Our Vice Chancellor needs to speak up on behalf of staff amid the ongoing strikes

On Friday 23rd February, Cambridge University’s Vice Chancellor Steven Toope became the latest addition to a list of seventeen Vice-Chancellor’s calling for talks to end the nationwide strikes and readdress the issue of staff pensions.

But why isn’t Edinburgh University’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Peter Mathieson on the list?

Perhaps Edinburgh’s ‘Flexible Learning Week’ came at an all too convenient time for Mathieson. A scheduled pause in the academic calendar postponed the real effects of the strikes in Edinburgh until this week, with the semester’s teaching only resuming on Monday.

However, as the rallies of solidarity at Bristo Square and Potterow Dome fill out and picket lines appear at every entrance to university teaching buildings, our Vice Chancellor’s silence and lack of solidarity cannot be attributed to anything short of cowardice.

In an interview with The Student earlier this month, Mathieson said it would “be crass” if he didn’t listen to the people that “have worked here for a very long time, and have put a lot of effort into getting the university to where it is now”. Less than one month into the role, it seems that he’s already broken this pledge.

Just as the first 100 days of a Presidency is scrutinised and provides a flavour of what is to come, so our Vice Chancellor’s every action – or lack of it – is being watched. Transitions are periods of immense opportunity, to make change and set an agenda, and building positive relationships and momentum in the opening phase of a role is vital for a successful term. So far, the agenda has been marked with alienation and the appearance avarice, creating real despondency amongst students and staff, whose trust will be difficult to regain.

The anger has in fact been exasperated by the new appointment, since the change-over revealed that our incoming Vice-Chancellor accepted a 33% pay rise on his predecessor, with a salary of £342,000 in addition to £42,000 in lieu of pension contributions and relocation costs of £26,000. Pleading poverty over staff pay when their own pay packet is so drastically out of kilter with their colleagues, who have received an average 1% annual pay rise since 2012 (a fall in real terms) and who are having their pensions axed, is non-sensical and hypocritical.

Time is up on the lack of transparency that figures like Vice Chancellors and MPs might have previously enjoyed. Although Mathieson’s newness will likely spare him the expenses exposé that is currently smearing the reputation of other VCs, the issue of this ghastly inequality is unlikely to slide.

Even if UUK and UCU have just agreed to further talks to try to end the disruptive strike action, Peter Mathieson’s silence cannot be overlooked, and he will be remembered for his lack of leadership and solidarity at this monumental moment.


Image: Megan Kenyon

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