This chronology reconstructs the events that led to the redundancies of 9 members of staff at the University of Leicester School of Business, and the ‘voluntary’ departure of many more. It starts with the announcement of the ‘Shaping for Excellence’ strategy by Vice Chancellor Canagarajah in October 2020, goes through the various stages of the so-called ‘consultancy process’, and ends with our last working days on the 11th of August 2021. Although it is not possible to include all communications between management and ULSB16 here, we highlight the key documents produced by management to expose, clarify and defend their ‘case for change’, and the responses produced by ULSB16 and other members of staff to question and contest this case. Together, these documents help retrace the main stages and lines of the dispute. However, the focus on the Business School means that the university-wide struggles cannot be reflected in full here. For example, this includes the no-confidence vote in the VC, initiated by the Students Union or most of the activities of the Leicester UCU branch. For this, we refer you to the local website of Leicester UCU. Finally, the chronology does not document the struggle on social media, e.g. the activities around #BoycottLeicester, #ULSB16 or #NoOneIsRedundant which deserves a separate reflection.
“To compete on a global level, we need to focus our efforts and build on our core strengths. We can’t be excellent at everything; this means we need to make suitable investments in people and infrastructure to sustain and build on our position as a world-leading university. In order to do this, we need to make some difficult decisions by disinvesting in certain areas of the University to sustain our areas of excellence and to take advantage of emerging opportunities in research and education. […] We need to take a strategic view of the size and shape of the University to regain our position as a world-leading research-intensive institution. Some changes are now essential for our future success which may lead to compulsory redundancies. […] I do not underestimate the impact this will have on colleagues across the University - I am not doing this lightly. Taking action now will protect us from further, larger changes in the future and will enable us to be in control of our own destiny.”
Pre-change engagement sessions with the Management & Organization, the Work & Employment and the Marketing, Innovation, Strategy and Operations divisions.
"Not surprisingly, some, although relatively few, respondents alluded to ULSB’s heritage as a critical management school when discussing the strengths of the school. However, a continued interest in CMS was by no means universally viewed through a positive lens and it is clear that the degree to which ULSB views its CMS background as a strength is contested. Many more respondents were keen to emphasise the importance of a diversity of perspectives and how ULSB is perceived to offer strength in this regard. In contrast, there were also allusions to a “common mindset”. It is open to debate as to whether the School benefits from a genuine diversity of thought, rather than “diversity” actually being used as a synonym for heterodox perspectives that are comparatively prevalent in the School. In summary, it is clear that many in ULSB view research excellence, particularly in areas with potential to engender positive social change as a key strength. The value of the School’s legacy of CMS research is contested"
Head of College sends a letter "Notification of 1st Collective Consultation meeting to staff affected" to 16 staff members of the School of Business, informing them that they are at risk of redundancy. University-wide, 145 staff members received a letter.
"The aim of our proposals are to establish the School of Business as a sector leader with a strong sense of social purpose whose citizens drive positive impact around the world and to be a credible champion of business, economics, finance and management research, teaching, impact and engagement offering a compelling challenge to Russell Group business schools. Therefore, the proposed changes are to disinvest from research and scholarship in critical management studies and political economy to refocus research within the School and introduce significant coverage of subjects currently substantially or completely neglected (such as data analytics, operations, leadership and entrepreneurship). Over time the range of research and scholarship in the school will be rebalanced to ensure that it benefits from multiple theoretical perspectives and varied methodological approaches."
Critical Management Studies and Political Economy is chosen as the area to disinvest' because:
- Research in this areas is least aligned with School strategic priorities in the Business and Management area (as outlined)
- CMS/PE research does not provide suitable foundations for scholarship in areas of business and management we seek to expand (Entrepreneurship, Operations Management, Logistics)
- CMS/PE research least likely to align with demand for Executive Education/CPD opportunities in the region
"Critical management studies was characterised as the range of alternatives to the study of management that have, in common, a deep scepticism of prevailing conceptions and forms of management and organisation (Adler et al. 2007). At the core of CMS is a profound questioning of the authority and relevance of mainstream management thinking and practice (Alvesson et al. 2011). We also noted that mainstream business education has been characterised by CMS scholars as irrelevant and falsely justified as being “practical” and “business relevant” (Parker 2018:16). Work in CMS draws upon a variety of perspectives including post-structuralism, post-modernism, anarchism and autonomism and is closely associated with journals such as Ephemera (Rowlinson and Hassard 2011).
Political Economy (PE) was characterised after Adler (2011): “(a) as an argument about the importance of the broader, “macro” structures of political economy to the activity within and the behaviour of organizations (mainly business organizations), and (b) as the study of the “micro” political-economic structuring of relations within and between organizations themselves.” In common with Adler (2011), such conceptualisations are viewed as closely related to CMS. In defining political economy for this case we exclude the orthodox rational choice tradition as being a separate aspect of PE. In the School, the study of PE involves the “interrogation and investigation of the ontological underpinnings and epistemological strategies emerging from diverse academic fields in business and management studies, with a commitment to social justice.""
"In fact, the only people involved in choosing the targets for redundancy were the school’s Dean and Deputy Dean. How did they manage to do this in a fair and objective way, as required by law, for all 70 staff members? What methodology was used? How did they avoid potential bias and prejudice? How did they overcome the limits of their expertise in the research areas concerned? We have not been told."
"Dear Professor Dan Ladley and Professor Jim Devlin,
As academic staff of the School of Business, we request that you call an all-staff meeting. We consider this an urgent matter because 16 members of ULSB have been placed at risk of compulsory redundancy, the stated purpose of which is a disinvestment from ‘critical management studies’ and ‘political economy’, with 6 new roles to be created in fields such as ‘data analytics’ and ‘entrepreneurship’. A reorganisation that will result in a reduction in staff numbers of 10 overall. The planned restructuring of the School of Business, the justifications for selecting these 16 members of staff, and how it fits with the broader strategic priorities for the School going forward, has not yet been formally presented to all academic staff at ULSB, and we consider this as something that should be a matter for consultation with all staff. Therefore, we strongly urge you to call an all staff meeting as a matter of urgency, in order that these proposals can be clearly outlined and fully discussed."
"Dear Jim (HoS) and Simon (UCU)
We would be grateful if this message could be shared with staff in your school: Members of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History would like to express our support and solidarity with you following the University Leadership Team placing members of your School under threat of redundancy. We abhor the decisions that are leading to redundancies; academic staff are the foundation of the university. We are particularly shocked that such decisions are being made during the pandemic, when all staff have been working incredibly hard to support students and keep the core business of the university going.
We stand with you"
"I do not agree that a meeting where there will be over 150 staff is a conducive way of conducting meaningful debate and it will not enable all those who wish to contribute to the discussion to do so. We have, as part of the consultation process, opportunities for feedback to be provided and questions to be posed and answers provided. We will listen to feedback from all stakeholders and our trade unions and we are committed to ensuring that all directly impacted staff have the opportunity to feed into the consultation process. Kind regards, Jim Devlin"
"Issues of academic freedom, where you publish, your postings on twitter, what you care to ‘like’, what you care to research, how you care to research it, even your methods, are all under question at this moment. The atmosphere is becoming increasingly intimidatory."
"Dear ULSB colleagues,
The M&O and W&E divisions wish to express collectively their dismay and alarm to all colleagues in the School about the proposed redundancies and their consequences. A significant number of colleagues across our two divisions were selected as being at risk of redundancy because they are associated with two research areas, namely Critical Management Studies (CMS) and Political Economy (PE). We understand that the colleagues were identified in a screening exercise, which was conducted without input from research leads in the School. This screening exercise was based on loose and contestable definitions of CMS/PE that were established by non-experts and without input by our research leads. The rationale presented in the ‘Case for Change’ contains numerous questionable assertions, the process has been subsequently exposed to be thoughtlessly conceived and poorly executed, and represents an attack on all forms of critical thinking.
In consequence, we have concerns about the fairness and objectivity of the process and the implications for research and impact activities in the School. We are particularly worried about the impact that such actions have on academic freedom. We fear that significant reputational damage is being done both within the academic community and for future student recruitment. Moreover, there are massive consequences for workload, staff morale and development, and student experience at all levels of study. There are implications for everyone—now and into the future. For all these reasons, and in the hope of initiating a constructive conversation about our mutual next steps, we are organising a meeting for all staff in the School. The meeting will be neither minuted nor recorded."
In an ‘update on consultation’ email, the Head of College announces the establishment of "a review group who will be responsible for considering, reviewing and recommending outcomes for further consultation in the individual cases for all staff at risk of redundancy in the case for change in ULSB".
"In this report we want to express our serious concerns regarding the arbitrary and careless ways in which the criteria, data pool and methods used to place the 16 of us at risk of redundancy have been defined, and the Case for Change has been justified. These concerns can be grouped into nine areas:
1) Lack of continuity in the people involved
2) Ill-defined definitions and criteria for selection in the redundancy pool
3) Changing data pool or ’basket of indicators’
4) The absence of transparency in methods
5) Opaque and ill-defined scoping exercise
6) Lack of evidence and information underpinning the Case for Change
7) Discrimination against Early Career Researchers
8) Impracticality of research-based selection
9) Serious concerns around the infringement of academic freedom"
"As would always be the case, over time it is hoped that all staff will reflect on their personal research agenda and how they might best contribute to the strategic priorities of the School through discussions with mentors, cluster leads and Department Heads."
"Equipped with the above terms of reference, the Review Group has made its decisions. In the following, we have documented a few examples of judgements received:
1) Articles are considered to be CMS/PE because they appear in certain journals such as Organization, ephemera, Culture and Organization, Critical Perspectives on Accounting
2) One colleague is targeted because they are ‘widely quoted in CMS literature’
3) Ideas such as ‘embedding the economy in the social and political’ are not aligned with future strategy
4) An article discussing ‘gender discrimination’ is ‘related to CMS/PE’.
5) A chapter on ‘Foucault in the context of critical organizational research’ is ‘related to CMS/PE
6) An article focuses on ‘political philosophy’ and is therefore ‘related to CMS/PE’.
7) An article focuses on ‘propaganda which suggests it is more concerned with politics than with business’
8) An article focusses on ‘entrepreneurship and finance from a sociological perspective which is not aligned future School strategic priorities.’
9) An article that is ‘mainly a sociological perspective which does little to contribute to debates connected to mainstream business and management understanding or to contribute to future School strategic priorities’
10) An article with ‘media/cultural studies orientation and not mainstream Business studies.’ [...]"
"I am truly sorry that the University of Leicester has come to this; where even mediocrity is a dream to aspire to, where lies and half truths masquerade as knowledge, where academics seek to frighten other academics about what they research and how they can research it, where the closing of ears is the chosen way by senior managers to solve problems, where being critical of management is not acceptable."
"Statistical modelling shows no evidence to support the claim that redundancies in the School of Business are about disinvesting from political economy and Critical Management Studies. By far the most statistically significant factor is union activism. An underperforming Economics, Finance & Accounting professor who researches in political economy has a 5% chance of redundancy if they stay out of the union. However, if they decide to become a UCU officer, the chance of redundancy rises to over 80%."
"The University is aware of posts that have been made on social media by a small number of staff across the University that may be in breach of our Dignity and Respect Policy. In each case, these posts have been reported to the University by concerned colleagues.
"All academic and professional services staff and PGRs within the School were invited and the meeting was attended by 80 people. There were a number of very moving and heartfelt contributions from a variety of participants including academics at different levels of seniority, professional services staff and PGR students in support of the motion. Many expressed sadness and dismay that members of the School were having to have such a meeting at all. Before the poll closed, a participant asked if anyone would like to say something against the motion, however there was no such contribution.
71 people participated in the anonymous vote, of whom 68 voted to support the motion and 3 voted against the motion.
The overwhelming majority of people who voted (96%) therefore indicated that they no longer have confidence in the Dean. This is a very significant measure of the level of dissatisfaction with the leadership of the School and of unhappiness and concern for the situation surrounding the case for change. Every person in the School had the opportunity to come along and vote against the motion and make their views heard. However there were only 3 votes in support of the Dean.
Such strength of feeling should not and cannot be dismissed or ignored."
"When they start to show us respect and allow us some dignity then we will reciprocate in like manner. The attention drawn by the Dean to the dignity and respect policy is, in effect, to threaten the growing number of resistors yet again, but this time with a ‘be nice’ instruction. Keep calm and carry on. Well, not us."
"One can adopt a critical perspective to management, management education and management scholarship or the economy without being opposed to them per se. The opposition to management and the devaluing of mainstream management education and scholarship whilst central to CMS, is not aligned with the needs of a contemporary Business School."
"This leads to serious concerns about transparency – we have seen no credible or clear evidence presented thus far that this was a fair and objective process. Our publications have been dealt with in a very cursory manner with expeditive one sentence judgements on their putative CMS or PE perspective, with no evidence or explanation provided to support these claims. No notes exist about the ‘initial screening exercise’"
ULSB16 - Response to the Addendum of Case for Change document from 30th March (Second Collective Statement)
"We call on the Dean to:
- Reverse the policy of compulsory redundancies within the School associated with the
Case for Change;
- Provide prompt and satisfactory responses to the genuine concerns related to the
Case for Change raised in this Open Letter, but also those detailed in the Research
Committee Consultation Response and the WEMO L&T Consultation Response; and
- Engage in meaningful consultation with academic and professional staff within the
School in order to establish the future direction of the School."
Letters with notice of redundancy
VC - Announcement about outcome of consultation period
Fifth and final all-staff meeting
"We are deeply concerned at the breach of academic freedom in the decision to select candidates for redundancy in the School of Business on the basis of the intellectual approaches imputed to their past writings and research. This is a compromising of academic integrity which is without precedent in other redundancy processes at the University and elsewhere."
Head of College - Update about the process
The appeal hearings took place before and after the 11th August. All appeals were rejected 'in full'.