The interim vice-chancellor, Professor Steve Bradley, briefly spoke to a group of students in Alexandra Square on Wednesday 12th February about the open letter in support of Dr Julie Hearn. Professor Bradley refused to accept the concerns raised in the open letter as legitimate.
News broke last week that Dr Julie Hearn, a lecturer in the PPR department and president of Lancaster University UCU branch, was going to a preliminary hearing about trade union victimisation on 28th February. Students organised an open letter in support of Dr Hearn, which received over 400 signatures from fellow students, alumni, academics, professional services, and trade unionists from across the country.
On Wednesday morning, a delegation of students made their way to deliver the open letter to the vice-chancellor's office. By chance, they bumped into Professor Bradley as he was leaving University House. Labour city councillor Jack O'Dwyer-Henry, who was taught by Dr Hearn before she went on sick leave, briefly spoke to Professor Bradley and explained the contents of the letter. He requested that University management agreed to the trade unions' demands to avoid the impending strike action and the negative effect it will have on students' education.
Professor Bradley rejected the letter's claim that 'intimidation and bullying of workers and trade unionists at Lancaster University is endemic', saying, 'I have to weigh that against the staff survey, which says other things'. Spineless has recently noted that the legitimacy and impartiality of the staff survey has been called into question before, and relying on it as solid evidence is likely misleading.
In response to Dr Hearn's case, Professor Bradley said, 'I think we’ve kind of gone through due process as much as we can'. The forthcoming Employment Tribunal shall no doubt make a determination as to whether due process has been followed. But the fact that University management's handling of the situation thus far has resulted in Dr Hearn needing to take stress-related sick leave, is an indication that the University has been failing in its duty of care to her. This is to say nothing of the University letting down her students, whose courses now face significant disruption.
Julie is a wonderful colleague, a passionate educator, and a committed trade unionist. I've heard more than one student say that her courses on African and Latin American politics were the most valuable of their undergraduate degrees. She is missed by us all while on sick leave. https://t.co/BwRRYhGiF2— Richard Johnson (@richardmarcj) February 13, 2020
That students were forced to raise their concerns with the vice-chancellor in person indicates just how far democracy has been eroded in the University. As the open letter itself said, 'Such has been the erosion of democracy, that students and staff are powerless to effect change in their University beyond the last resort of collective direct and industrial action.'
Escalation by students over this and other issues, such as the refusal to declare a climate emergency and the delay in drawing up a trans equality policy, seems almost inevitable. Cllr O'Dwyer-Henry spoke to The Tab and said that University management 'shall be met with unwavering resistance.' He cited climate inaction and the Sugarhouse Scandal as evidence that 'overpaid senior managers of Lancaster University repeatedly act as if they do not care about students’ education, welfare, or futures'.
If Professor Bradley would like to clarify anything, we have extended an invitation for an interview. As he says, it 'takes two to talk', we are always reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is the full transcript of the conversation between Steve Bradley (SB) and Jack O'Dwyer-Henry (JO). Unfortunately, due to the windy conditions, some of the vice-chancellor's remarks were inaudible in our recording.
JO We’re really concerned about the victimisation of trade unionists and staff here on campus. Julie Hearn, she’s a comrade of ours, she’s one of my lecturers, and her case in particular is one that really, really concerns us. So, we just hope that you’ll, you know, sit down with the trade unions, to agree to their demands and then to end the victimisation and bullying of trade unionists and staff here on campus, because we don’t think it’s an appropriate way to run any sort of institution.
SB Well I would challenge the idea that we victimise. We have responded to that particular case, both in terms of the overall grievance procedure which has been through two rounds: the initial grievance, and then the appeal. And then we’ve actually made some changes in light of what Julie required, in terms of teaching, the proposition to bring back full time, rather than being 80%. It’s an ongoing issue around the grievance, it’s going to a tribunal [inaudible]. So I think we’ve kind of gone through due process as much as we can, and it’s not that we’ve ignored it, it’s not that we don’t talk about it, in fact I’m speaking to Sunil [Banga, Lancaster UCU branch vice-president] tomorrow. So the dialogue is always there, but it takes two to talk. I’m willing to do this, as long as [inaudible].
JO Well, this letter describes an "endemic” culture of bullying at the University, and, as I said, this has been signed by dozens of senior lecturers and professors at the University, who are putting their names to this. So I think that’s something that hopefully will concern you, and hopefully management will take on board.
SB No, no, it does concern us, obviously it concerns us. But I have to weigh that against the staff survey, which says other things, and I’ve talked to other staff who don’t see victimisation and bullying as [inaudible] certain people do. So, you know, there are 3,500 staff here, and we have to be mindful of everybody’s needs, not just Julie Hearn’s. So I’m quite happy for you to lodge the letter to me up to D Floor, and I will read it then. So, is it complete?
JO Yes, this is the complete letter and then this is just a list of all of the signatories.
SB Right, fine. So put it- Take it to D Floor. I’m now off to the Management School to do some marking, of all things. And I will read it as soon as I can.
JO Okay, well thank you very much.
SB We are listening, alright?
JO Well, we’ll hopefully see some action! Thank you.