Honorary Cardiff University Professor resigns due to university’s handling of industrial action

Professor Tom Bartlett called the university ‘ethically questionable’

An Honorary Professor of Cardiff University has relinquished his role due to Cardiff Uni’s repose to the industrial action.

Tom Bartlett, a Professor of functional and applied linguistics at University of Glasgow sent the letter to Vice Chancellor Colin Riordan in June.

He wrote that Cardiff’s 50 per cent reduction of pay for striking lecturers is “ethically questionable” and that he “seriously doubt[s] there is any legal basis for imposing this penalty” until staff have failed to submit work by the deadline, and not before.

Professor Bartlett worked at Cardiff from 2007 till 2019 and was promoted to professor in 2018.

After leaving Cardiff he applied for an honorary professorship to continue PhD supervision. He was also a leader on the university health board project whilst publishing several papers with Cardiff after he moved to Glasgow.

In the letter Professor Bartlett wrote to Colin Riordan he was “relinquishing [his] role as Honorary Professor at Cardiff University” due to “the continued hostile stance of senior management towards Cardiff University academics undertaking industrial action”

Professor Bartlett said “while the reduction of pay by 50 per cent may be legally defensible”, it was ethically questionable and he seriously doubts “that there is legal basis for imposing this penalty”.

Furthermore he told Professor Riordan that “I consider your punitive approach to be a form of harassment.”

Professor Bartlett denounced Riordan’s statement of “we have no choice but to fulfil our obligation to protect our students.” By commenting: “This is not true. While you indeed have a duty to protect students, you also have a duty to fulfil your obligations to protect your staff.”

Bartlett noted how senior management at Cardiff have a remarkably bad record in making this choice, and stated there was a “toxic relationship” between senior management and staff in the latter years of his time at Cardiff.

He concluded the letter by saying: “While I remain very proud of my connections with Cardiff University, the relationships I fostered and the work undertaken with my colleagues there, I feel compelled to distance myself from the actions of senior management at the university.#WeAreTheUniversity.”

The marking boycott started on 20th April 2023 as part of the pay and working conditions dispute between UCU members and universities across the UK. The university has told staff they would have their pay withheld if they did not mark all outstanding work by 26th June 2023.

In response to Professor Bartlett’s resignation, a Cardiff University spokesperson said: “We are always disappointed when a member of staff chooses to step down from their post. We thank them for their service and wish them well in their future careers. 

“Whilst we accept tensions are running high we do not accept the negative portrayal of staff relations. We accept that there is always more to be done and we remain open to discussion with our staff to ensure that concerns are heard and acted upon. 

“It’s important to stress that we respect the right of staff to take industrial action and appreciate how difficult this situation is for them. However, we reject the suggestion that we have acted ‘punitively’ by withholding pay from those members of staff who refuse to mark students’ work.

“The assessment and marking boycott called by UCU goes to the heart of the contract of employment for academic staff involved in student learning and teaching and affects the fundamental duties of academic staff. We have seen over the last week the negative impact of a small number of staff’s refusal to mark. Those students who are affected are feeling deeply disappointed, worried and anxious – especially when those students should be celebrating the successful end of their University experience and looking forward to their next steps.

Given the seriousness for students, we’ve been left with no choice but to adopt pay deductions in line with other universities. We fully respect an employee’s right to take lawful industrial action and, in turn, we expect UCU to respect an employer’s right to withhold pay for not fulfilling contracts.”

Related articles recommended by this writer:

Cardiff Uni staff to have pay withheld if they continue to strike

Striking Cardiff Uni lecturers will picket at all graduations amidst ‘summer of chaos’

Lecturer slams Cardiff Uni’s graduations where students will receive ‘bargain basement degrees’