James Furner is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Sussex. James has been on consecutive fixed term contracts since 2021, poorly paid on a part-time basis. Despite this, he has just published a second book, and his modules are very popular. Now the university is repaying James by declaring him redundant – having advertised a new full-time post which states that all his teaching ‘will be expected’ of this permanent post-holder. You’d think that a university with a philosophy department could spot a contradiction.
Sussex’s Redundancy Procedure allows for a redundancy if ‘the University’s requirement/s for members of staff to carry out work of a particular kind’ is/are ‘expected to cease or diminish’. How can this justify James’s redundancy when the university is not reducing staff in philosophy, but seeking to hire an additional lecturer using an advert that confirms that the four UG modules that James convenes will continue? As accepted in the employment appeal case of Barot v London Borough of Brent, ‘“if, overall, the business still requires just as much work of the particular kind in question and just as many employees to do it, then there is no redundancy situation, even if individual jobs disappear”’.
The university is not only ignoring its Redundancy Procedure, it has ignored the facts. The only activities described in the advert for the new post as ‘expected’ are the four UG modules that James convenes.
With manoeuvres like this, it’s no wonder that the university has refused to meet James in person. It prefers online tick box exercises to genuine discussion of alternatives, ignoring the commitment in its Redundancy Procedure to ‘endeavour to seek to safeguard the current and future employment of members of staff as far as reasonably practicable’.
The alternative to redundancy is clear: rehire James for as long as his teaching is expected to continue. As the university’s own job advert says, that means permanently!
Nothing about this decision makes sense. Will treating staff immorally encourage students to study Ethics at Sussex? How does this square with the University’s values of Kindness, Integrity, Inclusion, Collaboration and Courage? Why is an institution with a net operating cash inflow of £57m still hiring part-time staff on one year contracts, let alone firing them??
Sussex UCU opposes this act of self-harm to the University’s scholarship, teaching and reputation. Sussex UCU Branch President, Jo Pawlik, says:
“This decision flies in the face of the progress on anti-casualisation that we have been making with our employer at Sussex over the last year: it is as baffling as it is enraging. Refusing this current employee job security continues the pattern in the sector of treating academic staff as though they are expendable. It is irreconcilable with the University’s ambition to be an employer of choice”.
2nd year Sussex philosophy student Callum Gandy says:
"I was greatly looking forward to James's Ethics module next year and am hugely disappointed to hear that the university has made this decision"
1st year Sussex philosophy student Jay Lynch says:
"I was one of your students from Society, State and Humanity last year; I have just heard the news about the university's attempt to make you redundant and I am outraged. I am so sorry they have tried to pull this completely undeserved move on you, me and all the students from your course are behind you in supporting you and the UCU in reversing this despicable move from the university.
Your course last year I found was fantastic, and I was deeply looking forward to being taught by you next year for Feminist Philosophy and Philosophy of Race modules, and I do hope that you will still be able to teach us next year for these courses and that this is just a small hiccup."
Statement from Darrow Schecter, Professor of Critical Theory & Modern European History, University of Sussex:
“It seems ludicrous, not to say legally questionable, to try to eliminate a post whilst simultaneously advertising an almost identical post. This is bad academic and management practice which will reflect poorly on Sussex at a time when we need to attract prospective students and staff with good publicity. In this instance, redundancy is very likely to produce an appeal that will present the public with a negative impression whilst also making for a bad workplace environment for all of us already working and studying in the School of Media, Arts and Humanities. To do this to James amidst all of the ostensible campaigns for kindness at work will do nothing other than foment cynicism and bad will.
Apart from the fact that this move is ill-considered in academic and management terms, James is an internationally recognised expert in his field of research. Moreover, he is clearly an asset to Philosophy and MAH, in that he is very capable of teaching a wide variety of courses outside of his field, thereby enabling him to cover for colleagues who have received research leave or a grant.
Please reconsider this decision and help all of us in MAH start the 2023-2024 academic year on a positive note.”
Statement from Matthew Evans, Senior Lecturer, School of Law, Politics and Sociology, University of Sussex:
"I am shocked and disappointed to learn that the University is attempting to make Dr James Furner redundant, whilst simultaneously advertising a permanent role expected to covering all of Dr Furner's teaching.
Dr Furner is a highly regarded teacher and researcher, and I know from personal experience - having worked alongside him in the Department of Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand prior to either of us joining Sussex - that Dr Furner is an engaged and collegial academic.
This kind of fire-and-rehire tactic goes against the purported values of the University, goes against natural justice, is legally questionable, and is only likely to harm the University's reputation, damaging industrial relations and student experience. Please halt and reconsider this decision."
Statement from Andrew Chitty, FRSA, former Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Sussex:
“James Furner is a former PhD student of mine, whose published work I have followed ever since he completed his thesis. In my view this work is of the highest standard. In particular his newly published second monograph, Rescuing Autonomy from Kant, which has been nominated for the prestigious Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize, is to my mind the most original contribution to Marxist political philosophy in the analytical style to have appeared in the last decade. Having taught in the Sussex Philosophy Department for 27 years, I have no doubt of James’s ability to teach at UG and MA level across the core curriculum of the Department. As far as I can see the University’s attempt to declare him redundant is based on narrow technical grounds that are unsustainable in either law or natural justice. I would urge the University to withdraw from this attempt.”
James is facing unemployment at the end of August – less than two weeks’ time. He and Sussex UCU are fighting this decision BUT he needs all the help he can get, so please contact Vice-Chancellor Sasha Roseneil (firstname.lastname@example.org) and HR Director Colin Shipp (email@example.com) ask them to halt this unprincipled and wrongful decision, which will set a terrible precedent for how Sussex University and the Department of Philosophy treat its staff.
Please sign our petition to demand that the University withdraw from its attempt to dismiss James and instead make his present post permanent!