Goldsmiths embroiled in second racism row as hundreds of academics are laid-off

24th Jul 2020
Goldsmiths embroiled in second racism row as hundreds of academics are laid-off

Goldsmiths Main Building (Credit: Alex Blandford/Flickr CC)

Nadine Osman

Goldsmiths, University of London is embroiled in a second race row in over a year following management’s decision not to extend hundreds of casualized contracts in the wake of the coronavirus crisis

Goldsmiths confirmed that it is to let 343 contracts for Associate Lecturers and Graduate Trainee Tutors expire before the end of October, a move campaigners argue will disproportionately affect BAME and female academics at the institution.

Following a 6-month occupation by mostly students from BAME backgrounds, last year management conceded to several demands to ensure better race equalities practice across the College including tackling the BAME attainment gap and the ‘diversity issue’ among staff who have student-facing roles.

“To be letting so many BAME staff go is to devalue the extra emotional labour we carry on supporting our students, as well as not honouring their commitment to increasing diversity at Goldsmiths,” a staff member told The Muslim News.

In a statement to The Muslim News, Goldsmiths has denied suggestions that approximately 75 per cent of those being laid off are of a BAME background, insisting that 22 per cent of Associate Lecturers (AL)/Graduate Trainee Tutors (GTT) and 31 per cent of all academic and non-academic staff on FTCs identify as BAME.

“It is normal for contracts to end in this way, and it would be extraordinary and unprecedented for us to look to extending them over the student summer holidays when the vast majority of these teaching staff would not normally be employed by us,” said a spokesman for the University.

Milly Williamson, Goldsmiths University and College Union Equalities Officer told The Muslim News, “There is a mixing up of different types of casualized contracts for academic staff and there is a further conflation of academic staff on casualized contracts and other staff on casualized contracts.

Casualized academic staff can be on Associate Lecturer or Graduate Trainee Tutors contracts or Fixed Term Contracts. Each of these contracts is different, although they are all casualized.”

“The union position has always been that nationally it is well-evidenced that the majority of staff on casualized academic contracts are those with protected characteristics under the 2010 Equality Act. Given that Goldsmiths refuses to provide us with any figures to the contrary, we had to assume that this pattern is repeated here.”

That sentiment was echoed by one of the BAME academics whose contract will not be renewed. The academic insisted that regardless of the discrepancies in the level of disproportionate lay-offs “the inequalities regarding Black and Minority Ethnic staff facing redundancy and those who are women, is still not good and is evident of institutionalized racism within the College.”

The academic who wishes to remain anonymous also rubbished managements’ claims that “FTC staff on contracts that would expire and not normally be renewed” adding that it “does not account for contracts ending at the end of the summer, and where there are still vacancies that these contracts would otherwise have been continuing to cover with extended contracts.”

Staff have also questioned management’s argument that there is a ‘diminished need’ for teaching due to Covid-19 and uncertainty about student numbers.

Insisting that the move to online teaching “means the very opposite… With the loss of our AL’s and GTT’s who are largely responsible for seminar teaching and practical’s this adds to the teaching load.

Staff who are carers are also concerned about managing their increased workloads while also having to home school or care for dependent relatives. And obviously, these caring concerns are affecting women and their abilities to engage fully in teaching and research.”

Adding that the employment of the former Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC as a Visiting Professor for the new and as yet student-less law department “contradicts management’s insistence that the lay-offs are a result of the impact of Covid-19 and uncertainty about student numbers.‏‏”

However, the University has since confirmed that Grieve was appointed to an unpaid role.

Several departments have now issued statements signed by staff in support of those staff targeted for job loss.

“The university has said it would review all of these contracts, but people’s contracts are ending in June, July or August and the review process hasn’t even started. We feel we are being gaslighted. We don’t know what is going on,” the academic said.

Casual staff in three departments — anthropology, art, and media and culture — have begun a marking boycott in response to the proposed cuts, demanding that contracts be extended until October.

Meanwhile, on June 16, Artist Evan Ifekoya — the art department’s sole black permanent member of staff — resigned in protest of the “unreflective and combative racism” they experienced at the prestigious art school.

“I refuse to carry the burden of being the only permanently employed Black member of academic staff within the Art Department at Goldsmiths,” Ifekoya wrote in an open letter, titled ‘Withdrawing my labour’ that has circulated widely on social media. “To be so within a team of 70 plus people — a tiny fraction of whom are people of colour — in 2020 is not acceptable.”

The statistics are especially bad for the Sociology Department, where all three of fixed-term contracts are held by Muslim women of colour.
Goldsmiths says it will review which contracts need renewing to teach the students in September “when we have a better idea of the impact of Covid-19 on student numbers.”

  • This article was updated on Monday, July 27.

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