Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Professional/Support Staff

So, as Twitter followers will know, I have been a little annoyed that professional services staff have been repeatedly ignored in the discussion over the USS pension changes and the subsequent UCU strike to protest this.*

*For non-UK followers, many univeristies are part of a pension scheme called the USS. I am not going into technical details (Google if you are really interested), but the gist is that pensions will be massively slashed as a result of proposed changes.

The problem I have is that all of the reporting (both in the mainstream media and on Twitter) has focused on the impact these changes will have on academic staff and the impact the strike will have on current students when their lecturers go on strike.

Well, I have news for you - many professional services staff are members of the USS pensions and nobody cares about us. I genuinely mean that. I went to an hour-long talk in my university held by the principal and it was only in the 58th minute that someone (rightly) informed the principal and the audience that there were professional staff there, concerned and ignored.

So, I was annoyed. And now I am angry. And hurt.

In this thread I used the term "support" staff in addition to professional services. I hate this term, and I am not the only one. I used it deliberately as it is a phrase so widely used in universities and I wanted to make a point about how "non-academic" staff (another phrase I loath) have been erased from the story about the pensions and the strike.

The phrase "support staff" has lost it's meaning I think. I had viewed it as "supporting teaching and learning", which includes facilitating the work of academics and success of students. Now I think it is viewed as subservient, lesser, there to "serve" academics. Now, obviously, not all people treat it like that and view the admin/academic relationship as collaborative, which is what it should be. However, personal experience has shown that some treat professional services staff as less important and less worthy of an opinion around the table. Our work can be devalued, deemed as obstructionist, bureaucratic, or acting as gatekeepers. At the sharp end, we can be used as glorified personal assistants:

I am utterly unsurprised that no one reports on the plight of professional services in this pensions row. This is because we are the invisible side of the university, holding it altogether. We are only seen when things go wrong. And then get blamed for it.

We need to think about language that emphasises that collaboration, that symbiotic relationship between academia and professional services which delivers teaching and learning together. And, at the end of the day, there needs to be respect for our roles...even if it make not be evident to you why we exist, trust me, you would notice if we weren't there.

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