain, is that management (me) publishes its plans giving the rationale for the restructuring, and draft plans. The whole thing then goes into a consultation period starts with the workers (my fellow academics).”
“As I said at [t]he start, I had a plan before I arrived.”
“Technically the most important group was the UCU, whose very well meaning local representative was Paul Anderson while the regional representative was, the very appropriately named, Amanda Sackur. I met with Paul many times and Amanda on a few occasions. Unfortunately their stance was that there should be no restructuring at all.”
“It was clear that the union was not going to provide the push-back I had anticipated and needed. I therefore had to be my own opposition. I wrote a detailed rebuttal of point in my own plan, arguing against what I had myself proposed. I invited two senior professors for a drink in a pub that was only rarely frequented by members of the university. At the end of which I told them that I would carelessly leave a document for them to read on the table. This piece of paper subsequently became the basis for the revision of the first draft back towards the original plan.”
“By the end of the academic year 2011/12 the restructuring had been completed. Half a dozen people were working out agreed periods of continued teaching before leaving with a decent redundancy payout. Another half a dozen had been moved onto teaching-only contracts. One person had been made compulsorily redundant. Despite the claims that teaching would fail or research would collapse SBCS continued to recruit students and to conduct high quality research. In fact when the tuition fee was increased to £9,000 in 2012 and then when the quota was removed from student numbers in 2015 SBCS continued to be the largest undergraduate student recruiter in Queen Mary… The final assessment of the success of the restructuring came with the results of the 2014 REF. The results of the REF showed that in biology SBCS went from 34/52 in 2008 to 22/43 in 2014; while we submitted to Chemistry for the first time since 2001 obtaining a position of 22/35. This was a major achievement and something that could not have occurred without the restructuring.
Finally, SBCS grew in the years after the restructuring reaching 80 academic staff by 2016. We managed to do this and simultaneously changed the gender balance from 17% female to 34% female. As a result of this, and the measures that we put in to make sure that the school had a level playing field for women and men the School was awarded Queen Mary’s first Athena Swan Silver Award. Unfortunately it has subsequently lost this award and whether it holds onto the same position in the REF of 2021 will be revealed in a couple of years time.”
Entries on this blog relating to:
The view on the ground after the exercise and REF 2014
2. Pythonesque success (satyre of how Matthew Evans portrays the REF result)
3. A visit to the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (how the REF and the restructuring was perceived by those who stayed behind) simple arithmetic shows that from SBCS went from a 34th in 52 to a 30th in 52 (combining the two separate results) however in the former REF everyone was returned, whereas on this one less than 50% of staff were submitted to the evaluation. Loss of research income was offset by increase in teaching loads to generate income (see below).
The new era
The untold purpose of the restructure
8. These are lies, Dicky, not misrepresentations (the income generated, primarily from student fees, is being used to secure loans from banks in order to pay out interest towards debt acquired from failed College-owned companies. These companies then pay lucrative salaries to their boards, just as is done for the senior executives that protect their peer decision-makers. One example can be found in the final comment on this post.)
The view on the ground when the head moved elsewhere
Some lost opportunities
The UCU nation-wide strike a few years later
The ideals of a visionary who helped found the University