Charter reform consultation
Our responses to the issues you raised
Thank you to everyone who took the time to read through the proposals and respond to the all-staff consultation. A summary of the issues raised and our response to them is below.
- YOU ASKED… what is the definition of academic freedom and who does it apply to?
The definition of academic freedom is set out under the Education Reform Act 1988 and states that UK academics 'shall have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom and put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs'.
Academic freedom is covered in our new Charter and reflects the words set out in the Education Reform Act 1998, as above, and the existing Statutes.
Under the new instruments of governance, academic freedom would be applicable to a wider group of employees - those 'undertaking academic activity or directly supporting it' - whereas previously it was only applicable to those members of staff to whom Statute XXXIII applied (broadly Professors, Associate Professors and Lecturers).
- YOU ASKED… the University to look at and consider implementing a procedure under consideration by the University of Oxford
There is a model being considered by the University of Oxford which dictates that in cases where there is a genuine question of academic freedom, an academic external to the University, selected from a pre-determined list, is invited to sit on any dismissal panel or appeal.
We have suggested to UCU as part of our consultation with them on the new policies that the University of Reading adopts a version of this model.
- YOU ASKED… how will the new procedures improve or protect academic freedom?
Academic freedom has been elevated to the Charter and its scope widened.
We have also proposed to UCU the adoption of a procedure under consideration by the University of Oxford (see above).
- YOU SAID… carrying out disciplinary proceedings for any behaviour that is considered 'offensive' could raise issues of academic freedom
We have amended the disciplinary procedure to make it clear that this item (on the list of conduct that is potentially gross misconduct) will not apply where it relates to academic freedom.
- YOU SAID… you were concerned about the removal of an 'independent person' sitting on appeal panels
Under the existing Statute XXXIII procedures the independent person is a qualified solicitor or barrister of 10 years' standing, who the University pays to hear the appeal. We have agreed that a lay member of the Council will sit on appeals against dismissals raised by academic staff.
- YOU SAID… a University manager may not be independent enough to sit on an appeal panel
Training will be provided to all managers who take on new roles under the procedures and we will be discussing the form of that training with UCU and the Staff Forum.
- YOU SAID… you were concerned about the make-up of panels for disciplinary and grievance hearings
Some people had thought that we were proposing putting a senior member of academic staff on every panel, whether the hearing related to an academic or non-academic member of staff. This is not the case. Panels will have academic staff hearing matters relating to academic staff, and non-academic staff hearing non-academic staff matters. The only exceptions would be where a member of non-academic staff is directly line managed by a member of the academic staff and it is appropriate to include the line manager as part of the panel.
- YOU SAID… there should be a medically qualified person on panels considering ill health issues
This is out of line with accepted employment practice and would be likely to be criticised by an employment tribunal, which would expect the University to be making its own management decisions. The University would seek occupational health input, and other medical advice where appropriate, and this is set out in the relevant procedure.
- YOU ASKED… what is the definition of an Executive Faculty?
The University has three Faculties (Science; Life Sciences; Arts, Humanities and Social Science) and one Executive Faculty (Henley Business School). The Executive Faculty has different responsibilities for its resourcing than the Faculties. A University 'scheme of delegation' is under development which will identify the differences and clarify where all key decisions are made.
- YOU ASKED… how exactly are lay members of Council recruited?
Under the new Ordinances lay members of Council would be recruited by the Appointments Committee, a committee of Council, which would conduct an appropriate process, normally involving advertisements and interviews.
- YOU SAID… the reference to 'natural justice' should be replaced with 'everyone's right to an impartial and fair hearing'
Whilst we accept that 'natural justice' sounds legalistic, it relates to more than simply the right to an impartial and fair hearing, including: fairness in the process leading up to the hearing; individuals knowing the case against them and having time to prepare and the right to respond; the prevention of arbitrary decision making; and the right to an impartial appeal.
- YOU ASKED… how does the Vice-Chancellor delegate his powers, and can these be delegated to anyone?
The Vice-Chancellor can delegate his powers to Officers of the University, in the same way that any manager may delegate responsibilities to their staff. The draft Charter and Ordinances define Officers of the University as (in addition to the VC): the Chancellor; the Deputy Vice-Chancellor; the President and Vice-President(s) of Council; the Pro-Vice-Chancellors; the Secretary to Council; the Chief Strategy Officer and University Secretary; and the Chief Operating Officer. The details of the powers that may be delegated, and to whom, will be covered in a 'schedule of delegations', which is under development.
- YOU ASKED… why are the employment procedures being removed from Statute?
The reasons for this change are set out on the Charter Reform webpages. These reasons include: to make procedures legally compliant; to reflect good HR practice; to provide greater clarity for employees; to ensure matters are progressed without undue delay; and to treat academic and non-academic employees in the same way, so far as reasonably practicable.
- YOU SAID… you had concerns that the new employment procedures would be under the control
Following consultation we have agreed with UCU that the policies detailing procedures previously covered by Statute XXXIII will be subject to the approval and control of the Council. The policies will be subject to review every two years.
- YOU ASKED… will there be a right to be represented by a companion or union rep during the stages of the University employment procedures and will this be different for disabled staff?
Employees have the legal right to be accompanied at disciplinary and grievance hearings by a colleague or a trade union representative.
There is no legal right to be accompanied to investigation meetings. The procedures state that being accompanied to an investigation meeting is not normally a right, but that "if it helps [the employee] to overcome any disability, or any difficulty understanding English, or in any other reasonable circumstances" this may be allowed.
All the new employment procedures set out the University's commitment to complying with its obligations under the Equality Act 2010.
- YOU SAID… you were concerned that a tight turnaround in redundancy situations might leave staff in a position where they did not have enough time to engage with what is happening
The University is required under good employment processes and the law to act reasonably. The University will always comply with statutory minimum periods of consultation in situations of redundancy and the new procedures set out how the University will engage with staff. In previous redundancy exercises, staff have complained about the procedures under Statute XXXIII taking too long, and wanted it dealt with as quickly as is reasonably possible.
- YOU SAID… the employment policies concerning discipline, dismissal and redundancy for academic staff should be moved into Ordinance
Ordinances set out the governance arrangements of the Council and the University, not operational matters. The Ordinances set out the University's requirement to have certain policies and set out principles around how those policies will be operated. The procedural detail is set out in policies applying to all staff and it has been agreed that the policies concerning employment matters previously detailed in Statute XXXIII will be subject to the approval and control of the Council.
- YOU SAID… managers that are expected to take on new roles under the employment procedures should receive training in how to do so
The University acknowledges that there is a training need and appropriate training will be devised in 2015. During the consultation discussions with UCU and the Staff Forum we have identified matters that manager training should cover and we will work with them further on this. In any event, all managers will receive support from HR throughout.
- YOU SAID… you were concerned about the changes to the contract and wanted more information on this
There is some information on the changes to the contact currently up on this website but, as with the policy changes, the contract of employment is subject to formal consultation with UCU and the Staff Forum. Proposed changes to the contract of employment will be largely administrative and will not alter employees' rights around pay, notice, sickness, holiday or pensions. There will be more information available to staff regarding the contract available later in 2015.
- YOU ASKED… why were the new employment procedures not included in the all-staff consultation?
We did not include the employment policies as we are required to consult collectively with UCU and the Staff Forum on them.
- YOU SAID… there needs to be more emphasis on creating equality between academic and non-academic staff
We hope to achieve this with our new employment procedures, as they will apply to all staff, so far as reasonably practicable. We have also redefined the 'members' of the University in the Charter to include all staff - previously only certain groups of staff were considered 'members' of the University. Throughout the consultation we received positive comments from members of staff who felt that the reform project was a big step forward in creating a more equal working environment.
- YOU SAID… the consultation period should have been longer
The consultation was open for 19 days in term time and we acknowledge that some people felt this was too short. We appreciate the many responses received, which have shaped the next iteration.