In light of the University’s recent decision to shelve BPR2 for at least six months, Palatinate has spoken to staff on how the review affected them emotionally, and their view on its postponement.
BPR2 is the second ‘Business Process Review’ in two years by the University, which will involve major changes to housekeeping, portering and catering procedures. The University says the review aims to standardise provision across all University colleges.
However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was announced via email that the review had been shelved “for the foreseeable future and for at least six months.”
“I used to have a lot of pride and loyalty in my job, but… that’s all gone, I’m sorry to say. I never thought I would be saying that.”
The review had been met with widespread criticism from groups such as “Save Our Staff – Stop BPR2”, as well as a coalition of common room presidents.
Palatinate has interviewed a number of staff about the emotional effect potential job loss or reduction in hours has caused them. All members of staff have been anonymised, so as to avoid any potential repercussions.
One member of staff commented that the proposed review came after there has already been “a lot of stress and uncertainty” with all the changes that were going to take place.
“Last year when the university started phase one, it upset all of us. We have been in limbo ever since… I used to have a lot of pride and loyalty in my job, but with the way the top management makes everyone feel, that’s all gone, I’m sorry to say. I never thought I would be saying that.”
In their work, they commented, they had been “a therapist, agony aunt, [and a] shoulder to cry on” for students. Now, they say, “the future is unsettled and I really don’t know what to do. The students won’t get the security they need.”
“The university has its own views and will not listen to anyone else. They put everyone and everything in boxes. Everything is black and white to them. But life is different shades of grey.”
On what should change, one member of staff reflected that students should “tell the Vice Chancellor that what he is doing is wrong, and [to] stop cutting the staff, who are the backbone of the university.”
“There is a lot of money spent on things and people that are not necessarily good for the college. These funds can be used to improve the existing buildings and grounds, which in turn will be a better place for the young minds of the students and staff.”
“What I would say to the Vice Chancellor: start living in the real world. I know the university is a business, but you don’t have to make things worse. Work with the ordinary people like me, to make things better.”
“Speak up… even if it gives us affected some hope that we aren’t as low as what the Uni thinks we are.”
The postponement has been met with mixed feelings. One interviewee told Palatinate that “Sending us the letter of postponement is a mixed message to me. I think the University panicked and realised that they had no one to run around” doing jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They continued: “Are the University thinking that we will be grateful for the delay of possibly no BPR2 happening? I don’t know. The one thing I do know is the stress and worry that the University has put us all through is not warranted.”
Similar feelings were echoed by another member of staff: “Before the pandemic, we were told that the cuts were essential. Now we’re being forced to work amongst self-isolating students because we’re deemed ‘essential staff’”.
Another member of staff said that the University’s proposed plans had greatly affected their self-confidence.
In addition, they commented that they “really do feel for the students too, both for the financial impact and the support. More concerning with mental health fatalities on the rise, removing the college community can be like removing a vital area of support for some.”
“Speaking from experience, I’ve built a lot of good relationships with the students and it’s sad to think that students, both current and future, will miss out on that.”
“The stress and worry that the University has put us all through is not warranted.”
As well as job insecurity, as a first-time house buyer, the member of staff commented that BPR2 may affect their ability to pay their mortgage and day-to-day living.
When reflecting on other staff, they remarked “Some have large families reliant on their income, some have no family at all to support them. We’re all suffering for it, but it’s heart breaking to see the impact it’s had on some people who don’t have a good support system in place.”
“This may be more tolerable, if the cuts were necessary. I appreciate that cuts have to be made in the current state of affairs. But I’ve witnessed the university spend thousands on unnecessary decorations, art and sculptures.”
“Managers for managers for managers, who earn hundreds of thousands… Perhaps the university should look at other controversial issues they’re spending thousands on?”
“Managers for managers for managers, who earn hundreds of thousands”
There was a strong feeling that the University would not pay attention to the consultation period. “Even during the initial presentation, I was quickly shut down when I stood to protest their proposals.”
In general, there was a sense that the review de-humanised staff: “To them, I’m simply a cleaner. And despite them preaching equality and solidarity, they have no knowledge of me as a person, nor do they ever intend to, and it’s only become worse.”
“Thankfully, we are lucky that over the years, the students have grown away from this elitist attitude; at least now some are choosing to hear us.”
Many staff encouraged students to protest. “Speak up, make your own voices heard. There a multitude of universities you could go to instead. Durham University is still a business and wouldn’t survive without you.”
“Being proactive is definitely the way to go, I’ve seen a lot of people just sit back and let what will be will be, because they believe their action won’t make a difference. Trust me, it does, even if it gives us affected some hope that we aren’t as low as what the Uni thinks we are.”
Earlier this month, before the review was postponed, common room presidents across the University put forward eight major concerns with the review, and nine proposals to change the review.
Among the major concerns was that the review was unjustified given Durham’s economic situation, its negative effects on college, disproportionate effect on female employees, effects on the local area, and does not benefit students.
The statement encouraged Durham University to strive to be “a national model of good employment practice” and to make a “fair pay commitment,” among other suggestions.
The review was announced by Durham in late February in an email to students from Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges & Student Experience), and Nina Griffiths, Director of Operations.
They justified the review by saying that “Different cleaning frequencies exist across common facilities resulting in you, our students, experiencing different levels of service.”
Thus, the operations review would aim “to provide a greater level of equality and consistency in housekeeping services for students” and would involve a “modest reduction in housekeeping staff but a slight increase in total portering staff.”
“The collegiate system is, and will remain, an integral part of our University identity”
The University said that it was “committed to carrying out this process transparently” and opened up a consultation period with students and common room President.
Cook told Palatinate that “The University has not made a final decision and will listen carefully to the staff and student feedback and make changes where appropriate.”
He has also maintained that “The collegiate system is, and will remain, an integral part of our University identity.”
Most staff felt bittersweet about the postponement. One told Palatinate “It’s a place I no longer want to work once this has passed.” Another commented simply that “The University is in such a horrible mess at the moment and is only going to get worse.”
“It’s a place I no longer want to work once this has passed.”
If you are a member of staff potentially affected emotionally or practically by BPR2, please contact email@example.com.
Image: Save Our Staff – Stop BPR2 Facebook Page