From the start, the University Executive underlined the importance of engaging with the consultation if the new-look structure was to be delivered successfully. Your views have not only been heard, but actively used to help shape our future.
Our staff community has since taken the Vice-Chancellor at his word, scrutinising and challenging the plans and offering counter proposals in response. After personally responding to 200 emails and being involved in a series of face-to-face meetings, Sir Christopher said there had been a range of opinions, but he felt the majority of respondents had engaged positively with the proposal. Speaking to Southampton Staff Connects he says:
“The apprehension has been around how well this change will go. I think that has been amplified as the change process didn’t go as well as it could have done in 2010/11. We wanted to understand what wasn’t done as well as it could have been, and take steps to avoid that happening again.”
Engaging wholeheartedly in the consultation have been staff within Mathematical Sciences. The prospect of effectively splitting the subject between two faculties was part of the proposal that, in their view, needed challenging.
It had been suggested that the majority of Mathematical Sciences would be kept within the new Engineering and Physical Sciences faculty, while Statistics and Operational Research would be ‘spun out’ to sit within Social Sciences. This differed to the rest of the restructure plan, which involved whole subjects moving in more of a so-called ‘lift and shift’ approach, aimed at minimising the impact of the changes.
Professor Jon Forster, Head of Mathematics, was among the group which led the representations against splitting the subject.
He explains: “Whatever the merits there would have been of the original proposal, there would have been great difficulties associated with it as well.
“One of our main concerns was around losing the attractiveness of our offer to prospective students. We have a broad-based Mathematical Sciences offering which allows students to come in as good mathematical students and really find their niche across that broad area, and it would have been a challenge for us to continue to have that appeal if we were split.”
More than 30 emails were considered and several meetings held to discuss a counter proposal of keeping Mathematical Sciences together.
Sir Christopher says: “Colleagues in Mathematical Sciences prepared compelling arguments and presented two papers on the matter.
“We wanted to make sure that we made the right decision which wasn’t arrived at in a simplistic fashion. It was important for me to be involved and understand the rationale behind the proposal. The conclusion was for Mathematical Sciences to remain in the Social Sciences faculty. It was a very good example of effective consultation, which was entirely positive and considered.”
Jon adds: “There was a feeling of relief certainly that we would not be split up and I was pleased too with the way we had come together as a Mathematical Sciences community. There was a real sense of togetherness in the whole process and that was very satisfying to see.”
Developments throughout the restructure consultation period have also included:
Sir Christopher concludes: “I think this has been a relatively new way of thinking; not being dogmatic about these changes but showing a lot more understanding and respect to the people who are at the heart of it.
“I hope colleagues appreciate that I am happy to receive constructive challenge and I encourage them to question what we are proposing. After all, if you can’t do that at a university, where can you do it?”
The next meeting of Senate is on 14 February and will inform the discussion of subject structure at University Council on 14 March.
The new faculty structures will commence on 1 August, although some changes, especially in Professional Services, will take longer to implement. Colleagues are encouraged to contribute to the ongoing consultation.
The process of implementing the new faculty structures and the development of Professional Services will be progressing over the coming months, in collaboration with colleagues in both Faculties and Professional Services, and is likely to continue into 2019.