The Durham branch of the University and College Union (UCU) today announced that at an emergency general meeting on Monday 26 October, its members voted to demand that Durham University suspends all face-to-face teaching until deemed safe by scientific advisory bodies.
In addition to writing to Vice-Chancellor and Warden Professor Stuart Corbridge with their demands, Durham UCU also resolved to take the following actions.
First, to send a ‘failure to agree’ letter to the University’s Executive Committee, formally acknowledging that a negotiated agreement between the two parties has failed to materialise through formal consultation.
Second, to lodge a collective grievance complaint on behalf of union members who have been and continue to be made to work in face-to-face conditions against their will.
Third, if face-to-face teaching is not suspended, to initiate a vote of no confidence in the Vice-Chancellor himself and the University Executive Committee as a body, and also to introduce a ballot for strike action and action short of a strike (ASOS).
The national UCU lists five types of ASOS: working strictly to contract; not covering for absent colleagues; not rescheduling teaching hours cancelled due to strike action; not undertaking voluntary work for one’s university; and boycotting marking and assessment.
Durham City currently has the highest rate in County Durham of Covid-19, with an average of 1,521 cases per 100,000.
As of the 24th October, despite a steady decrease in cases, Durham University has the fifth highest number of total Covid-19 cases of all UK universities, and the highest number of cases as a percentage of staff and students, according to data compiled by the University and College Union (UCU).
The motion passed also resolved to work with other campus unions and student bodies to improve safety, and demanded that Durham UCU has a representative on the Covid-19 Planning Group as Durham Students’ Union (DSU) currently does.
In addition, Durham UCU highlighted the impact of face-to-face teaching on members’ mental health, and demanded that the University undertakes a full risk assessment to quantify and mitigate against potential damage in this regard.
Finally, the letter demanded that “contact tracing be applied to teaching settings for as long as any form of face to face work continues for our members.”
These demands come following the issuing of an open letter by staff to demand the halting of face-to-face teaching, which gained over 100 signatures in under 24 hours.
The letter acknowledged the University’s health and safety measures to prepare for teaching in Covid-19 conditions, but argues that these preparations have been overtaken by the “intensity and speed of the second wave and are now dangerously inadequate”.
Jeremy Cook, Durham University Pro-Vice Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), said: “The health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the communities of which we are part has been our top priority throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and remains so.
“We have worked tirelessly to achieve as safe and successful a start to the new academic year as possible, including introducing a wide range of measures to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading and developing a comprehensive Outbreak Response Plan, which sets out how we would work with partners to respond to different possible scenarios and which has been approved by Durham County Council’s Public Health Team and the Department for Education.
“We are working very closely with partners including Durham County Council’s Public Health Team to ensure our planning is co-ordinated and we are in very regular contact with our students, staff and the local community to share the latest information and receive feedback.”
Image: Tim Packer
The featured image was taken during the UCU strikes in February and March, 2019.