Luke's Notes

Sussex Stories 6: The Farthing Years 2007-16 Part 2

Continued from Sussex Stories 5

So, when you're near me, darling, can't you hear me, S.O.S

Many universities were following Universities UK (UUK) guidance and rewriting staff statutes in their constitutions, and Sussex followed suit. After I did a bit of research on the UUK website it became clear that following UUK guidance was behind a lot of Farthing's reforms. They suggested reforms and he carried them out. A key part of the staff statutes were principles of academic freedom enshrined in them. As the staff statute was part of the terms and conditions of academic and other staff they had to have the recognised unions agreement to any changes, and this included us. At one point the Director of HR said to me they did not need our agreement to change the staff statute, they just had to consult us. I said we had taken legal advice on this, which we had, and they did need our agreement. She went quiet on the issue. This project was brought to us and the management decided to renegotiate all the employment policies at the same time. It was a massive job but I actually enjoyed finding out in detail about the employment policies on redundancy, sickness, disciplinary issues, capability, and so on. With my fellow UCU (University and College Union) reps, Colin and Rob, we went through these with the Director of HR and PVC (Pro-Vice Chancellor, a deputy to the VC/CEO) Marlin one by one. In the case of Statute 21 on academic freedom many of the talks were just between Marlin and me (because I was the rep who was an academic).

The proposed staff statute the management presented to us was a joke. It ripped out anything meaningful for staff and just left a skeleton. I remember Rob and I leaving the first meeting shell-shocked with what was on the table. It was going to be a long haul, assisted by national union officers. Colin came up with some astute and creative campaign materials based on a logo of the Statue of Liberty and the acronym S.O.S., for Save our Statute. I made the rounds of various departments and units to explain what was being proposed, get support for our campaign, and explain what we were aiming for. We focused on the academic freedom themes that we knew would get academics on board. We managed to get Marlin and the Registrar John Duffy (the Registrar is in charge of non-academic services of the university) to attend what was in the end an angry packed open meeting of staff to discuss the changes. Duffy said he would not guarantee he could come, and when he did turn up he was very nervous.

There was negotiating meeting after meeting, they went on and on, over and over, and we went back time and again rejecting what was proposed and coming forward with different proposals. Both the Director of HR and I had to attend meetings when we were on leave to help move it on. The Senate meeting that was to rubber stamp what was agreed with the union came and went with no agreement to put before it.

I was on the train to London one day and got a call from Rob. Just as we were closing in on agreement on the staff statute he said the management had presented us with a new redundancy policy and said we had to accept that within a week if they were to agree to the new statute for ratification at Senate soon after. This was in August when many UCU reps and national union officers who were helping us out were away. It was classic timing and predictable. But I was absolutely pissed off and said very firmly there was no way we were jumping into agreement on the redundancy policy under that kind of threat. Rob agreed. This was why that Senate meeting was unable to agree the statute as planned. I finished the call and realised I must have been quite loud and animated because the people in the carriage were looking at me amused.

But in the end, we had a document. We won a number of additional clauses that the management had not included: one on freedom of expression for all staff, including non-academic staff, without fear of losing their jobs; a commitment to the maintenance of staff in employment at the university; a clause committing the university to equality of opportunity, avoidance of discrimination and mutual respect; a role for an independent peer on hearings panels in various procedures to do with staff; a role for an external person on panels in appeals against dismissal, to ensure there is an independent check; a role for consultation and Council in redundancies, so that the management could not make redundancies without wider involvement. I'm happy to be corrected, but I think extending the freedom of speech clause to non-academic staff was a first at English universities.

The VC had to be called as he was about to enter the Channel Tunnel on holiday, to approve the final version. It was not ideal, negotiations involve compromise. But at a general meeting of the union branch we got a round of applause for the final document. A special meeting of Senate was called to ratify what had been agreed. Rob and I happened to be on Senate as reps for our day-job units. There was some nervousness on the part of the management that we were going to bring up some last-minute objection, something we had been doing over and over through the process, and reject what was on the table at the last minute. When I asked to make a final comment at the end of the meeting I swear the Director of HR blanched. But it had been supported by the executive committee of the branch and the national union and it was voted through.

This was just the staff statute. We also renegotiated all the employment policies and I think we got policies that were as good as or even better than the ones we had before. It was a lot of work. I already had two days off from my main job to do union work at Sussex and a third was added during the period of this process. To protect my sanity I worked on a novel on my rest days. It was a thriller called 'Night Raid'. I loved writing it and it kept me on the straight and narrow. I still have it on my computer, but I will never allow it to see the light of day. Colin was so good at the negotiations with HR on our employment policies that they suggested he could work for them, said as a joke but also maybe not a joke. They did not realise that Colin would never have gone over to the enemy.

PVC Chris Marlin, who was in charge of talks with UCU, did not seem half as bad as other senior managers and I often wondered how he fitted in with those he had to work alongside. The first time I came across him was when he gave a talk on internationalisation at our school meeting. He had recently been appointed as PVC for this area, coming from Australia to do the job at Sussex. He had a background as a Professor of Computing. In his office at Sussex, he had a very big shiny Mac which seemed at odds with his humble persona. To be honest, his presentation on internationalisation was full of buzzwords and when I asked him at the meeting for empirical evidence for his suggestions he got very irritable. I mean, it was not like it was a university where a bit of research to back things up matters.

But in the UCU negotiations and on the committee to refurbish the new Sociology building he was genuinely friendly and I thought he showed unusual respect for staff for someone from his management team. He had a daughter who was a Green Party activist in Australia and maybe that made him more open to union reps and those with ideals on campus than other managers were. After my very delayed inaugural professorial lecture in 2014, he emailed me to say he was sorry he had missed it. I had a transcript so I sent it to him and to my surprise he read it and replied with comments. At that point, he was off ill for 3 months and said in his email that he was in the hands of medical professionals. I did not know he was dying from cancer then. I guess I should have realised he may have been terminally ill but I didn't. He was reaching out in his humble and friendly way and I regret being a bit distant in those communications, especially annoyed as I was with the management at that point.

The Statute 21 negotiations were in theory a big success. But soon after, in the campaign against outsourcing, a union rep was told by John Duffy to take a 'Save the 235' badge off during negotiations (there were 235 staff up for shipping off to private companies). One head of school told professional services staff to take anti-outsourcing posters off their office wall. In the catering building staff were prevented from leafletting on the issue by managers and had their leaflets torn up. There were reports of other similar incidents. It was a clear breach of the freedom of speech element in the statute, especially of the new part that extended this to non-academic staff.

Outsourcing and occupation: communists stole my bagel

The university had a mix of catering outlets, some in-house university ones and some private sector. We, the union reps, were a bit mystified when the management started bringing the private ones in-house. One, a small crepery in the Engineering Building, in particular dug their heels in until they too had to leave, feeling bullied by legal threats. It seemed to go against the fashion at the time of outsourcing campus services to the private sector. I was in the management corridor one day, waiting to go into a meeting with the management, when the Director of Finance sat down opposite and we started chatting. He was going through the accounts for the recently insourced catering facilities, raised an eyebrow and said, seemingly with some surprise, that they seemed to be doing well financially. We should have thought more about all this, as there was a reason for this insourcing which was to become evident.

One day in May 2012 I was working at home when at the end of the day two emails came in. One was inviting me as President of the UCU branch to a meeting with the Director of HR and the Registrar the next day at 9am. Alongside it in my inbox was an email from Rob saying he and all the Estates staff had been invited to a meeting with HR the next morning at the same time. This was a classic management tactic when something big was about to happen. You invite people in at very short notice, the night before an early morning meeting so no one has a chance to compare notes or prepare. Rob and I were quite alarmed. The obvious fear was a possible plan for more mass redundancies to be announced.

I turned up the next morning and it became clear that the Unison reps (Unison is a union that represents lower grades at the university) had been in just before me. I went in to meet the Director of HR and the Registrar and there was the usual absurd fake warm-up chit-chat about how everyone was and the weather and holiday plans and the like. I used to hate when managers tried to be chummy. It was the co-option of community and kindness when their intentions were the opposite. Duffy started to read from a pre-prepared paper which I was given a copy of. The university were going to outsource all Catering and Estates facilities, involving 235 jobs, most of them Unison members but some, those on higher grades, UCU members. The Director of HR watched me throughout the meeting warily. There would be a series of meetings with the unions. But the Director of HR and Registrar labelled these as 'communication events', or some phrase like that. In other words, they wanted us to know the changes would not be up for negotiation or consultation. And the communication was not intended to be two-way. We would meet regularly for them to communicate to us the changes they were making. In public they said they were consulting with us but in private the outsourcing had already been decided and was not up for discussion. The unions contacted members of Council to express their concerns about process.

We were later told this day was also when some senior managers found out about the plans. They had been in preparation for a long time but kept tightly under wraps in case they leaked. Even members of the senior management team were apparently unaware of what was afoot until this point.

After the meeting, I went back to my office. Rob turned up soon after. I was initially quite relieved as it was not an out-and-out redundancy scheme. The management had said they did not expect jobs to be cut, but transferred to private providers. Rob was, rightly, more alarmed, both as one of those to be outsourced and as a union rep. It became clear why they had brought the private catering units in-house. It was so that all the catering was in one block and could be transferred out to a single company as one. Total Facilities Management, it's called. It had been insourcing in preparation for outsourcing.

There was a large open meeting organised with the three campus unions, the student union, and any staff who wanted to come. Myself and the other unions' reps reported back on our initial meetings with the management and questions were asked. A big demo was organised outside the management building. I suddenly found that I was on nodding terms with lots of estates and catering staff I had never met or known before.

I was coming to the end of my term as UCU president and had not stood for election again, although I would stay on the branch committee. But I was there for some of the opening 'communication events'. For these meetings national UCU officers came down, as they often did to help out. At one I asked for the evidence base for the changes. What evidence had been collected from similar outsourcings elsewhere? I said that without this the changes felt like an 'act of faith'. Duffy said that he objected to me describing it as such. He said previous outsourcings at universities and public bodies had been taken into account. But when I asked what instances had been looked at he said he could not immediately remember and would write to me with details. That account of evidence never came. As I have mentioned, it was clear that Farthing et al were implementing suggested reforms of Universities UK. I don't know how far they investigated evidence on whether such reforms had worked well before, odd for people who were (mostly) university academics. As it happens there was quite a bit of evidence that university outsourcing had many negative outcomes, for instance from London, and some summarised by UCU. The Guardian held a live chat on outsourcing at universities, which included Sussex Registrar John Duffy, a Sussex student protestor, and myself, amongst others. Many key issues were raised here. Globally, at a municipal level the trend is for re-insourcing because of the appalling record of outsourcing.

The emphasis of the unions was on negotiating a good deal for the workers to be transferred out. After a long wait, while events were patiently observed from afar by many, some students felt we should organise a campaign against the outsourcing. This was supposed to complement the union emphasis on getting a good deal. We would campaign against outsourcing, while the unions would in parallel try to ensure a good deal in case the changes went through, and a wider campaign might give some strength to the unions' negotiations.

But some local unions' reps were livid about the proposed student-led campaign. I had been attending the campaign meetings, which were also attended by many workers from the affected areas, and got some nasty emails from some reps saying I was undermining their position and it was none of the business of those outside the 235 workers and their reps to get involved. We should be deferring to the unions, especially Unison, and not interfering in what was their territory. The view of the campaigners, which included workers to be outsourced, was that this was an issue for everyone on the campus. We would all be affected by the outsourcing. We were all users of catering and estates. Many of us knew workers in those units and were worried about them. It was clear that further outsourcings could follow to other units, the library or sports centre maybe, as had happened elsewhere. IT services did go on to outsource operations. Furthermore, it changed what the university was all about and where it was going. The outsourcing was an issue for all of us. In addition, resisting privatisation was the official policy of UCU and Unison. It was odd that reps from those unions were condemning us for following the very policies of their own unions.

A pop-up union was organised by some campus workers. This was aimed at balloting for action and taking industrial action against the changes, in the light of the main unions not initially going down this path. You could be a member of both your main union and the pop-up union and I joined the latter and went to one or two of their meetings. They planned a ballot for action but the management managed to challenge it successfully on a legal technicality about the process. The campus unions did eventually hold indicative ballots on industrial action with good turnouts and clear yes votes. My union, UCU, felt it could not call action, though, unless Unison did as the union representing most of those at risk of outsourcing.

In February 2013, a group of students occupied the university conference centre in protest against the outsourcing. They had waited a long long time patiently before taking action, arguing correctly that there had been no genuine consultation about the changes. It was an astonishing occupation that went on for about 8 weeks. It was run on a direct democracy basis with great comms, attracting a lot of national and international media coverage and many notable public figures publicly declaring their support. Speakers came to the occupation in support, including Caroline Lucas, the local Green Party MP, who also put down an early day motion in the House of Commons on the issue. Visitors included the journalist Owen Jones, Josie Long, Mark Steel, David Graeber, and Laurie Penny. Other supporters included Frankie Boyle, Noam Chomsky, Ken Loach, Peter Capaldi, Will Self, Tariq Ali, Billy Bragg, and even Cara Delevingne who all stated their support.

It became an occupation about what the university is all about, and about private for-profit priorities over public ones. I visited the occupation a few times to speak at meetings or just talk to the student occupiers and compare notes. The conference centre was in the catering building and sometimes access to some of the catering outlets was affected. It caused great amusement amongst the occupiers when one annoyed student tweeted about the situation: 'Communists stole my bagel'.

There was a banner drop from the roof of the library, very visible to all passing through campus, and quickly removed by Security. There were many big demos including one national demo where the glass pane in a door to the management building got broke. The management said this proved that the protestors were violent. There was heavy policing at the demos. The yellow square was adopted from Quebec protests as the symbol for the anti-outsourcing movement on campus and all around campus people wore it on their lapels and put yellow squares up in office windows. The management took out a court order which said that people had to obtain permission from them before holding a demo. I was astonished this was possible. The students just ignored it. John Duffy wrote an article for the Times Higher Education newspaper defending the outsourcing and the handling of protest and I wrote a reply questioning his account.

luke campus not for sale.jpg

Campus Not For Sale. Me speaking at an anti-outsourcing demo.

Someone found a file of documents that had been left in the Institute of Development Studies cafe. It was about the occupiers and included documentation about the occupation. It was handed over to the consequently alarmed occupiers. I wondered if the documents had been deliberately left to be found and to scare the occupation. But I don't know. The occupation was eventually evicted and members were dragged away. Some who blocked police vehicles were arrested and charged with obstruction. In echoes of the Sussex 6, five occupiers were picked out and charged with disciplinary offences. If Farthing had hoped to avoid the alliteration of Sussex 6, it didn't work. The affected students became known as Farthing's 5.

The students were determined and had good contacts. They persuaded one of the world's top human rights lawyers, Geoffrey Robertson, to represent some of them at the hearings. He had represented figures such as Salman Rushdie, Julian Assange, Peter Hain, Mike Tyson, and Summerhill School. He offered to work for the students pro bono. If you are appearing before a disciplinary hearing you can take a representative with you and have to notify the university a day or two before who this is going to be. One of the greatest regrets of my life is that I was not there to see the faces of the senior managers when they found out the students would be accompanied by Geoffrey Robertson QC of Doughty Street Chambers. At the hearing, Robertson argued that the chair of the panel, DVC (Deputy Vice-Chancellor) Michael Davies, had previously appeared on radio condemning the occupiers and that he, therefore, could not be impartial. The disciplinary case collapsed. Robertson gave a speech after the hearings saying what a farce it had been and he hoped he would never be forced to come back and represent the students again.

Eventually, the university was asked by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator to pay compensation to students of £2000 or more for not following fair procedure when they were suspended. The OIA said, "The OIA has now concluded that the suspensions were unfair and unreasonable and has upheld a number of other complaints relating to the conduct of the disciplinary proceedings".

The outsourcing went ahead. Some companies with terrible records internationally were given the contracts. Many staff, disgusted, took the voluntary redundancy on offer and left. The unions managed to get some improvements to the voluntary redundancy package available for those who didn't want to be part of the change, and the pension on offer, but the pension was still worse than the one they had in university employment.

And that was the end of it. Except it wasn't. 10 years later there was a new twist. I'll come back to that in the last part of these Sussex stories.

I wrote a series of blogs and articles between 2010-13 about HE marketisation and the opposition, many discussing the Sussex anti-outsourcing campaign. They are listed at the end of this short blog on the topic. A number of other very interesting articles were published out of the anti-outsourcing campaign, including by those involved. Here are just some examples from The Independent, The Guardian, and Open Democracy.

How Do You Sleep? Closure of CCE

I was in a consultation meeting as a UCU rep with a PVC when he made a passing reference to what he called a 'pseudo-academic' unit being under review. We hauled him back and asked him what he was talking about. He looked surprised and said he thought our union reps would have told us. He meant the proposed closure of the Centre for Community Engagement (CCE, formerly the Centre for Continuing Education).

We knew nothing and after the meeting contacted our reps in CCE. It turned out discussions about closing the unit had been underway for a while and none of the reps in CCE had brought it to the attention of myself as President or the branch committee. This in itself raised concerns. Why had this not been raised with us by our union reps? This was what they were there for. Was our network of reps not working properly? We were kind to the PVC involved, who was more open to working with us than most other senior managers, and when the issue came up with management in future and he was there he looked uncomfortable but we did not reveal he had told us.

CCE provided many evening classes and short courses to local students, often unique and with no other alternative available locally. The cost of running it was higher than the income it brought in. Across the UK universities had been closing such units and now it was Sussex's turn. Nevertheless, the university was not short of cash, some units were very lucrative, especially those bringing in lots of international students' fees, and the unit could have been kept running with cross-subsidy, as happened in other areas. This was our argument throughout the consultation process that then kicked off but the management continued to reject the possibility of cross-subsidy.

One of our branch committee members met with the CCE staff to take soundings and see, amongst other things, if they wanted to take industrial action to defend the unit. While I and one other rep took on the meetings with management over the proposed closure, this rep was a stalwart handling the liaison with CCE staff. She reported back that there was no fighting mood amongst them for striking. So we were left with lobbying, campaigning, and negotiating. One factor against us was that the soon-to-retire Director of the unit was not on board at all. She was working with the management to close the place down. Time after time at meetings with the management about CCE she would be there siding with them.

We released statements about the proposed closure and the case was put forward for cross-subsidy, with calculations about how much it would cost, and where the funds could come from. We proposed a more selective approach than just closure, with some restructuring and selective changes and more long-term considerations. There was a model motion that went around departments to support. These were passed and sent on to the management and members of Senate and Council. There was a well-supported petition. We wrote to members of Senate and of Council, the governing bodies of the university, highlighting the support for CCE and our case, including mention of other universities where more imaginative approaches had enabled continuing education to stay open. We highlighted reputational issues and made the case for taking into account social and community criteria as well as just financial ones. We rallied local MPs to write to the university in support of CCE, which they did, and also supported individuals and community organisations to do the same. CCE staff had a letter that they could use to make their case, which made many of the points mentioned above as well as pointing out that CCE had been a feeder to other Sussex degrees.

Some CCE staff told me that the head of a unit with plenty of income available had told them he would do his best to speak up for them at Senate. He was called to speak and stood up and said exactly the opposite: CCE was unaffordable and there was no alternative but to shut it down. It felt like a pre-prepared stitch-up. It was also announced at Senate that there was a plan to build a multi-storey car park on campus with levels dug underground. I said something about the management closing CCE to fund a multi-story car park. It was not meant as a joke, it was more a jaded jibe. But there were stifled laughs.

The management made it clear they had no intention of budging. At one meeting with UCU the Director of Finance threw up his hands saying 'Luke, we just cannot afford it', something which we felt was just not true with a more creative approach. The management were not willing to explore or discuss the alternatives being suggested; they had made their decision and were going to stick to it. The so-called consultations were an opportunity for creative thought from our point of view. For them, it was a formality they had to go through to do what they had already decided.

It became obvious that there had been a preparatory running down of some courses. The management would not give us access to information we asked for about the accounts and processes. As mentioned, the Director of the unit was against us and the staff had no mood for a fight. The Students' Union were late in getting on board. CCE was closed down and many full-time staff, administrative staff, and hourly paid tutors were made redundant. We managed to get improved payoffs for them and some got other jobs at Sussex under the redeployment procedure the union had negotiated. But overall it was not much of a consolation. A unique and valued provision was ended in the name of financial and mental inflexibility. Rationalisation, rigidity, and money won over imagination, creativity, community, and education.

However, structures for cross-subsidy, rejected as a way of saving CCE, were to be looked on more favourably under a later regime, as we shall see.

Moving on: there is power in a union

Health and safety is a big concern of trade unions. I had little involvement in this area, though, as we had a Dutch physicist on the branch committee who handled this issue, also an expert on particle physics interested in what the universe is made of. However, one day a member of staff from my school passed me in the corridor and said he may have to get help from the union. He had been approached by a manager and told his office was a health and safety hazard. I knew his office well. It had massive piles of paper everywhere and precariously stacked books. If you were able to delicately steer a path past them to find a chair there was a good chance that would be unusable because of piles on that too. I once tested him by asking him where the minutes of the department meeting the previous term were. Amazingly he dived into one huge pile of paper and pulled out a stapled document from the middle. Sure enough, it was exactly what I had asked him to find. I said he should come back to me on the issue if he wanted to. But I warned that the advice of the union may well be that his office was, in fact, a danger zone and we would probably suggest that he sorted it out.

My term as President of Sussex UCU lasted only two years (yes, everything above happened in just two years) but I was a member of the branch committee for some years after that. The President period was stressful and sometimes overwhelming. I thought I was weak finding it so and could not see how other local union branch officers coped. But I talked about this to a friend who had been a full-time union officer at a London council for decades and a member of the national executive committee of his union. He was sympathetic. He said that I had faced a particularly virulent management, unusually so (as had my departed pre-2010 predecessor), and an unusually relentless cascade of large-scale changes, one after another in a compressed period, that the union had to fight against. During that time I had worked two or three days a week on union work, including individual casework, and the other parts of the week on my normal job. For my friend, it had been an unusual period, that anyone would have struggled with.

One thing it solved was my 20-year-old anxiety about teaching and about getting it perfectly right. I was often going into a seminar knowing that later in the day I would be consulting with the university management about some large-scale closure with great human costs, or with a local manager trying to save someone's job and future, or to find a solution to a member of staff being bullied (I haven't even gone into the individual casework unions do). Suddenly, whether the seminar went perfectly well or not did not seem to matter so acutely. The pre-seminar nerves I had suffered from since 1990 went away and never really came back.

Many staff do not know most of the work unions do. A lot is getting good policies that protect staff and then making sure these are adhered to in the various processes they set out. Much of this is behind the scenes. When I saw the policies the management proposed in our consultations and the final versions we ended up with I knew how important the union is. I was at a meeting with the VC once and was asking him about redundancy protection. Another member of staff interjected and said he was not a union member and wanted to move on from union questions as if somehow we were taking up his valuable time with issues that were not relevant to him. My question was not a union question, it was an employee rights question, relevant to all union or non-union, and he like anyone else would have gained from any protections in this area. It seemed an incredibly dumb interjection, so much so that I must admit I was rendered silent trying to work out if I was being unfair to him with such thoughts. The member of staff is an expert on British politics. I'm sure I've said plenty of stupid things too. Incidentally, the VC at that meeting said that he did not want to introduce the redundancy procedure mentioned because it would tie the hands of future VCs. It was not a logical response because it could be an argument against any policies the university may have.

The benefits unions win go to non-union members as well as members. Union members pay in expensive subscriptions, lost pay on strike days, and the efforts of active participation (often very stressful, I can vouch for that) for the benefits non-members get at no expense and with no sacrifice. I've never known a non-union member to turn down benefits won for them, on the basis that they did not contribute in the ways outlined. I have known those who take those benefits and then bemoan unions and the trade unionists who have done so much for them at great personal expense. If you haven't already - join a union.

Well into the 2000s, not long after I was UCU president, the university commissioned a report on bullying and staff were invited to contribute their views. The report never saw the light of day. During a change of leadership in the union the local UCU branch didn't chase it. Some staff who had reported bullying and sexism, including by those involved in the management of the survey, felt that their responses must have been deemed unpublishable despite the promise that the survey would be transparent and open.

It was a dark period. Staff became seen as people to be controlled and pushed, not human beings to be enabled and helped to do their jobs well. There were many human casualties. The management affected to be doing something by putting on courses on things like 'Coping with Change'. It would have been hilarious if it was really not that funny. It was not a nice place to work, unless you buried your head in the sand, and even more so if you were trying to fight back against this which many were at the time. Fear and anxiety were rife. I later wondered what would have happened if some of the managers I had to deal with had been put in charge of really big things, like whole national populations, or states, or military force. In 2018 I met a national union official, who I'd known from my President days, on the picket line. He seemed to think it was a mistake that I had gone down to one day a week at work. I was surprised after all his (amazing) work at Sussex and other universities he didn't understand why someone would want to do that.

The General Secretary of UCU nationally, while I was Sussex UCU president, was Sally Hunt. Long before I became UCU president I was going to a restaurant in Brighton with my daughter. As we were about to enter Sally came out and she and my daughter started embracing and kissing and exclaiming great joy at seeing each other. I had no idea my daughter knew her, let alone on such familiar terms. I said do you know who that is and she said 'Yes, that's Sally from the pub'. My daughter was a barmaid at a pub near where Sally lived in Brighton (she had studied at Sussex University and settled in Brighton). My daughter hadn't known what she did for a living. Later on, when I was UCU president Sally took me by surprise when she phoned for advice about local commitments she had been invited to get involved in. She also got in touch when there were troubles at Sussex and asked what she could personally do to help. I made suggestions and sure enough she did them. She came to our picket lines a couple of times and hung around for a chat. I agreed with Sally about some things and not about others. But she was a very nice and pleasant person, with a nice personal touch, who made a real effort to engage sympathetically on an individual level.

When I finished as Sussex UCU president I was asked to stand on a UCU Left slate for the National Executive Committee of the Union. I agreed with UCU Left about most things but not always everything and didn't feel I could guarantee to toe their line on every matter. It also seemed to me that the NEC was plagued by sectionalist factions and I wasn't sure, at that point, I had the strength for that.

HoD the second time around

I became Head of Department (HoD) again, I think it was in January 2013. There were others who could have done it but it was deemed that would not have been a good idea. However, during my tenure, I decided I wanted to go part-time. I asked the Head of School if this would be OK. He immediately said yes. I pointed out we would then need a new Head of Department because I could not do that on a part-time basis. He said we would find someone. I said there was no one very obvious in the department at the moment who could take it on. He said we'll appoint someone from outside. We rarely saw eye to eye and he seemed very willing about the prospect of spending less time with me. A year later I was no longer Head and was working 3 days a week.

While I was still HoD, a new member of staff was appointed to cover deviance teaching on the sociology BA. Then the Head of School decided we should introduce a new criminology degree. This was entirely about making money, not any educational judgment about what the university curriculum should include. Much to the new appointment's surprise, and mine, she was asked to design this degree. It was an unacceptable amount of work for her. In time, more criminology staff arrived and the department is now a joint Sociology and Criminology one. I got stick privately for being part of the earlier part of this process - it was seen that sociology was being diluted. But the criminologists are a sociological and critical bunch and the degree is a good one.

While I was HoD this second time some of us were startled to suddenly hear at a meeting of the school's management team that the school were setting up a joint postgraduate programme with a university in Qatar. This had been kept from us and announced in passing when the process was well underway. For a school where many people work on human rights, it was a shocking plan. Money, again, was coming before integrity, morals, or openness. We didn't go on social media about it and expose those involved to media harassment. We expressed our concerns in-house.

Alternative societies and free education

During this time I introduced a new course on Alternative Societies. It was based on the idea that sociologists are quite good at being critical about society but say less about what the alternatives could be. I put a call out on social media for suggestions about what to cover on the course and many people contacted me with ideas most of which I included. It covered topics on utopianism, communism, alternative economies and co-ops, communes, alternative social centres and food counter-culture, green society, a society with less work, open borders, alternative education, and slow society.

I gave my professorial lecture in 2014 on this topic and the course turned into a book published in 2023. I wrote an article summarising the themes of the book

I was also involved during this time with the Free University Brighton (FUB) as an organiser and tutor. It took students on its courses free of cost, no qualifications needed. Tutors also did not have to have a qualification, just an enthusiasm for a topic and a desire to teach it. It was life-changing for many ordinary working-class people who had often left school with no certificates and whose intellectual self-confidence flourished at FUB. Students did not have to write essays but if they did there were no grades or fail marks. They just wrote the essay and, if necessary, revised it on the basis of feedback until it got a pass mark - that is if they wanted a pass mark; they could opt for just feedback. There was a free degree that was validated by external academics. But students did not have to pursue the degree. They could just study individual courses for their own sake. It connected with the thought of Ivan Illich on my alternatives course, who argued that education could or even should be done outside conventional educational institutions. FUB is still very much up and running.

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