Dundee University – neither Green nor Caring 7

A date for your diaries. My Installation as Rector of the University of Dundee will take place on 26 September. This is an ancient traditional ceremony, which includes my being pulled through the streets of Dundee in an old carriage by students, and then giving a Rectorial Address. These used to be great occasions, when the Addresses were given by figures like Adam Smith, William Gladstone, Thomas Carlyle, Andrew Carnegie and J M Barrie. Those would last for hours and be repeated verbatim in the national papers. Even in my time, addresses by Clement Freud and Peter Ustinov were well worth hearing.

My predecessor, Lorraine Kelly, managed one sheet of A4. I shall be closer to Gladstone than Kelly, in length if nothing else, and intend to give the students some provocative thoughts on society, politics and the role of a modern university. I do hope that some of the readers of this blog will put the event in their diaries and make it to Dundee to support me.

On a happy note, I am heading up to Dundee tomorrow to attend the graduations of thousands of students. There is no role for the Rector at this other than to dress up in a robe and look portentous, but it is a happy time of achievement; maybe some of the youthful optimism might rub off.

Much less happy was the University Court meeting last week. The University is closing its Gardyne Road campus, and some scores of staff are being made compulsorily redundant. I am shocked by the near Victorian brutality with which human beings can be simply thrown away in today’s society.

I went to Gardyne Road to speak to affected staff directly. One man I spoke to had worked there for 17 years; he earned ‘22,000 pa and was being made redundant with just over ‘6,000 in redundancy pay.

‘6,000 after seventeen years? Is that how we value people?

There were three things that especially horrified me about this.

The first was the attitude of academics, who don’t seem troubled because these staff are non-academic – cleaners, cooks, janitors and library staff, for example. Yet they are people too, and the university could not function without them.

The second was the fact that the University is much more concerned with spin than the plight of these people. The University is still telling the media that there are no compulsory redundancies, whereas in fact scores will go through in just five weeks time. The University is also emphasising that some staff were offered relocation to another campus but refused. That is in fact only true of three or four staff out of some fifty facing redundancy.

The third thing that worries me is that the University is offering no more than the legal minimum compensation, and is behaving with all the heartlessness of Dundee’s multinationals. The sad truth is that the people being made redundant are precisely those unlikely to find jobs again in Dundee. Even commercial companies generally attempt to improve redundancy terms a little where possible, for the sake of image, unless actually going bankrupt. The University appears to have no sense of being more than just a business, no sense of community or social responsibility to the City.

My other big worry with the University this week is the lack of attention to environmental issues. I had already noted that there appears to be no concern for renewable energy generation or carbon neutral building, even in its extremely new and ever burgeoning estate. The photo-voltaic cell was invented at the University of Dundee, but I am yet to see one powering anything on what is Britain’s sunniest campus.

I was therefore not surprised to find the University marked 79th out of 102 on People and Planet’s “Green League”, firmly in the Poor Environmental Performance bracket.


Now that’s something else that will get a mention in my Rectorial Address…

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7 thoughts on “Dundee University – neither Green nor Caring

  • Chuck Unsworth

    Given the remarkably cavalier attitudes demonstrated to date by the 'management' – and I use that term in its modern sense – of Dundee University, this is hardly surprising. One suspects that the timidness of the academics has been engendered by a ruthless blundering heirarchy. But academics – if they are any good – should be intellectually and morally superior to (and tougher than) these people.

    The closure of the Gardyne Road campus is a stark monument to the failures of the managers and their bosses.

    It would be interesting to see what the 'news management' people at Dundee have issued by way of public statement. My guess is that such statements would hardly bear a moment's scrutiny. Time for someone to set the record straight, I feel.

    I'm impressed that you took the time to personally visit and talk to those affected. Doubtless those cowards who actually made the decisions are nowhere to be seen…

  • kazbel

    I hope you'll continue to support non-academic staff. My mum was a cleaner at a college which is now a university and I remember that she was treated pretty badly. Now, as an academic myself, I'm fed up to see that the treatment of non-academic staff isn't any better. In some ways it's worse.

  • Craig

    Kazbel –

    Thanks for sharing that. Yes, I will help anyone at the University who needs me. I view people as people. Mind you, it was views like that which got me sacked from the Diplomatic Service!


  • blue_monday

    I read in today's paper that Cadbury's will be firing thousands of staff in order to increase profits. Companies used to fire staff as a last resort when they were in danger of going out of business.

    Cadbury's was a company famous for caring for its workforce, things have changed. We have lost the last vestiges of self respect.

  • Tonys Akiller

    Craig. I really love the way you apparently have little fear of saying what you think needs to be said. It is inspirational. Does this cause you problems in the University? It obviously did in the foreign service. In many cases, I try and do something similar, consequently I am seen as a bit tricky to handle. Standoffisheness/cautiousness resulting. Unfortunately, many are not capable of listening to such unfluffed-up words. However I believe my approach will ultimately have positive results.

    I can imagine you detailing some of the questionable practices of the Universities upper management is going down like the proverbial lead balloon.

    I'd be interested to hear the consequences you experience from such frankness, not so much from the governmental side of things as those are well known, but rather from other aspects of society, the University in particular, having an interest in the educational sector that is.

    I like Chuck Unsworth's comment about academics being timid and I concur. Fear of economic difficulty or loss and the lack of strength of the individual within the workplace have caused this. But academics I believe should be the ones that resist this fear the most {on the perhaps tenuously assumption that they are the most educated}

    ?6000 after 17 years of service is appalling particularly coming from a large institution like a University and especially after the quite small ?22,000 pa max salary. I can't imagine anyone being able to make necessary pension provisions on such an amount. Well done for speaking out on behalf of the non-academics which you have done well to remind us are fellow human beings.

    God bless.

  • Craig

    There is a great deal of cold-shouldering from the upper echelons of the University, but a great deal of support elesewhere, so I can live with that. I think I have learnt the fundamental importance of questioning injustice, rather han just letting it flow past.

  • Saltimbanque

    One of the reasons senior academics are inhibited from speaking out about what happens in universities nowadays is the fear that reprisals will be taken not necessarily against them but against their department thus harming more junior colleagues. It is very easy for the management to institute a review of a department which results in job losses and prejudice to fledgling careers – it happens all the time. It is a form of control by fear, which once upon a time would have been abhorrent to most Vice-Chancellors – but not now.

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