Durham University responds as UCU strikes get underway

By Waseem Mohamed

A Durham University spokesperson has said that the University is “disappointed” about strike action from the University and College Union (UCU) after the first walkouts from Durham UCU members took place on Wednesday.

Members of Durham UCU are striking due to the ongoing dispute over proposed changes to pension providers, and a set of issues dubbed the ‘Four Fights’ of “pay inequality, job insecurity, rising workloads and pay devaluation”. The first picket lines sprang up across the University campus on Wednesday between 8.30am and 10.30am.

“Our key objective is… to ensure our students can achieve their learning outcomes”

Durham university spokesperson

A University spokesperson told The Northern Echo that “we are disappointed by this outcome given the impact this will have on our students, many of whom may have been impacted by the last round of industrial action and/or the pandemic.”

The spokesperson went on to say that the University’s “key objective is, as far as possible, to ensure our students can achieve their learning outcomes and maintain their access to learning.”

The University has also come out in defense of their current policies towards pensions, with the spokesperson stating that “pay and pensions are subject to national negotiations, and as one of many employers, we have limited influence.”

“Where there is need to make improvements… we will continue to do so”

durham university spokesperson

The spokesperson continued to defend University policies, stating that “the USS (University Superannuation Scheme) will continue to be a very good pension relative to other schemes”, and that “we are currently paying more into the USS pension scheme than ever before.”

The University also hit back at claims that their pay settlements were inadequate, saying that “the 2021 national pay settlement was at the limit of affordability for many institutions”, but that “the University has continued to reward academic and professional service colleagues with merit and discretionary awards.”

The spokesperson concluded by saying that “our wider benefits structure remains highly competitive, and we regularly review and improve our employee benefits and practices”, stressing that “where there is need to make improvements… we will continue to do so, and our joint work with UCU on casualisation is an example of this.”

Hundreds of scheduled contact hours and face-to-face teaching sessions will be cancelled

After the December strikes were announced, UCU President Jo Grady warned about further action “which will escalate into spring with re-ballots and further industrial action”, with members allegedly keen to push for further walkouts in Epiphany term.

The strikes so far have received warm support from some, including Durham City MP Mary Foy and the Durham Student’s Union, who voted to support strike action in an emergency meeting earlier this term. The wider student community remains more divided, according to statistics from Durham Polling, which found that 53% of respondents were not supportive of strike action.

The final day of disruption will be today, meaning that hundreds of scheduled contact hours and face-to-face teaching sessions will be cancelled, with the University warning that staff members are “not obliged to inform the University in advance” about their intentions regarding the scheduling of lessons.

Durham UCU have had picket lines at five sites across campus. There has also been a daily rally from 11am each day on the entrance of the Lower Mountjoy site (outside the Bill Bryson Library), as well as an online teach-out scheduled from 3-5pm each afternoon and a daily virtual meeting of members at 2pm.

Image Credit: Waseem Mohamed

One thought on “Durham University responds as UCU strikes get underway

  • For some reason, comments are closed on https://www.palatinate.org.uk/south-principal-calls-students-pathetic-for-protest-over-transphobic-guest/ so I’m posting here in the hope that it will get included somewhere…

    Free speech and freedom of expression are fundamental to our society. Free speech includes speech that you may not agree with and maybe offends you – that’s fine – you’ll form your own opinions off the back of that free speech. Certainly, those who walked out had their opinions already decided, potentially decided for them through peer pressure or through an echo-chamber of highly vocal twitter activists.

    IMHO it was a mistake to conflate LGB with T – they are two different issues. The former, sexual orientation, is which sex you are attracted to; the latter is selection of facets of gender stereotypes that you feel you most align with.

    Personally, I don’t agree with gender stereotypes – everyone is an individual – some men (sex) are compassionate and caring; some women (sex) are aggressive and strong. That’s great – that’s diversity. In most cases, it shouldn’t matter whether you are a man (sex) or a woman (sex) – you have strengths and weaknesses that make you you. However, there are generalisations, men (sex) being stronger than women (sex) for example, and there biological differences – women (sex) generally being able to have children whereas men (sex) cannot at all. There are also societal issues that we all know about regarding the way that women are treated – in the home, at work, in their careers, maternity, objectification, etc. etc. – all these things that are very specific to women (sex) – and which is why we need to be able to discuss those without being labelled as transphobes for discussing women’s (sex) issues. Certainly, trans people have their own issues that need debating and some of those issues overlap with women’s (sex) issues – but they are separate groups.

    Issues such as:

    * What is misogyny or sexism if there is no definition of men or women?
    * What is a lesbian if a man (sex) can identify as a woman and call themself a lesbian?
    * Do transwomen count towards the number of women in senior positions in companies?
    * What is the effect on women of transwomen’s participation in sport?
    * Why does it appear that many girls in their early teens are defining themselves as non-binary? Is that a rejection of being a woman, a rejection of the female stereotype (which you could argue transwomen are reinforcing), a way of expressing their difficulties going through puberty? What is it that means they can’t they embrace being a young woman? And off the back of that, what agendas do we need to empower women so even with the trials of puberty and adolescence they can be proud to be a woman (without being stereotyped)?
    * Should women be allowed to reject transwomen as potential partners without being labelled a transphobe?
    * Is Drag and its gender stereotype hyperbole effectively the same as blackface but against women?
    * How can we provide “safe-spaces” for women? Note here: I’m not suggesting that genuinely trans people are dangerous – just that if we change laws in certain ways, dangerous men (sex) could exploit them.
    * What is the impact on women (sex) only spaces from a religious perspective?
    * What protections should be in place for trans-identifying children?
    * What mental health support needs to be offered?
    * What should the full (mental or physical) clinical pathway look like for someone identifying as trans?

    All these things (and many more) need to be discussed and debated and universities are surely one of the best places to do that.

    While some people will reject everything that Rod Liddle says or stands for, others will identify with some (maybe not all) opinions he has. Others will be empowered to want to debate against his views, such as what it seems Sean did. Some will want to use his points to play devil’s advocate in a debate. It is really important challenge our own beliefs. At 18-22, students have an amazing opportunity to formulate their opinions that will form the basis for the rest of their lives and to do that by taking in all views and opinions and form their own opinions, not just absorb the opinions of highly vocal activists or by feeling threatened or unable to even discuss matters related to sex-based issues.

    I support Tim Luckhurst for platforming Rod Liddle. I imagine that, in the past and future, there will be other guests who share different views – all part of the tapestry of knowledge.


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