New Principal, Anton Muscatelli, is facing “the worst piece of staff relations ... in a very long time”, according to one senior academic, after announcing plans for a complete overhaul of Glasgow University’s teaching and management structure.
The restructure is to help Glasgow become one of the top fifty universities in the world, with the proposed changes bringing it more in line with its Russell Group counterparts. Only three other members of the elite research group have the same or higher number of academic units as Glasgow’s nine faculties: Kings College London and the Universities of Cardiff and Leeds.
The proposals were approved by the University Court and the Senate in October, with the first staff consultations taking place shortly afterward. Since these consultations, staff have been invited to send their feedback to the University.
A University spokesperson said: “The University of Glasgow is operating a consultation process to allow staff to give their views on the restructuring. Overall, the majority of opinions expressed have been positive. All opinions gathered as part of the consultation process will inform a paper which will be presented to Court on December 16.”
Although the University reports very little negative feedback, some members of staff feel that this is not an accurate reflection of the general feeling on campus.
One staff member explained: “There is a general feeling of demoralisation and dissatisfaction. No-one can see the intellectual advantages, although it makes sense for the vice-principals and administration.”
Another lecturer thinks that staff are responding positively because they feel that the restructure is inevitable.
“It’s certainly not what people feel — it may be a good account of what people say because they feel that they’ve been bludgeoned into going along with it. In terms of university morale it’s probably the worst piece of staff relations we’ve had in a very long time.”
The lecturer also felt that the pursuit of better positions in league tables can damage the academic ethos of universities:
“I don’t in any way disagree with the idea of striving to make Glasgow a dynamic university … [but] I think the obsession with how you’re doing against everybody else is destructive of the whole spirit of academic collaboration.”
One of the main aims of the restructure, according to the Senior Vice-Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Andrea Nolan, is to improve the level of interdisciplinary research and teaching within the University.
She said: “This college structure I hope will … encourage [the] mixing of disciplines in innovative new courses … what it will do is to take away some of the barriers.”
But how this aim is to be achieved has not been made sufficiently clear to some members of staff.
A lecturer told Guardian: “We’ve been told it will encourage interdisciplinarity and yet it runs completely across most of the actual interdisciplinary activities that we’re conducting.”
Another senior academic disputed whether the restructure would improve the working relationships between subject areas.
“Whilst I have no objection to — indeed I am strongly in favour of — interdisciplinary approaches, I fail to see how changing structures will necessarily facilitate them.
“The current academic identities of staff within subject areas will potentially be undermined by their locations within broader units … they will have less immediate control over decisions taken about their subject area.”
The lecturer went on to voice concerns about how much choice staff have been given over the initial proposals, saying: “This is not a consultation process about what is going to happen, it’s … about how it’s going to happen. Contrary to the impression being given it is a top-down imposition … in my own view, the consultation process is pretty much a sham.”
In a statement on its website, the Universities and Colleges Union, Glasgow (UCUG) has explained its “very real concerns” about the affect the restructure could have on staff. The agenda from November 4 lists a summary of the main questions and concerns collated from members’ responses.
These include worries that the restructure is a “sudden radical change” and that the short timescale means that all sections of the University have had to respond very quickly, “without sufficient time ... to fully formulate a coherent view”.
The UCUG also raised concerns that the restructure would fail to improve interdisciplinary approaches. “Existing cross-disciplinary programmes may be more difficult to establish and maintain across future colleges rather than across faculties as at present.”
The union wrote to the Principal on October 9 to outline their “immediate concerns” and to ensure their place in the consultations.
The letter states that: “members are undergoing a real increased level of stress and anxiety due to the uncertainty of the processes and final outcomes.”
In response, Muscatelli claimed that the restructure was not an attempt to reduce the number of staff working at the University and that most staff will see few negative effects.
Muscatelli wrote: “I have said that this is not a staff reduction exercise: the roles of a few may change but as we continue to deliver the same academic and support services, for many staff, the change will be minimal, apart from being in a new organisational structure, and with potential for significant opportunities to widen their academic interests.”
Andrea Nolan explained that the University would be looking for feedback from students as well as from staff.
She said: “We … will ask them for feedback on how they feel the shape is going to support [their degree programmes] so that we can make it even better.”
The Students’ Representative Council (SRC) is currently working with the University to limit any disruption to students.
SRC President, Laura Laws, said: “The University isn’t anticipating there will be any disruption to students caused by restructuring and the SRC is working closely with senior staff to ensure this is the case, and that students will benefit from the plans.
“The plans have huge potential for improving our experience at the University of Glasgow and it’s great that the University is really listening to its students and what we want.”