UCU and F2F teaching

(149 Posts)
Pota2 Mon 31-Aug-20 18:05:47

I haven't seen a thread on this so I thought I would start one. What do people feel about this? I have a very low opinion of UCU so maybe my judgement is clouded by this but does anyone else feel that this sudden objection to F2F teaching which starts in 2 weeks is way too late and is being presented in a ridiculous way?

Instead of protecting its members, UCU have been busy sniping and infighting between their factions over the past few months and haven't really done much about the hundreds that have already lost their jobs. Now comes this announcement, months after they knew that most places were considering some degree of F2F and Jo Grady goes on TV saying that this will be like the care homes (err, despite the 0.0016 death rate for under 25s) and that it will cause 50,000 deaths (when one person died of covid yesterday and few people still obey lockdown rules). I just think it's for show and it paints our entire profession in a bad light by using unscientific nonsense.

I think that online teaching inevitably has issues. I don't feel that it's as good for the students as F2F and I think the fee issue is very real. Is it really fair to charge over £9,000 and then deliver some half-baked online stuff (I know lots of academics are boasting about how great their online teaching and how it's good value is but I've been in webinars with some of them and, um, it's not as great as they think)? And surely these issues will still be here in January (which is when UCU propose we go back? Closing campuses indefinitely is surely not an option if we still want jobs? I think UCU believes that the students are always on our side (like they did during the strike) but I think there will be real anger from students if institutions backtrack after they have already paid their rent deposits.

As I said, maybe my view is clouded by my feelings about the UCU and especially the members of the odious Grady4GS faction, so it would be interesting to hear other views. My institution is doing online lectures and the option for students between socially distanced F2F seminars and online ones. They are risk assessing staff for return to campus. Maybe I am wrong but this seems quite reasonable.

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LadyandtheTea Mon 31-Aug-20 19:01:09

I was a bit embarrassed about it - so late. Other teaching unions have been very vocal and clear right from the start about safe reopenings but UCU have seemed fairly quiet until now, so close to the start of the academic year. I wonder if it’s also tied up with the 4 fights campaign (which in the current climate I find difficult to support). I’ve been very disappointed with them and I think they have lost touch. It’s a real shame as there are so many staff on precarious contracts who need a decent union to represent them.

LampLass Mon 31-Aug-20 19:21:23

Agreed, I'm still hanging on as a member as I like my local branch but centrally it's just much too little, much too late

RidingMyBike Mon 31-Aug-20 19:50:18

They've left it so late. I'm really disappointed with them - sick of the number of emails I get! And some of the attitudes! What have they been doing in the meantime?!

GCAcademic Mon 31-Aug-20 19:54:48

I completely agree with you, Pota. There are definitely some risks with f2f teaching but the comparison with care homes is utterly idiotic and has made us look like whingeing, obstructive fools. Now any legitimate concerns we have can easily be dismissed as scaremongering.

Pota2 Mon 31-Aug-20 20:26:52

Thanks, seems I’m not the only one then. I think it’s more sensible to protect those staff who are vulnerable rather than putting everyone’s jobs at potential risk. Maybe I’m also influenced by the fact that I have family members working in industries that haven’t had the option to work from home, including the NHS. I’ve felt lucky to be able to avoid the peak of the virus but I don’t expect this to continue indefinitely.

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RidingMyBike Mon 31-Aug-20 20:48:35

They seem rather hysterical and out of touch. I've been back on campus for nearly two months (I'm academic-related) and it's been fine. Yes, take precautions for the more vulnerable people but it's also seriously scary how many jobs may be at risk very soon.

Pota2 Mon 31-Aug-20 20:59:15

@RidingMyBike it’s good to have your view having been back on campus. For so many jobs, people have been going back for a while now and it hasn’t led to an explosion of cases. There is no reason to think that this will happen on campuses, especially given the huge amount of work that has gone into trying to make delivery safe for all.
Not all students can ‘stay at home’. They might be living with low income parents who don’t have the room or money to support them learning from home for a year. Many move away for uni to escape unhappy home situations. Learning from home depends on having a good laptop and fast broadband which we can’t assume that all students have. There are also mental health and social isolation implications, including for staff who live on their own and enjoy the social interaction that work provides.

The late hour of this just suggests that it wasn’t thought through at all and is making them look ridiculous.

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RidingMyBike Tue 01-Sep-20 10:37:12

@Pota2 the major risk to my health with being back on campus is tooth decay - the cafe in my building had loads of chocolate dated Aug or Sept so they've been giving it away for free!

It's been fine - feels a lot safer than going to supermarket (which I'm not doing as my DH is shielding). There are loads of sensible precautions in place. It's taken a while to get all the areas labelled but that's because there's lots of buildings. A bit more has happened every week I've been back.

Good luck!

dwnldft Tue 01-Sep-20 10:41:18

I really wish there was a union to represent the general views of academics, as opposed to the rather extreme views of UCU.

As a STEM academic it is very noticeable that prominent members of UCU are mostly from humanities and social sciences. It is clearly the case that learning objectives in lab based subjects simply can't be achieved with online learning. And the "scientific" data presented by UCU is at times frankly embarrassing, often displaying ignorance in areas in which many UK universities have world leading experts.

GCAcademic Tue 01-Sep-20 12:53:48

UCU isn't representative of those of us in the Humanities and Social Sciences, either, dwnldft!

Pota2 Tue 01-Sep-20 13:49:05

Yep, another soc sci person who doesn’t feel represented by them! The whole levy thing was atrocious too (not necessarily the levy itself but the clear financial incompetence that led to it having to be applied at very short notice and for all members). How is this omnishambles any better than the union of a few years ago (it’s not obviously, it’s way worse, but was just wondering how people still defend this lot)?

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dwnldft Tue 01-Sep-20 15:01:26

Yes, I understand that they aren't representing many of the academics in humanities and social sciences either. But they truly seem to be ignorant of what is involved in STEM education and research, not just for the Covid situation but much more widely. I wish at least some colleagues in STEM areas would engage, but I can't blame them for not doing so when I myself feel I can't be part of this union.

Illdealwithitinaminute Tue 01-Sep-20 20:59:16

I agree with everything you are saying OP. It's embarrassing to start whingeing at this point- far better to have had input and a proper plan way back. Makes us look workshy which I've started to believe some people might actually be! I'm for going back ftof but keeping a strong eye on the R rate and cases, even a month of ftof of a limited variety would get the first years off the ground in terms of meeting lecturers and making friends and then if we all have to lockdown, which may happen for reasons not to do with campus, then there will have at least been some social contact. I really do not think we can justify staying home and teaching online en masse- makes sense for those of us who can go in to cover for those who cannot/are vulnerable.

Illdealwithitinaminute Tue 01-Sep-20 21:00:22

Also, I've come out of the union anyway now after the strike fiasco last year.

Phphion Tue 01-Sep-20 23:31:43

To be fair, UCU drew up their list of tests for returning to f2f teaching back in May. Individual branches produced their own specific tests in June and, certainly at my university, oversee and sign off on (or not) all the strategic plans for return.

But I guess this unexciting proper work and planning, done in partnership with universities, isn't really on-brand for the UCU leadership who seem determined to take the most hysterical, inflammatory and headline-grabbing stance possible at all times, no matter how embarrassing and counter-productive it really is.

OhTheRoses Tue 01-Sep-20 23:38:14

Why can't we have a more moderate and up to date union? I'd be up for it. Perhaps the worms need to turn and to do it. Simply sick of the negativity which doesn't seem to care about the students at all.

MedSchoolRat Wed 02-Sep-20 06:01:34

I dunno about infactions & I don't care about timing of the comments ... just that I don't agree with any of the high-profile public stances UCU have taken in last 6+ years. I find the pension changes realistic, I'm willing to have some risk in my life from covid. Disappointing since I want to believe in Union membership in principle. Another time I don't belong.

IgnoranceIsStrength Wed 02-Sep-20 06:10:22

They have a big presence in our FE college and last Friday at 4 stamped their foot about the sizes of the rooms we were using for induction on Tyesday Morning...complete panic ensued and everyone came in a stressed and anxious mess yesterday. It was a disaster and we have been back 3 weeks so plenty of time to have raised complaints

Pota2 Wed 02-Sep-20 07:59:33

@IgnoranceIsStrength yes I totally agree that it has increased stress levels. I know that they muttered about the tests etc in June but there wasn’t a strong statement made about it and little to nothing from central leadership about people losing their jobs at the time. I feel way more stressed now that this row has been stirred up and it adds to a sense of uncertainty.

I totally agree about the absence of focus on STEM. My explanation is always that most STEM academics are too logical and clever to fall for some of the bullshit that the UCU comes out with! But at the same time I agree it’s a shame because we could all do with a union that represents and supports us all.

Anyway, I hope my institution doesn’t now change everything again as I have been spending quite a few weeks adapting my materials and planning for the semester. I will resent having to start all over to do a purely online course.

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TheEndisCummings Wed 02-Sep-20 09:05:13

It stuns me how conservative many MN academics are. Nothing like the majority at my averagely political university. Sometimes I wonder if someone's being paid to do these entries. In any case I and my colleagues are really happy about UCUs stance on this in the context of a mass social experiment by an irresponsible government. It also aligns with student representative, The head of NUS. We have seen what is happening in the US. Are you all blind to that? Weird. And all this bullshit about STEM academics being logical. Did you all never hear of other faculties too, like business, soc sci, languages, psychology. Many of the most fervent activists I know are in geography, Chemistry and in Industrial Relations and Economics. Go figure.

geekaMaxima Wed 02-Sep-20 09:20:16

Well as a STEM academic, I am not al all in favour of face-face teaching unless absolutely essential for the module content. I don't agree with all of UCU's posturing but it doesn't mean they're completely wrong on everything.

The risk to me, as someone who is clinically vulnerable but not in the shielding group, is simply too high. It's also too high for my older colleagues (60+), and for my colleagues who live with vulnerable children and adults. Half my department falls into at least one of these categories.

Spending hours in a poorly-ventilated room (as are most lecture theatres, labs and rooms - many don't have windows and/or use recirculating AC), in front of up to hundreds of different individuals across a week, in settings that involve speaking and discussion, is high risk. Seating students 2m apart does not help much when the space is poorly ventilated and exposure is prolonged. I can mitigate the risk slightly by wearing a mask, but it won't have much of an effect unless all the students wear masks too (which isn't going to happen because universities won't make it mandatory). A recent BMJ paper summarised the risks well.

So for a small number of clinical and lab skills, yes: teaching in person is critical. But for the vast minority of content, online delivery will work fine. Enhancing student experience and engagement is not a good enough reason to return to non-critical face-to-face teaching at the moment, and possibly not this academic year at all. I'm lucky that my own university is being quite sensible about it, but I'm aware that other universities are not and are placing academic staff in some truly awful positions.

geekaMaxima Wed 02-Sep-20 09:24:04

Oh - and I can't stand Grady so my opinion is not biased towards her position at all! Quite the opposite.

Pota2 Wed 02-Sep-20 09:44:51

@TheEndisCummings I laughed at the bit that someone is being paid to write these entries. Really? Because someone has a different viewpoint to you you think that it must be made up? I wouldn’t describe myself as conservative either but i feel increasingly alienated from what now passes as the left. My point about logic is probably more aimed at some of the more extreme gender-ideologies promoted aggressively by the majority of UCU HEC. It was tongue in cheek anyway and I apologise for any offence.

As for the point about the US, the handling of the pandemic there has been quite different to here and I don’t think sufficient social distancing measures were put in place on all campuses where there were spikes. There are other countries where universities and schools are back without significant problems but these aren’t mentioned.

@geekaMaxima I totally take your point about safety and poor ventilation. It is a very difficult issue and it is not helped by the fact that the government would be happy to see many institutions go under and will not support universities by offering things like student fee discounts. While some of the RG universities might be able to go entirely online and still retain students, that’s not the case for other unis who will lose students and staff will lose their jobs. Given the statistics on Covid when broken down by age group, even for higher risk categories, complete closure of campuses in the medium to long-term doesn’t seem a viable option to me (and of course so many other sectors have had no choice about working face to face the entire time). I would prefer that very vulnerable people could continue to shield while others who are not returned. I totally understand that others feel different though.

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TheEndisCummings Wed 02-Sep-20 10:02:49

I just find it weird how unanimously everyone seems to be against the current leadership of UCU on this little bit of the board - when that is so entirely not the sentiment at my workplace nor amongst the academics I know (who are admittedly often younger, but not exclusively), nor amongst the academic twitter I follow. I can't abide JG - though my critique comes from the 'old' Left perspective - but I have to respect a Union that is actually standing up for the health of all its members and its constitutive parts.

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