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Is this a conversation or a monologue?

October 14, 2016

Billed as ‘conversations’, VC Paddy Nixon will visit Ulster’s 4 campuses on Tuesday to meet staff in the wake of the publication of UU’s Strategic Plan – Five & Fifty. But we might ask, is this a conversation or a monologue? Is the VC listening?

He certainly didn’t listen to the campus unions as management implemented cuts to jobs last year. Had he done so, some of the ill-conceived decisions that damaged the work and reputation of the institution might have been avoided, such as the loss of Maths and Modern Languages. Also UU might not be forcing three colleagues out of Irish at the moment.

In this instance, the VC ignored the pleas of UCU to save the three colleagues and look for savings elsewhere. He also dismissed the pleas of the broader academic who petitioned him, in particular those of Ralph O’Connor, Professor in the Literature and Culture of Britain, Ireland and Iceland, from the University of Aberdeen, and the 161 academics from 18 countries who signed a petition asking him to reconsider the decision to press ahead with the 3 redundancies. Prof O’Connor wrote:

We are writing as supporters of your university and especially of its continuing contributions to Celtic studies. Whatever the financial calculations behind this exercise may be, it would greatly damage your international reputation for both research and teaching if you were seen to have ‘let go’ three capable and versatile staff from a world-leading unit. Coming so soon after your success in Celtic in REF 2014, such a move will seem tragically counterproductive, and its repercussions would be unlikely to be restricted to our own field. It is also hard to imagine a more potent disincentive for your own staff in other units to perform their best for the next REF. We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider.

Others made their representations: research partners like those at Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique expressed their ‘dismay’. PhD students and graduates of Irish voiced their concerns in a letter to the VC and a public online petition with over 500 signatories, all feel on deaf ears.

It’s not a conversation if you don’t listen, or if you hear only the things you want to. Conversation where one (or both) refuse to engage meaningfully with the points of view of the other is worthless.

UCU is the democratic, collective voice of our profession. It is the most effect way of making your voice heard in any conversation. Use it. Make this a conversation, not a monologue. Attend the meetings, question the direction the VC is taking us. Demand accountability.

Contact us here: Tracy Irwin (President of UCU Ulster) t.irwin@ulster.ac.uk or Stephen Baker (Vice President) sj.baker@ulster.ac.uk

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