UCU threatens Sussex with ‘ultimate sanction’

Union ballots members over academic boycott. John Morgan reports

The University of Sussex may face an academic boycott as the University and College Union steps up its protests against planned job cuts at the institution.

UCU members at Sussex are to be balloted on instituting what the union calls “the ultimate sanction”.

Under a boycott, the union would urge the wider academic community to shun Sussex through measures such as not applying for its advertised jobs, not giving lectures there and refusing to write for journals edited at the university.

Only one institution, London Metropolitan University, has previously been the subject of a UCU boycott.

Sussex’s council has approved plans to make 107 staff redundant in a bid to save about £5 million a year. Since the council’s decision, about 50 staff have agreed to accept voluntary severance packages.

Sussex plans to drop research and research-led teaching in English social history before 1700 and European history before 1900.

The result of the boycott ballot is expected in a fortnight. If members vote for the boycott, it will go to the union’s national committee for approval in June.

UCU members at Sussex have also voted for what the union describes as “a rolling programme of targeted industrial action by both academic and academic-related staff aimed at fundamentally disrupting the administration of examination boards”.

The branch held a series of one-day strikes in March and earlier this month.

Students have also protested against the cuts, with police called to the campus when dozens of protesters occupied offices including that of the vice-chancellor, Michael Farthing.

The UCU claimed that the university was refusing to talk to the campus unions about resolving the dispute, even through Acas, the government arbitration service.

Paul Cecil, the Sussex UCU president, said: “This is not an easy decision to take, but we are dismayed by the failure of our management to engage in meaningful discussions to save jobs at Sussex now, or to discuss with us how to avoid similar future cuts.”

In a statement, Sussex says: “We continue to undertake positive consultation with all three [campus] unions on how these changes are implemented – so calls for further action by one union are not needed to bring about any such discussions.”

It adds that the university “cannot rule out compulsory redundancies” as requested by the UCU, because the reductions are targeted in specific agreed areas in line with the strategy set by Sussex’s council and supported by its senate.

The statement adds: “Seeking to damage the university by calling for a boycott is working against the positive development and growth of the university.”

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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