Brighton university staff go on indefinite strike as one VC ‘flaunts his champagne lifestyle’ in their faces

Brighton University staff protesting outside Brighton conference centre
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Striking staff at Brighton University took their campaign to an international conference on Tuesday 4 July. It was over a senior manager’s keynote speech, given on the same day he announced the names of 25 professors he and his bosses are forcing redundancy upon. So, staff made a point of raising the issue outside of campus walls – and got support from some well-known academics in the process. Plus, all this comes as some staff have also just started an indefinite strike.

Brighton University: what a mess management has made

As the Canary has been documenting, bosses at Brighton University are making over 100 staff redundant. PhD researcher at Brighton University Kathryn Zacharek has been writing from the frontline of the dispute for us – and she’s laid out how the institution is now a mess. For example, bosses are closing parts of it while spending massive amounts of money elsewhere. Most concerningly, Zacharek previously noted that the university:

intends to make 110 academics and 30 professional staff redundant, all in a bid to save almost £18m

And, in recent developments:

the university has announced it will close the Brighton Centre for Contemporary Arts (BCCA) due to alleged financial pressures.

Bosses say these pressures include the government freezing regulated tuition fees, and inflation. However, people are finding it difficult to believe this, given that the university has spaffed £17m on buying out the Virgin Active lease of sports facilities on one of the campuses.

Since the Canary last reported on the situation at Brighton University, its branch of the University and College Union (UCU) has told us that 80 academic staff have agreed to voluntary redundancy. In spite of this, staff and students alike have been fighting back against the bosses’ plans.

Read on...

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From protests to occupations, via someone dressed as Mickey Mouse – people are not having it. Now, some staff have taken their grievances elsewhere.

Taking the fight to an international conference

Brighton University UCU told the Canary that, on 4 July, staff protested against the redundancies at the European Congress of Psychology, which was taking place at the Brighton Centre. The reason for the demonstration was the presence of the university’s pro-vice chancellor for research, professor Rusi Jaspal. He was delivering a keynote speech at the conference.

However, this came on the same day as Jaspal helped decide which professors are to be included in the 25 compulsory redundancies bosses are making:

So, staff held a demo outside the conference centre to make their feelings clear:

Brighton University protest

Brighton University protest

Jaspal is a member of the senior team of vice chancellor Debra Humphris. Staff members’ list of grievances against her is long, including closing the Hastings and Eastbourne Campus while getting a CBE from the state – for what, you’d rightly ask. Moreover, 94% of staff and students recently voted that they have no confidence in Humphris:

Brighton University protest

Interestingly for Brighton University staff (and unfortunately for Jaspal), other academics speaking at the conference voiced their support for the people protesting. These included professor Kate Pickett (co-author of The Spirit Level and The Inner Level) and Serdar Değirmencioğlu (co-author of Social and Psychological Dimensions of Personal Debt and the Debt Industry). Brighton UCU told the Canary that both academics “directly called out the treatment of staff by management”:

Chair of Brighton University UCU Dr Mark Abel said in a statement:

Professor Jaspal has been taunting staff threatened with redundancy with comments on Twitter about ‘resilience during crises’. He flaunts his champagne lifestyle while Brighton lecturers suffer 100% deductions in their pay for participating in the union’s national marking boycott. It’s a disgrace that he is given a platform to talk about his own research when he is responsible for slashing the research funding for the rest of the staff at Brighton University.

The university has accepted 80 applications for voluntary redundancy from academic staff. This level of shrinkage will produce huge financial savings. Sacking a further 25 lecturers and professors is completely unnecessary. Not only does it steal the livelihoods of the staff affected, it will undermine the breadth and quality of the education the university offers to students.

Brighton University protest

But the protest at the conference was just another part of staff and student’s fightback.

Brighton University is closed

Brighton University UCU members began an indefinite strike against the proposed redundancies on Monday 3 July. They said in a statement that unless management drop the compulsory redundancies:

no preparation for the new academic year will take place and the autumn term will not start.

So far, bosses are refusing to budge. With Brighton University potentially closed for the new academic year due to the strike, you’d think they’d have to change tack soon.

However, the current carnage in higher education – thanks to years of government malpractice and university bosses’ profiteering – may mean this impasse between staff, students, and bosses won’t be resolved anytime soon.

And why should it be? When young peoples’ education – and workers’ livelihoods – are on the line, resistance is the only option. Management needs to change course immediately – or face the consequences.

Featured image via Brighton UCU, and additional images via Bee Dabrowska

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