Comments on the redundancies from members of staff at the University of Liverpool
I am deeply upset and saddened by what is happening. I enthusiastically engaged with SHAPE and worked hard to convince more cynical colleagues that the intentions driving SHAPE were noble and with good intentions. I listened and I heard that SHAPE was built on an understanding of the civic role of a University, I interpreted that there was an understanding of the health needs of our city, as well as its politics, ethos and culture. I believed and convinced others that SHAPE would bring about a better integration of teaching and research, that it wasn’t about money or league tables and that our collective contribution would lead to great outcomes. So where has it all gone so wrong? The current exercises drives a massive wedge between teaching and research, already staff are disengaging from teaching and no doubt considering how best to game the citation metrics. The use of grubby, so obviously flawed metrics, which we cannot even see ourselves, is so astoundingly wrong I am genuinely stunned. I honestly can’t understand the motivation – just a show of power that management can get away with anything or did they really not think through the ramifications of ranking in such a flawed way. Given all the promises made about SHAPE, which I worked hard to persuade others about, I just feel like a mug for buying into it. The collective spirit in the Faculty is now gone. When we all pull together, following the collective spirit of our great city we can do great things, but divided and bitter, the project is doomed. I only hope the management draw back from this position and re-think, otherwise we have a decade or more ahead of everyone fearful and looking over their shoulder for the axe to fall. That is not the environment where we do great things.
I feel deeply uncomfortable with the current threats of redundancy to a large number of academic staff in FLHS associated with Project SHAPE and with the underlying processes. I take very seriously the requirement to uphold the Seven Principles of Public Life in everything that I do for the University or when representing the University on other external bodies. I certainly expect the same of the University’s senior management. But the current actions and their justification seem to me to be highly unethical and I am frankly appalled by the strategy being used, the obviously flawed metrics with no validation, openness or forewarning, and the very unfair and callous treatment of highly valued colleagues, particularly at a time when everyone is struggling to cope.
But the current approach of our senior management is also having a much broader impact on a much wider range of staff and students in the Faculty. Universities can only achieve and sustain world-class research and teaching through the inspiration and dedication of its academic staff and their teams, going more than the extra mile. Good and fair management plays a major role in providing the inspiration and encouragement to do that, both individually and by bringing us to work together so we can achieve so much more than we can as individuals. After many years of such dedication, I feel utterly demotivated as a direct result of the messages that have been sent out to staff by senior managers in the Faculty and hearing about the awful treatment of colleagues. These messages represent a highly blinkered view of what is important to our University, to our city, and to the global as well as local challenges that we urgently need to contribute to. Project SHAPE was supposed to bring back together the best quality research and teaching and to allow us to work better together. Who will want to dedicate any major time to teaching, to work collegially when colleagues need help, or provide support to projects led by others in an environment where, in taking that approach, you may well lose your job. What an appalling management strategy. I hope the senior management team will listen and think again.
The proposed redundancies of 47 T&R staff at any time is wrong, in the midst of a pandemic it is disgraceful. The University of Liverpool can be a great place to work but our current senior leadership team is driving it into the ground, a good reputation is hard-won but easily lost. I have heard a number of external academics say they would never work at Liverpool and an increasing number of current staff (not on the list) who are actively looking to move as they can’t stand to work for an organisation who would do this. They are also afraid of what the current action against staff means for their future.
The past year has been so difficult, we have worked so hard to keep things going, to deliver teaching online, to make sure our students are okay. All this we’ve done while juggling home schooling, care responsibilities, grieving the death of loved ones, and managing our own mental and physical health. Now our Executive Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Louise Kenny, thinks it’s the right time to make a significant proportion of staff unemployed, under the guise it will help the Faculty improve health in the Liverpool region. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.
I know some of those identified, they are some of the best lecturers this university has, they collaborate with others to bid for grants which will help improve health and well-being at local and international level, they publish their work in top-ranking journals within their fields, they undertake substantial administrative roles. To claim they are underperforming is a lie. The SLT at the University of Liverpool claims it supports its staff, that it wants to embed EDI into everything it does, that it wants to ensure the well-being of all its members. We do not believe them and we will fight to make sure our colleague’s jobs are safe.
The action will lead to a poorer student experience as there will be fewer research-led experts to teach them – teaching will almost certainly be dumped on T+S colleagues – who will not be on top of these subjects. Those T+R colleagues who remain will be also expected to do more – hence their research will also deteriorate. I think that leadership’s mantra here is “Why waste an opportunity like a pandemic”?
Support from senior staff and collective strength will greatly help to persuade management that this is not an appropriate course of action. Although I do not know everyone who has been targeted, the colleagues that I do know so far have really surprised me and it is all very disappointing; it is difficult to understand the supposed metrics behind this until further clarification. Despite claims to the contrary this is purely cost-cutting of the most vulnerable (apparently not the least productive in many cases from available data). It is an appalling proposed cull at a time when staff are mostly isolated, coping with all the complications of Covid while maintaining their academic activities. If management are successful, apart from the immediate drastic impact on individuals’ lives, this will greatly increase the already significant teaching /assessment workload for those who remain. Younger researchers’ productivity, especially, will be hindered, further increasing vulnerability to subsequent cuts. This is a cynical, destabilizing move that will instigate a climate of fear at the university if left unopposed. The more public this issue becomes the harder it will be for management to justify their actions.
I’m very willing to support my colleagues in any possible way (incl. union action). My opinion is that this round of redundancies is unacceptable for several reasons:
- There is no financial need
- It sounds like a “performance” issue, not redundancies. And performance issues should be dealt with in a different way.
- It’s not the Faculty of Medicine, it’s the Faculty of HLS. However desirable it is to try and establish a high performance centre, this should not be at the cost of others. Also, the motivation seems to be to climb higher in the Russell Group, and seems corporate/prestige related rather than academic.
- The grant criterion compares us to the Russell Group average but as a university we sit at the tail end of the group. So, being bottom 25% in the Russel Group might still make you average (or better?) at UoL. The publication criterion is insane and none of the top scientists from my Institute achieves the cut-off value of 2. In any case, one can’t suddenly pull a suitable criterion out of thin air. If we are going to be judged by very specific criteria we should have been told in consecutive PDRs so we can work towards achieving them. If the field-weighted citation impact is to be used, a cut-off of 2 is ridiculous. A value of one is not bad, it means that 50% of your peers are worse than you (by definition). Not a reason to be sacked in my world.
The move to sack 47 colleagues has shocked and angered myself and many colleagues. Among those whose names are already known are several who are excellent teachers who have made huge contributions towards not only keeping teaching going during the pandemic, but making a success of it. Throughout the pandemic, the University leadership has sent messages of thanks to all colleagues, for their contributions to teaching and student support. These messages now seem hollow seeing how the University is showing its gratitude. In addition to this unfairness and cruelty towards individuals, this sends a toxic message to all academics, basically saying that teaching counts very little at this institution. Colleagues are starting to realise that if they want to keep their job, they are better off focusing entirely on their research and avoiding putting any effort into good teaching. We are already beginning to see the effect of this mindset, with staff reluctant to commit to anything that is not strictly necessary. Good teaching and good relationships with students depend on staff goodwill and enthusiasm. This is starting to dwindle, and this will have major consequences for student satisfaction.
I cannot believe how cruel this redundancy policy in a pandemic is with the dubious metrics being used. Not to mention that it seems that colleagues with large teaching loads which acted collegially by contributing to teaching were targeted. I simply cannot understand this. It is not like people teach because they try to avoid other work, we have huge teaching loads because it is a University and as such teaching is necessary. If people have teaching duties so large that their research suffered surely it means that they are highly in demand as lecturers and should just be moved to T&S contracts. Also if you have a teaching load more than the average of a T&R in a Russel group university how can you be expected to have a research output over the average of a T&R in Russel group. Its like they haven’t heard of the concept of time. Getting rid of these people just means that all of us will end up with higher teaching load and then have less research time and consequently will be get rid off in the next round.
I would love to be able to support and help our colleagues that are threatened by this unprecedented attack on jobs. I’ve already voted in favour of strike action via the UCU’s poll, but short of writing to my MP I’m struggling to know what else I can do to try and help put a stop to this. I also can see that this is just the first step towards regular culls of academics based on flawed metrics and the vagaries of trends in research funding streams and specific membership on funding committees (and who happens to be ‘friends’ with the committee members).
I’m a strong believer in the need for a strong and collegiate team of academics that, by being diverse and bringing many strengths to the table, allow the University to deliver everything it needs to do. This means we need great teachers as well as great research stars, and everyone in-between those two extremes. The proposed short term, research income and flawed publication metrics driven approach to managing academics totally loses sight of the fact that Universities should never operate under the principles that drive businesses; education is not a commodity to be chopped and changed according to momentary cashflow, it should be freely available to all that seek it, and should maintain its breadth and diversity always.
Anyway, please do add my vote and voice to the resistance to this hideous attack on jobs, and thank you so much for speaking up in support of our threatened colleagues.
Obviously I am outraged by what is going on. It cannot be right to dismiss people without a proper warning (ie years ahead) with regards to the criteria that will be applied to judge their “value” or suitability for the institution. Surely it should have been made clear a couple of years back, when SHAPE was conceived that this move was on the books. As far as I understand our salaries are 70% provided through income via teaching – hence it seems to make no sense to judge solely on the basis of grant income and paper outputs. Especially in these times, when we have all been asked to put in a huge amount of extra work into teaching to allow for the transition to online provision of modules and tutelage.
Looking at the short list of the targeted people who we know of, it also seems that their actual research output looks not that weak and one then wonders what mitigation has been used to protect other members of staff that are deemed more valuable.
Well, this has pretty much wiped out my last reserve of goodwill towards this institution or rather its leadership.
It completely ignores teaching, even though the last few years we have received the signal (rightly so) that teaching is very important and will be valued more than it used to. Moreover, grants bring in only 16% of total university income. Teaching brings in over 70%. Who is going to do the HLS47’s teaching? People won’t be inclined to take on even more teaching than they already do because apparently to keep your job you need to bring in grants and publish. It violates the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment.
This undermines all the pretty words from Faculty leadership about a “change of culture” and “your well-being always comes first”. I’m afraid this will change people’s work motivation even outside of HLS and that this will have very long-term adverse effects on our University’s functioning. In that sense it IS a change in culture, but not one for the better. I personally feel like a postdoc again, with no job security and not sure if my university really wants me (except for the money I bring in). There are many more like me. This feels like a sword of Damocles – when will it be “my turn”? A lot of us even are now starting to long to retiring, even though we love our jobs.
I don’t know the names of anyone who is being made redundant so can’t comment on their work but obviously feel awful for them and the timing is abhorrent. My main concerns beyond that are as follows:
- As far as I understand, no consideration of individual performance according to agreed PDR records was given in considering who to target which just seems to make that a totally pointless exercise which can provide no reassurance to anyone in the future about their performance at work.
- On top of that, I’m concerned about the added strain to those who remain. I mean as far as I know there is no commensurate reduction in teaching happening and even if these individuals were only doing the minimum contractual 20% load (which I assume is far less than they are actually doing) then that’s still ~10 FTE posts worth of teaching added to other colleagues.
It’s making me reconsider whether UoL is the institution I want to work for and am considering my options elsewhere.
The most absurd element of the whole process is that, as far as we can tell, it takes no account of the quantity (much less quality) of teaching (and admin) that we do. It’s always been the position in academia that people make different levels of contribution across T, R and A and that the proportions might vary with time. To take one element at a given time and make a decision seemingly solely on that is desperately unfair.
I am appalled by the announced redundancies, many of the people affected are more than just colleagues to me. I would like to help defend these people.
What the Senior Management Team are doing makes no sense. Self-inflicted damage. I only know some of the 47 people but the ones I do know are in the top 25% of academics in HLS if one uses sensible metrics. Why does the SMT want to fire some of our best people? I think our SMT are suffering from delusions of grandeur. On most things we are never going to be able to compete with the top Unis like Oxford, Cambridge and the London Universities. But the one thing we do/did compete on was team working. We are really good at working in collaborative teams and that has helped us win some major programme grants in the past. What the SMT are doing will disincentivise team working because it seems you are only valued from now on if you are a PI.
I think it was a shameful and very cynical decision in the middle of a pandemic when it was obvious that it would be very difficult for people to find comparable jobs. I don’t think such a behaviour ever happened in the recent history of the University.
Although I am not affected, but I find the lack of transparency and compassion, and the pretence that the aim is to improve the health of the local population, quite frankly distasteful.
In response to XXXXXXXXXXXXX declared support for the 47 redundancies: His words are toxic and very terrifying. He would appear to have no idea whatsoever as to the amount of world-class fundamental research in biology that is going on in the same Faculty as him, and the millions and millions of pounds of research income our fundamental and applied biological research brings in to the University. Nor would he appear to grasp the International research reputation of our world leading biologists, nor the fact that we teach fundamental biology life sciences degree programmes to well over 1200 students across the 3 undergraduate years, never mind the large numbers of masters and PhD students studying fundamental and applied biology and the associated research income that brings to the University. His blinkered attitude that envisages the future of the Faculty being focussed purely on improving the health outcomes and extending the lives of people in Liverpool is truly horrific (and seems to ignore the problems of poverty, food insecurity, access to education and associated multi-layered inequalities in cities such as Liverpool), and is extremely excluding for those of us carrying out world-class research on fundamental and applied aspects of non-medical biological systems. This attitude that the Faculty should focus all of its energy on improving health outcomes for the people of Liverpool also loses sight completely of the wider issues in the modern world, not least the fact that climate change is coming at us like an unstoppable steam roller and we are going to find it extremely challenging to feed humanity in the face of everything that climate change has lined up for us. For an outward looking, Internationally renowned University such as Liverpool to focus all of its research energy on improving health outcomes and life expectancy for the people of Liverpool would be a very retrograde step. The focus on Liverpool is, of course, laudable and important as one of many research foci, but should not be pursued to the detriment of all else.
Just writing to say how horrified I was at the arrogant and conceited message from XXXXXXXXXX (using the most polite language I can muster) and conversely, how impressed I was with your thorough and well-reasoned response. I can’t say I know any of the 47 well (at least, of those six or so who went public on ALLFS), but I find the whole process deeply disconcerting and I can only imagine what they are going through. Incidentally, my research has nothing to do with the chronic diseases of the Liverpool region, so who knows who might be in the firing line next!
In response to XXXXXXXXXXXXX declaration of support for the 47 redundancies: ” I do not think it is reasonable to continue to invest in people who do not contribute to that ambitious vision.”
These words exclude everyone in the Faculty that doesn’t work on human medicine, which would appear to include all of our vets, which seems to fail to grasp that we have one of the best Vet Schools in the world, in addition to all the brilliant biology researchers and teachers we have. I just can’t believe someone with such blinkered and biased views is potentially in a position of power and influence within the Faculty that I belong to. Perhaps I should not be surprised given that this extremely short-sighted and narrow view of what our Faculty should be focussing on for the future fits perfectly with his own interests and research agenda. He appears to be expressing a self-reinforcing stand point to the detriment of all others, which is never a healthy thing to do in life.
I can only say I read XXXXXXXXX with shocking disbelief and great sadness. I am actually dumbfounded. I am sad because I come to realise that some of your own colleagues can be so narrow-minded to think others can be assigned to the scrap heap. An academic’s achievement is a life-long toil, and every contribution counts. If you cannot see that, then you should not be an academic, let alone hold any named chair in the University. It is an insult to Dame Sally Davies. Your reply was spot-on and again you are very brave. We need to remind our colleagues: No one is useless. Keep up the good work and I think you have a lot of support from the community.
I too am absolutely appalled and disgusted at the treatment of our colleagues and would be more than happy to support however I can. From a teaching perspective, it is devastating for us to lose such enthusiastic and dedicated colleagues. I can’t help but feel that this vital contribution has been completely overlooked in any assessment of staff output. Every single staff member that I know to be affected, has a heavy teaching load and are invested in School activities. If there is anything I can do to support from this side of things, I’m on board.
I take the recent announcements surrounding redundancies with disbelief and I am experiencing a big loss of trust in the institution and big dose of anger. I would have expected the specific criteria used to draw up the redundancy list to be published much before action and to give a chance for colleagues to work on “weak points” if they really are. Also, how it is possible that teaching is not considered in the criteria and why is it targeted to a specific type of contract? Is this necessary for the financial viability of the university? Has this really been discussed before in PDRs? Also, at the very least I would expect delaying these decisions until after the pandemic; already people’s lives have been greatly impacted. The motivation for the redundancies (what I have learned from the union) also seems totally inappropriate even more considering the current situation.
A mixture of horror, disbelief and a certain amount of personal anxiety. I know of three individuals who have been targeted. These three are all excellent scientists with extensive undergraduate and postgraduate teaching commitments (which, as with their research, they fulfil to the highest standard). It is difficult to see what criteria can have been used for their selection that would separate them from their colleagues who have not been selected. Other than, perhaps, their very high level of collegiality.
Just to state I am wholly shocked by the current situation being undertaken within the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences but also by the e-mail from XXXXXXXXXXX, to regard peoples careers (hard careers) as investment and stating their lack of vision sharing is just shocking. The whole process is crazy. The way people are being treated is deplorable.
I think your email to the Faculty was very insightful and clear in terms of your analysis, and you are indeed very brave for standing up in public for this action – I suspect there are a lot of people who would like to have these conversations out of in the open but fear for their own career prospects at Liverpool. I still can’t believe the Faculty has used FWCI for its analysis – as you point out it is deeply flawed, using an average citation metric, based on commercially closed data is ridiculous. As one point, those who publish more have a regression to the mean style effect. There is no correlation between FWCI and publication output at all, so those publishing a handful of papers can have a similar value to those publishing 100s, which is a perverse outcome for measuring performance.
After 47 redundancies were announced without warning or even a rudimentary justification, I thought I could not be any more shocked, but it turns out I can. I am even more shocked and unnerved by the recent attempts to ‘reassure’ staff in ISMIB and IVES (extracts below). If anyone thinks staff should find this reassuring, or that it will allay our concerns, they clearly don’t understand us. They don’t understand how collaborative we are and they don’t understand why we turn up for work each morning.
The bald situation is: Project SHAPE Phase 2 creates ‘headroom to invest’ by laying off 47 Teaching&Research staff. These staff are currently contributing to research across the entire range of Health and Life Sciences – at least we understand that no area is specifically ruled out.
At first, there is concern that the SHAPE team must have secretly decided what to spend this ‘headroom’ on, without opening to scrutiny this major shift in strategic direction. Recent emails show the reality is even worse: they have not decided how to spend the headroom!
Imagine for a moment you go to a bank and ask them to lend you a few million pounds. When asked what you need this loan for, you tell the bank ‘our next project is to create a taskforce to develop a strategy to decide how to invest’. I doubt you would be taken very seriously.
Now imagine that, instead of raising money from a bank, you are raising it by stopping the income of 47 extremely hard-working people. Further, you assume their colleagues will turn their backs on them in exchange for a vague promise that some new investment will come, potentially across the entire range of Health and Life Sciences. For the true sustainability of our faculty, I hope most people will easily see that this particular “carrot” is a thoroughly rotten one.
Quoting from email of Matthew Baylis, Executive Dean of IVES Institute, 15 Feb 2021:
“I want to try to address a concern raised by several people in IVES … I want to assure you that the Institute and Faculty remain fully committed to research across all of our main areas, including those less aligned or not aligned to health…Addressing this same concern, specifically for basic biology, Louise [Kenny] sent the following to my counterpart in ISMIB recently,
…… I would be happy to confirm our commitment to biological sciences at UoL and specifically, if you think it would reassure colleagues, we could share our plans:
1. We are committed to investing in and strengthening biological sciences at Liverpool with a view to submitting a strong return in UoA5 in the next REF
2. Following the completion of SHAPE, we plan to put a task force together to develop a strategy to support this aim
3. SHAPE will generate the headroom for investment to support the same
In making this summary action, the Faculty has demonstrated scant regard for its own processes – many of the staff seem to have satisfactory PDR responses in the last year. So, is the Faculty saying that the University PDR process is not fit for purpose? Or, is it just riding roughshod over this process, to its own ends? This is a rather shameful episode in the growth of a new FHLS, but there would be regain of dignity and respect if Faculty and University senior management were to admit that they got this wrong (in analytics, in optics and in sheer insensitivity), and that the whole process has been summarily abandoned.
The recent response in respect of biology looked like a rapid reaction to the growing concern about the health focus of the changes. I do not believe that a plan for biology has been formulated at all. Nor do I see how biology can be treated separately from any other Shape-related changes. As a minimum then, any discussion of staff changes should be abandoned, until the Faculty gets its act together and comes up with a vision for all of us.
The 47 proposed compulsory redundancies are completely unacceptable and unnecessary. The criteria chosen to select these staff members are unfair and dishonest since they do not take into account the contributions these staff members make to the university, from training PGR students to conducting internationally recognised research. The staff members threatened by these compulsory redundancies are valued researchers and teachers and have been serving the university for many years. It is also extraordinary that the FLT claims these positions are ‘redundant’ while new staff in the same research and teaching area, under the same T&R contract, are currently being hired in IPHS. This suggests that this is not about these positions being redundant, but is driven by perceived under-performance. Performance management is dealt with via our PDR process, where the objectives and expectations of the employee’s role are articulated and support is identified to meet these objectives. For the FLT to come up post-hoc with arbitrary performance criteria is unfair and inconsistent with the university’s own performance review process
It is clear that those driving this restructuring seriously underestimate the degree to which our research outputs (and financial inputs) as individuals hinge on a delicate balance of complementary research, teaching and admin roles within a wide team of colleagues. They stress the need to improve productivity yet have made no genuine assessment of the disruption that their course of action will cause. I am closely familiar with both the scientific calibre and teaching quality of some of those on the list, which further reinforces the impression that these managers don’t understand what we do or how we function.
I find it galling that the architects of project SHAPE continue to misrepresent the spirit of their ‘extensive consultation’ regarding the whole restructuring exercise. For example, the vast majority of staff in the former IIB were against its breakup, and made extensive representations to explain why. Not only did these individual and collective letters have zero effect on the fundamental aspects of the restructure, they barely elicited a response. In other words, they have sketched a crude plan and they are going to do their utmost to execute it. Part of the reason for this, despite superficial reassurances to the contrary, is that Biological (or if you prefer Life) Sciences is a very broad discipline that requires a similarly broad scientific culture to fully appreciate and value the benefits of this diversity. Unfortunately, this set of managers lack a broad grounding in the subject and aim to bend it in a particular way. I am deeply saddened by the ongoing turn of events because UoL has a very long tradition of being a leader in the integration of ecology, physiology, genetics and molecular biology.
One comment to the “problems with grant income criterion” paragraph. I think it would also be good to highlight that it is not clear whether people were judged against the correct REF Unit of Assessment. A lot of faculty members would be able to be assigned to several REF units in which case it will be necessary to know what Unit was chosen for the assessment for each individual and why.
I also wanted to add a comment from the SciVal website. It states;
“ This metric should be used with care when…
Entities are small so that the metric may fluctuate significantly and appear unstable over time, even when there is complete Scopus coverage. Field-Weighted Citation Impact calculates an average value, and these types of calculations are strongly influenced by outlying publications in a small data set. For example one or two highly cited articles will have a much larger effect on an entity made up of 10 articles, than an entity consisting of 1,000 articles, which can lead to an inflated value.
Entities contain a large proportion of recently published outputs. Both the output universe (publications in the same year, subject area and document type) and the citation universe (publications that are citing the publication universe), can affect FWCI fluctuations which may be seen in the metric values in the period immediately following date of publication. For an output published in the current year, new outputs will be added to the Scopus database during the remainder of the year and so the publication universe for the metric is still being defined.
This metric is useful to…
Benchmark entities regardless of differences in their size, disciplinary profile, age, and publication-type composition, such as:
- An institution and departments (Groups of Researchers) within that institution
- A country and small research institutes within that country
- A geographical region and countries within that region”
I thought it is very important that even SciVal do not recommend using this metric for individual researchers.
Truly appalling. Disgraceful treatment of colleagues, complete disregard for the impact on undergrad and postgrad students, apparent ignorance of the extreme negative effect on the majority of academic staff, and the untold damage to our university. What’s really unsettling is the often repeated false claim that colleagues have been selected based on “transparent and measurable outputs” when we all know that the exact opposite is true. It’s very sad to see all those in the senior leadership team taking part in such unethical, dishonest and abusive behaviour -something I never thought I would see in our university. I am reminded of a recent article by Matthew Paris in the Times criticising our Government. His words apply to this situation: “Can there be a sadder disgrace than for those in power to pursue a project they know will damage what they lead? Shame on the whole damn lot”.
This hurts the staff who are being made redundant and changes the atmosphere for the survivors. Managers probably think we have a problem with free riders. They probably think a bit of healthy job insecurity will be good for productivity. But are such assumptions based on more than a bit of groupthink, a touch of ideology, and a few thought experiments? This is cheap. After all, it easily be countered with alternative ideology and different thought experiments. McGettigan (2013), Collini (2012) and Graeber (2018) provide a wealth of persuasive alternatives. Perhaps job-insecure universities will select for cynics who specialize in gaming performance metrics? They might select for bullshitters, who specialize in writing expensive grants they don’t really believe in, or ‘strategic visions’ which everyone ignores. Job insecure universities might discourage reading, learning, debating and thinking, and encourage lying and bullying. In the new toxic atmosphere, high-profile academics might jump at any opportunities to leave. In sum, there are many thought experiments and they all sound plausible when stated confidently. So why selectively attend to the ones that hurt our staff?
Collini, S. (2012). What are universities for? Penguin UK.
McGettigan, A. (2013). The Great University Gamble: Money Markets and the Future of Higher Education. London: Pluto Press.
Graeber, D. (2018). Are you in a BS job? In academe, you’re hardly alone. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 6.
This move is disgraceful, with no clear plans laid out and transparent measures in place, and does not serve any purpose. The project SHAPE appears to be a pathetic attempt of some members of the senior management team to strengthen their CV in preparation for interview questions for a Vice Chancellor position in some other Universities a few years down the line, at the expense of our careers. Project SHAPE appears to have realigned staff to other departments, sack staff and renamed institutes, for example from much meaningful and thematic ‘Institute of Translational Medicine’ to non-sensical and verbose ‘Institute of Systems, Molecular and Integrative Biology’. None of these actions benefit the teachers, students and scientific research in any shape or form.
The 47 include names that shocked us all (some had considerable recent funding AND teaching loads). So aside from the 47 themselves this is destroying morale for the rest of (we know it could have been any of us – and there was nothing we could do about it). But do you realise this has demoralised even PhD students and post-docs too? They are realising that such a brutal industry is not one for them, so what will they do as a career now. They don’t want to work in a place that randomly sacks people on the basis of randomly chosen metrics without warning. So now they don’t just want to leave Liverpool, sadly they don’t want to work at any other University either now, such has been the horror of this purge. It is Academia generally that has been undermined.
This term, due to COVID the increase in my personal teaching load is enormous. No one knows, it’s not logged anywhere, many of us are just quietly doing it. Delivering more student support than ever and repeating the same pracs over and over and over (sometimes 7x more practicals). We do this, then by non-denial denial are told – it won’t count for anything if your number comes up in the dismissal sweep stake.
Of all the metrics available, why choose an obscure metric that rewards middle authors on non-REF returnable reviews? Surely you would want your metric, if you need one, to reward leaders of original material in line with REF?? You seriously need an enquiry to identify exactly who thought this was an intelligent move -even if sacking per se was acceptable.
The main issue in our faculty, is that clinicians seem to think it is a faculty of medicine rather than of health and life sciences, so the “biological sciences” part of it is completely disregarded by them, which makes scientists feel like second class citizens despite publishing the majority of impactful papers and getting the rare prestigious funding awards – which senior management gladly quote of course when it suits them – and this is really evident in the people who signed your letter. Relatively few are clinicians. Why is that?
The single most important issue we face in our faculty, in my opinion, is to redress this imbalance of power. We are not a faculty of medicine. We need to have scientists in senior management who can hold their own, fight our corner and not be intimidated by clinicians sitting on the same senior management table. Clearly this is currently not the case. So what can we do about it?
If anything comes out of this letter and subsequent efforts, I’d like to see some senior scientists appointed to the “top table” to make our views and voice heard. By and large a lot of us “non-clinical scientists” are carrying this faculty and we need to properly represented. Otherwise whatever we do will not be effective.
In the faculty forum 2018, the EPVC stated that, in relation to project SHAPE, ‘we are not looking to downsize, we are not looking to make savings, this is about putting the students at the heart of our faculty’. Yet, the criteria used to justify potential redundancies explicitly exclude any contribution to teaching. In fact, the best advice to any T&R staff would be to ignore student learning and to focus on writing grants and optimising their citation index.
I am appalled for many reasons, some of them are as follows:
i) it’s untrue to claim they are redundancies;
ii) any fool knows the metrics as employed do not measure performance;
iii) there’s a grotesque pretence of a level playing field when, in truth, those with protected characteristics are disproportionately affected;
iv) my wonderful, successful colleagues must not be treated this way by Project Shame;
v) we must fight back against the cold heartedness of a leader who has the temerity to email best wishes for a ‘vexation-free weekend’ to 47 colleagues she is sacking (cf. sign-off to the VC ‘Friday poem’ last week. I was aghast at how utterly tone deaf it was);
vi) finally – given that we can all end with quotations of someone else’s genius – because, ‘The weight of this sad time we must obey, speak what we feel not what we ought to say.’
EDI work should be a priority, but dismissals will reduce future willingness of staff to focus on areas outside of (often unnecessary) grant applications. These proposed redundancies are based on questionable metrics. The criteria used does not take into account all of the other valuable and vital contributions these staff provide to the university. In addition, this process has been introduced without consultation, without reference to annual PDRs, and without providing staff with constructive feedback, support and time to address reasonable areas. We have been told by the University to focus on teaching, curriculum development and equality and diversity, and now staff who have successfully done this are being penalised and told they are being made redundant for having less time to focus on research. The process adopted is morally reprehensible and undermines any progress that had been made over the past 5 years to make the university a fairer place to work.
This is a travesty of justice, fair process and basic collegiality in the time of a pandemic. The current approach by the University of Liverpool undermines all that University-education and -research stand for. It attacks academic freedom and stifles excellent research by applying poorly thought-through, short-term aspirations of a few to alter the structure of the current interactive academic community. This approach, besides seeming to be illegal, is certainly immoral and will lead to a dysfunctional research and teaching community. The University of Liverpool, which I have been proud to be part of for over 25 years, is not acting like one of the great HE institutes of the UK. That saddens me, and I cannot stand by quietly and watch it decay due to poor management. We know that citation practices are highly gendered – proportionally more men are cited than women across the disciplines. We are even told this when we have equality and diversity training for REF purposes. Making people redundant on citation metrics undermines attempts to foster gender equality in HE.
The selective use of metrics will always undermine the autonomy of our best and most imaginative researchers, and will always amplify racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination in the research profession. Using metrics to target colleagues will set back our demands for transparency and accountability of senior management who are currently out of control, and have the audacity and duplicity to claim such measures are ‘neutral.’
I am concerned about the lack of transparency in the use of these new metrics to identify staff for redundancy at the University, the bias that these metrics may be creating against certain groups and the lack of recognition within these metrics of other vital activities such as teaching, supervision and working to improve inclusion and diversity.
It is clear that a detached, metric-dominated approach to evaluating performance tends to place people with protected characteristics at a severe disadvantage compared to their more privileged colleagues, undermining the University’s stated commitment to equality and diversity. I agree with all the above statements and find the compulsory redundancies based on limited metric abhorrent and not cohesive with research excellence standards.
The planning and actions undertaken by the “leaders” involved at various levels in relation to these redundancies have done the greatest damage to this University in our collective living memory.
The words said on numerous occasions over the last few years about creating a positive and enabling culture in Institutes and Faculty for the collective progress, valuing hard-working staff that dedicate their professional lives to students and science endeavours, about the noble purpose of project SHAPE, about civic responsibility and engagement – while this despicable plan was being developed – appear now as nothing but a mockery and insult to all staff.
We now realise that this was on the cards long before this January when it was announced. The slight delay in its implementation was clearly only due to the pandemic, during which time, plans were not changed but further revoltingly developed, with no minimum respect or collegiality shown to those targeted in an unfair and un-transparent way. And all whilst we were being asked to do even more, be resilient, support students, and believe in the same beautiful words.
It seems that we also may need to be educated in what “headroom” means at a time when more “leadership” and managing positions keep on SHAPE-ing up.
The toxic environment created over the last few years needs to be stopped. Nice words cannot cover it. If these actions are left unstopped, this will negatively affect us all.
Despicable. A cynical way to achieve research league table improvements. Justified in the most appalling way possible: an appeal to civic duty. Unbelievable double-think from a management stuck in their own bubble without connection to colleagues. Reduces the meaning of being an academic to arbitrary and crude measures of research performance, and devalues teaching in particular: no wonder students are appalled. This move will further damage the reputation of this institution amongs its peers (whose approval management crave above all else), its students, and will make any right-minded individual doubt the sense of either joining or staying as an acdemic member of staff at the University of Liverpool. Who can now sensibly commit their career and their life to such an institution? It is the most short-termist and narrow-minded move imaginable.
“The University of Liverpool has been let down by its senior management on a number of occasions recently, but the current fiasco is a serious indictment, and certainly lowers the standing of the University. Those who took this ill-informed decision should now consider their own position: frankly, the University would be better off without them.” XXXXXXXXX X C.T.C.Wall, emeritus professor, University of Liverpool.
“As a former Head of Department and Emeritus Professor in what its now HLS, I am appalled by the proposed redundancy plan based as it is on a highly flawed consideration of just one aspect of a staff member’s contribution. When I was HoD, I assessed the performance of each of my staff by considering all of their contributions to the working of the University and by discussing these face-to-face and providing support if necessary. None of my staff was found wanting when their overall efforts were evaluated. This was a delicate and difficult process but ultimately productive. The apparent lack of direct engagement by senior management with the currently threatened staff and their line managers and the presentation of a fait accompli seems to me to be nothing short of cowardice. Even if research was the only important contribution that a staff member could make (which it isn’t), the idea that it can be accurately scored by grant income and impact factors of any sort is farcical. During my time at the University, I gained a Personal Chair and an international reputation in three different fields of research with a level of grant income that would probably have earmarked me for redundancy according to the criteria being used here. Even now, ten years after retiring, I still receive requests to collaborate, and only last week was invited to be the only UK representative on an International Consortium in a research area that I established and supported in my lab with virtually zero external income. Good science that leads to international recognition for the University does not always require big money, even in the normally expensive field of molecular biology . If this redundancy plan goes ahead, the damage to the reputation of the University will be immense. I have always been proud of my 35-year association with the University but I will be ashamed of that association if this decision is not quickly reversed. It is ill-conceived, insensitive, counter-productive and just plain wrong!”
As a former member of staff of the University of Liverpool for over 43 years and an Emeritus Professor, I was absolutely appalled and dismayed to hear recently of the proposed redundancy of 47 Academic Staff in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. I gather that the selection of staff for redundancy is essentially on the basis of some dubious metrics, which only take into account the apparent quality of the research output of staff. It is now accepted that these metrics are unreliable and we all know that members of staff contribute enormously to teaching and administration of departments. I gather that some Heads of Departments or Schools were, reportedly, unaware that some of their staff had been selected for redundancy. This is absolutely incredible. I further understand that some PhD students and Post-doctoral Researchers will be left without supervisory expertise. I am most concerned that the University is in breach of a number of declarations of International standards to which it is a signatory, through their procedures adopted in the current redundancy initiative.
The University’s reputation has already been irreversibly damaged, after people like me worked ‘heart and soul’ for enhancement of the establishment. I was proud to be associated with such an Institution, but I’m afraid that such feelings have already evaporated. I gather, on reliable evidence, that prospective students are already shunning the University in their applications.
Over the last 20 years or so at the University, I was involved in assessment panels for Career Development Awards at various levels for three Scientific Funding Bodies, including a Research Council. The cornerstone of all these schemes and considerations were Career Development procedures and advice at Institutions for recipients of awards. For the Research Council, we were allocated successful recipients for annual monitoring and advice on Career Development, a system that was successful. The PDR system at Liverpool was intended to address somewhat similar career development and provide agreed actions and advice where required. It is a clear indictment of Senior Faculty and University Management if they now say, by implication, that this PDR system has been defective. Surely, those members of Management have badly failed the University and need to consider their positions, which would seem to be untenable. This ill-thought-through redundancy plan must be quickly reversed before further irreparable damage to the University is done.
Respect, trust and confidence in the University’s managers has been lost, and too much damage has now been done for these to be regained. The Nolan Principles have been thrown out of the window and have been replaced with selfishness, deceit, unfairness, groupthink, dishonesty and secrecy. In just a few months, our once highly regarded Vice-Chancellor has become a figure of ridicule on social media. By allowing this flawed redundancy process to proceed, she has shown herself to be an inadequate leader who will be held responsible for damaging the University’s reputation. She has misread the mood of staff and students. Her habit of pasting a poem at the end of her weekly email is absurd under the circumstances. Staff resent it because it demonstrates how detached she is from the severe distress currently being experienced by staff and students. Her insistence on continuing with this practice shows a remarkable lack of insight
“The University’s apparent commitment to EDI is a hollow rhetoric in the context of the proposed action against the 47 staff identified.”
“The metrics used to identify staff for redundancy are unfair, illogical and inconsistent with the values expressed by the University, especially with regards to EDI.”
“This is an unacceptable way to treat hardworking and valued colleagues – the implications for those underrepresented in HE are huge, both now and in the future. Solidarity with the 47.”
“Redundancies are not required, especially during a pandemic! Teaching and other responsibilities are not being considered.”
“This policy is a blatant violation of what third level research and education exists. I am concerned the University of Liverpool is using unreliable and newly-introduced metrics that are likely to introduce discrimination on the grounds of protected characteristics to identify staff for redundancy.”
“It is a shameful misuse of research metrics and an abandonment of EDI and Athena Swan principles to treat staff in this way.”
“I recognise the observations put forward with regards to impacts with direct or indirect links with people’s protected characteristics, the proposal breaks with stated institutional and – increasingly – our funding and public expectations and the proposed action if unchallenged could become the norm.”
“As a woman and mother, but generally as someone who cares about equality and diversity in academia, in solidarity with all those affected in FHLSS.”
“Being female, having two small children and having been on maternity leave recently, the non-inclusive and unfair use of metrics for determining redundancies resonate very much with me.”
“Because these unjust redundancies – via arbitrary metrics that disproportionally affect BAME and other minority staff – are aimed at dividing staff against one another, and we must respond with the opposite – solidarity.”
“Applying new metrics post hiring and post promotion without discussing this with individuals is outrageously poor people management and discriminates against underrepresented groups in academia.”
“I fully agree with the request to stop the 47 proposed redundancies based on the improper use of research metrics and violations of University Codes of Practice in relation to performance management and the Equality law.”
“It is disgraceful that many of the 47 are the people who have been promoting Athena Swan and EDI principles and implementing good practice. This sends a clear message about what the University’s leaders really think about Athena Swan and EDI. They couldn’t care less! They just want to tick the boxes and then ride roughshod over these important values.”