Petition to stop operations review reaches 2,500 signatures

By Jack Taylor

A change.org petition calling on Durham University to stop the planned restructuring for college staff has reached 2,500 signatures.

The petition was created by an anonymous group called ‘Students of Durham University’. The group exclusively told Palatinate that the petition was created “to make sure that we are doing all in our power to lobby the university to reconsider their proposals.”

The petition, created on Saturday night, reached 1,000 signatures after being live for only 18 hours.

“The proposed restructuring changes mark a potentially disastrous turn for the university and its staff. The current structure underpins the phenomenal collegiate system that we have at Durham, which is arguably one of the best in the country”, a member of Students of Durham University told Palatinate.

“Fundamentally, if it weren’t for the collegiate system, there would be nothing to do in Durham. Without it, I’d probably have just gone to Bristol or Exeter instead.”

The group are also concerned about the relationship between the University and the local community.

A member of the group said: “When choosing to expand the University in 2017, the university’s senior management reassured the local community that they were “committed to working with local businesses, organisations, residents, staff … to ensure that we deliver the best outcomes for Durham, Stockton and the wider region.”

“This seems highly ironic today; with a combination of rising house prices, strains on resources and now staff redundancies, the University seems to be promoting the exact opposite.

“The least we can do as a university is support the local community by providing employment opportunities.”

The group also alluded that the “gown/town” divide may be worsened, “at no fault of the students”.

This comes after Palatinate revealed phase one of the University’s planned restructuring of college staff.

The plans will see some long-serving staff members made redundant and others receiving renewed job descriptions. The University confirmed, via an email sent to all students on Friday, that 61 positions were being considered under their review.

The restructuring will affect all colleges besides John Snow, Stephenson, St Chad’s and St John’s.

The changes include:

  • Introducing an Operations Directorate that will be top of the chain of command across the operational workings of the 12 colleges.
  • Creating a new Community Operations Supervisor who will manage a team of porters and cleaners within each college. The current system sees these two separate teams managed by the Assistant Operations Manager and Housekeeper, respectively.
  • Two bursars split over the 12 colleges. The current system sees one working within one or two colleges.
  • Each college will have a new Community Operations Manager, line managed by the two new Bursars, but task managed by their respective Head of College.

One of the students behind the petition told Palatinate that they were concerned about the future of collegiate events that contribute towards Durham’s unique system:

“My experience working on the committee for one of the large-scale events in my college has provided me with skills I would not be able to obtain anywhere else as a student. Not only that, it highlighted to me the important role that operational staff hold within the college – without them, as the uni has already acknowledged, there may be a negative impact on our ability to organise student events.”

“The wealth of events, supported by staff, has allowed me to meet friends for life and to make countless memories that I otherwise wouldn’t have. To erode this and risk becoming a quasi-collegiate university, like Lancaster or York, would destroy the unique selling point that Durham offers and, in my opinion, would be catastrophic.”

In a statement to Palatinate, Professor Martyn Evans, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience) said: “We are currently in extensive discussions with staff, trade union colleagues and students about the possible impact of the proposals, following the relevant consultation frameworks.

“Until consultation with all staff whose roles may be impacted has concluded, we are unable to confirm the final shape the proposals will take. Importantly, this ensures consultation is meaningful.

“We are unable to provide further information regarding the scope of future proposals as these are still at a very early stage and could be subject to significant change.

The University has said it remains “committed to transparency, and staff, trade union colleagues and students will be consulted when further proposals are formed and the timings for these confirmed.”

Further information can be found on the dedicated webpages: https://www.dur.ac.uk/businessimprovement/local/residentialops/.

You can sign the petition here

Photograph: Zoë Boothby

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