Four weeks of strikes began early on the morning of Thursday 22nd February with UCU picket lines set up across campus as many staff refused to teach, in defence of their pensions. Students joined in and attended a sit-in, on the Vice-Chancellors Lawn opposite Fielding Johnson, organised by students Elsie White and Amy Wood. The turn out for this event was incredible with hundreds of students turning out in solidarity with their lecturers, stating they would #RatherBeInLectures.
Paul Brook, an Associate Professor at the university made an empowering speech regarding the event saying he was ‘sick to the stomach of social injustice’ and stated that the political apathy that is often associated with the University of Leicester was coming to an end as everyone united. He also told students directly that he wasn’t just there supporting the strike and his colleagues, but “defending your futures” because “I’m probably going to be alright, but you won’t be”. This rousing statement led to cheers from the audience and gave many others the confidence to take centre stage and speak up for what they believe in.
As the protest gained support, the administration in the Feilding Johnson Building could no longer ignore their students and Dave Hall, the Registrar and Chief Operating Officer, attempted to reason with the crowds. He explained that he understood the motives of the protestors, but that Paul Boyle was (conveniently) overseas on university business and would not be able to address those participating.
Later, in a private interview, Hall diplomatically stated there were “very polarised views about the state of the pension fund” and acknowledged it as a “complicated issue”, but that this pension scheme is “better than what some other workers get”.
The President of the Student’s Union, Amy Moran, thanked the crowds and made it clear that the pension issue was not the only reason such support had been mobilised. The appointment of former government minister David Willetts has been a major source of controversy since it was announced, and Moran stated that ‘as a working class woman’ the decision was ‘insulting’, especially to a university that stands as a representative of the international HeforShe campaign.
The UCU Committee at Leicester have urged Vice-Chancellor Paul Boyle to help his staff and assist in restarting negotiations as a member of the UUK executive committee but have been met with no support from the man that infamously does not answer his emails. Protest organiser Amy Wood responded to this issue with ‘we will not ignore your negligence for our education Paul Boyle’, laying the blame for missed classes on the VC and not on the staff making a stand.
LGBT+ Officer for the Leicester UCU Committee Chloe Vitry represented the striking staff by saying that they were ‘overwhelmed and incredibly moved by the student support’, and stated that she shared the feeling of students and would much rather be teaching. Vitry summarised the reasoning for the event, saying that as a teaching fellow, she simply hoped that ‘UUK and Paul Boyle come down from their ivory tower’ to minimise the impact these strikes have on students educations.
Stand in solidarity with your lecturers. #RatherBeInLecturers