This is the first time that a self-organised collective has been given such a clear mandate by staff from across an HE institution. There has never been such a high turnout in real numbers and as a proportion of staff to voice support for a Vote of No Confidence in senior management.
Creating the Vote
To generate the Vote of No Confidence we needed to make two crucial decisions: (1) Who would be the constituents of the VoNC? (2) How would the VoNC be administered?
Limiting the VoNC to Academic Departments
We value all voices on campus and had lengthy and heartfelt discussions about who could and should be invited to vote. There was strong consensus among participants in the Collective Change Working Group and the Professors‘ Forum Steering Group that the VoNC should be available to all staff within the College. We felt strongly that this would best reflect our commitment to a fair and transparent process. However, this commitment conflicted with a range of practical considerations.
We limited the vote to departments because Collective Change and the Professors’ Forum have been consultative processes based within academic departments. The VoNC reflects this months-long consultation process.
Unison did not endorse the VoNC and gave no an account of their decision. We also heard stories where line managers threatened their staff lest they participate in Collective Change and we did not want to occasion similar tensions. We did not want to put people in conflict with us or their union by asking them to vote.
We value the voices of central Professional Services, as well as colleagues working in IT, TaLIC, the Library and Student Services highly, and two of our greatest concerns has been the centralisation of Professional Services and the diminishing of staff capacity through redundancies.
We hope and expect to be able to engage the campus more widely in the future and that more of our colleagues will join us in expressing their lack of confidence in SMT.
Administering the Vote
There were a range of practical considerations that shaped our approach to administering the vote.
Without access to a list detailing email addresses for all staff, we had to rely on internal knowledge within departments as well as information provided by the directory on Goldmine. Otherwise, we had no way of checking all solicited addresses against who is actually working at Goldsmiths and in what position. It is particularly difficult to identify staff within professional and support roles, as well as cleaners and security.
Current communications infrastructure at Goldsmiths did not allow us to administer the VoNC within software licensed to Goldsmiths and available to all staff.
We selected the platform Choice UK based on reputation, privacy and data security standards. We administered the link to the platform via Mailchimp to ensure one vote per one email address.
We collected email addresses because this was the only way to ensure one vote per one eligible per person.
In our decision-making process, we prioritised the security, validity and legitimacy of the vote at all times.
Contextualising the Outcome
Goldsmiths staff VoNC in the Senior Management Team is unprecedented. According to our research, no other HE institution has held a ballot of no confidence on this scale.
At the University of Surrey, a vote run by UCU garnered 94% support from the members who voted, and was complimented by over 2000 students who also voted no confidence. This resulted in a change to management.
At de Montfort University, a vote organised by UCU and Unison yielded the support of over 100 members of staff, measured by a show of hands. This resulted in a change to management.
At Nottingham College, a vote of ‘no confidence’ organised by UCU yielded over 100 votes, representing 20% of all staff.
At the Open University, the UCU passed the following motion: “This general meeting has no confidence in our current vice-chancellor, or in his plans and intentions for the future of our university”. Of around 120 people in the room, the vote of no confidence was supported 110 to 10, and by around 250 people via Skype.
At Goldsmiths, the vote was sent out to 1204 eligible voters in all departments. Of these, 698 people (58%) voted. From these 698 voters, 93 voters (13%) voted for confidence in SMT. 605 voters (87%) voted no confidence in SMT. This is an absolute majority of 50.2% of all ballots sent, and only 7.7% of all ballots sent voted for confidence. This constitutes both a majority of eligible voters and a resounding majority for ‘no confidence’.
This is the first time that a self-organised collective has been given such a clear mandate by staff from across an HE institution. There has never been such a high turnout in real numbers and as as a proportion of staff to voice support for a Vote of No Confidence in senior management.
Even in the unlikely event that votes from outside of departments showed unequivocal confidence in the SMT, it would not change the fact that an absolute majority of staff in academic departments and 87% of those who voted do not have such confidence. This is and will remain a significant challenge which Council will have to address.
Meeting of Council
An account of the VoNC has been sent to Dinah Caine, Chair of Council, and a discussion has been tabled at a meeting of Council on 26 November.
We await the outcome of this meeting.
To discuss the implications of the Vote of No Confidence and galvanise support for our agenda for meaningful consultation among staff, the Collective Change Working Group proposes to hold a Staff Assembly. The Staff Assembly could be co-organised by Collective Change and the Professors’ Forum, together with the GUCU and GARA who endorsed the VoNC.
The priority of the Staff Assembly will be the inclusion of staff voices across the college, particularly those who have been underrepresented in the process of participatory consultation thus far and who were not able to participate in the VoNC.
Means of Representation
The Collective Change Working Group and the Professors’ Forum propose these fundamental steps to reform the governance of the College, in order to bring staff expertise to vital decision-making.
Equality of representation between Goldsmiths staff and externally appointed members on Council. There are currently only four academic representatives and one non-academic representative on Council, which comprises of 28 members. The number of staff representatives on Council should be increased to 14.
Inclusion of Academic Representatives on College Committees such as Finance and Resources: All such committees need to have appointed staff representatives to share in the information regarding the fate of the institution. Equal representation of academic and support staff on all College Committees should be implemented immediately.
Establishment of a series of working Forums – based on open and inclusive participation – which will focus on teaching, research, governance and infrastructure as issues central to the life of the College and requiring policy and support. These Forums should be empowered to vote on resolutions to be reported to relevant committees and Council.
Establishment of a General Assembly consisting of all those who are currently employed and studying at Goldsmiths in order to meet the urgent need for broad-based discussion of relevant issues. The Assembly would ensure the sharing of ideas, concerns and first-hand knowledge. It would have formal status within the decision-making structures of the College.