Solidarity with Short Course Lecturers at Goldsmiths
Solidarity with Short Course Lecturers at Goldsmiths
The time when British universities were able to uphold an image of benevolent employers is long gone. It seems that the manager’s vision for what a university should be is directed by the sole tenet of removing it as far as possible from the slightest whiff of anything to do with research, teaching and learning. Basic job security is traded in for endless cycles of restructurings, cost saving and performance measuring exercises. As radical theorists Fred Moten and Stefano Harney point out: for us, the conditions of academic labour “actually preclude or prevent study”, rather than enable it.
At Goldsmiths College, Short Course Lecturers are now bringing the university to an employment tribunal over its refusal to recognise their workers’ status. We are crowdfunding the legal fees for the case and seek your solidarity and support to challenge the fast-growing uberification of Higher Education. To find out more, visit our website and follow us on Twitter.
Similar to precariously employed workers like security guards, cleaners, artists or workers in the logistics and care sectors, university lecturers are forced to bear all the financial risk for the institution’s pursuit of profit (which has supplanted a commitment to education and research). It is not a coincidence that Short Course Lecturers are working with Leigh Day, the same law firm that achieved Uber drivers’ historic victory in the case against their employer for the recognition of their workers’ status. We see clearly that the advances of gig economy logic in academia are proximate to those in the other sectors. With the significance of Uber drivers’ victory, there is a strong sense that winning against Goldsmiths can set a precedent for the entire HE sector in the UK.
Staff and students at Goldsmiths have been on countless strikes for pensions, against casualisation, against plans to restructure the university. As recently as 2020-2021 students have been on both a fee strike and a rent strike. We have boycotted marking. We have been under occupation. We put forward the largest vote of no confidence in the Warden, Frances Corner.
It is scandalous to observe how an institution so persistent in marketing itself as ‘radical’ and ‘progressive’ is competing with some of the most notorious employers globally in its damaging treatment of staff and students. For anyone following the race to the bottom in the institution, this would hardly come as a surprise. From its decision to close down the last Cultural Studies department in the UK as a way to deal with the repercussions of a sexual harassment scandal, to its complete refusal to address issues of mental health in the wake of Mark Fisher’s death, Goldsmiths management team’s mode of governing has been destructive of anything that would make the university an enabling and actually emancipatory space for learning. Some of the most blatant cases of misconduct include the way that the institution threatened the Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action with eviction and then failed to meet its demands, more than two years after the occupation of Deptford Town Hall, as well as their refusal to furlough hundreds of casualised academics in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The treatment of Lecturers teaching Short Courses, who are predominantly women, migrants and systemically casualised academics such as PhD researchers, is consistent with the neglect and malice that have come to define the politics of the senior management team. The Short Courses – evening and weekend classes offered to adult learners – could be used to carve out a space for exchange and learning at the formal margins of already prohibitively expensive, closed-off higher education institutions. They could also be used to provide a more democratic and open education for students who are otherwise unable to enrol in a formal degree, as well as to open the university to the community. Instead, what is happening at Goldsmiths, as well as in other places, - like the University of the Arts London and Oxford University, is that managers have concentrated their efforts on turning this branch of educational provision into a lucrative ‘income-generating’ activity. Its profitability is predicated upon the exploitation of lecturers, who are not even offered contracts, but are rather blackmailed into teaching as ‘freelancers’. This means that at Goldsmiths, Short Courses can be cancelled last-minute, if they don’t attract sufficient students; recruitment targets are regularly increased, without informing tutors about these changes; lecturers are not paid sick leave or holiday pay. When at the beginning of 2021 we started organising collectively to ask the college for better employment conditions, we were explicitly denied trade union representation in a letter by Vivienne Hurley, head of the department which is responsible for the running of these courses and is fittingly titled ‘Research and Enterprise’.
The good news is that we are not alone in our struggle - at UAL, Oxford and at other institutions, casualised academics forced to work on zero-hour type of contracts are about to bring their employers to court. This petition is meant to voice solidarity with Short Course Lecturers at Goldsmiths and elsewhere, as our struggle directly confronts the normalisation of such contracts within academia. These practices are part of more systemic processes of commercialisation of education and the destruction of its potential to act as a transformative and democratic space for teaching and learning.
If we don’t want the working conditions of Short Course lecturers to become the norm for the entire sector, we need to challenge them now: collectively, loudly and resolutely.
- Sign and share this petition
- Donate to the legal fund set up by Short Course lecturers
- Tweet about the campaign
- Get in touch with us if you are a journalist who wants to report on the case