Writing campaign 270+ letters

19 March 2018

I continue to receive letters urging rejection of the original proposals. The current count is 270+. They continue the themes of the first 150 (below).

These letters have meant a great deal to front-line staff in UCL museums and collections. They are rich with praise and camaraderie.

I’ve sent three full sets of letters to vice provosts, and I have had respectful and encouraging replies. Oddly, the vice provost responsible for UCL Culture has not replied to a single email set to him. Not even acknowledging receipt.

13 March 2018, 17:10

The consultation period has formally ended. Don’t let that stop your comments (let them decide to read or discard your emails). As of the deadline, I’ve seen 250+ letters urging a rejection of this proposal. From just about everywhere, all were passionate about UCL Museums.

Their original plan was for UCL Culture to consider comments over the next week and announce their decisions on 20 March. I think a lot of people will be watching closely.

What’s been most exciting today is to see the letters submitted from UCL students (!) as well as UCL staff, museum professionals around the world, enthusiasts, self-described “just a member of the public,” senior people, and early career people. A wide cross section of stakeholders around the museums. Also, we’ve seen the “Teach-out” my colleagues in STS helped organised. (On their own initiative, I must say. They are public engagement specialists, and they know how to get people involved.)

I know the response has had an effect. I’ve spoken with senior people within the university about it, and I’ve been included in related correspondence. We’ll see in a week’s time.

Remember, my own criticism relates to this re-structure proposal and the management team who put it together, setting up this poorly designed “consultation”. I have enormous respect for the staff of UCL museums and UCL public engagement. The front-line people are nothing but first-rate. But I think the self-titled “senior management team” needs to consider whether they really have the capability to service this university’s academic mission.

12 March 2018

Today, I sent a package of 130+ letters copied to me recommending the rejection of UCL Culture’s proposed restructure. I labelled this “set 1” and expect to send another as in the time it took to compile the first set, I received 9 more emails on the matter.

This package went to three of UCL’s vice-provosts. These are some of the most senior officials in the university, and all three have an executive stake in the outcome of this consultation. Various of us within UCL have been in touch with them, and others in the university hierarchy, in the past few weeks about this issue.

This is the letter I wrote to accompany those letters:

Regarding UCL Culture’s proposed restructure. In sum, this is a car crash.

Attached are over 130 letters I’ve been forwarded from (1) UCL departments, (2) UCL academics, (3) museum specialists, and (4) other academics and amateurs. The collective view is overwhelming:

  • they urge REJECTION of the proposed restructure
  • they strongly SUPPORT the current staff working in the museums, singing much praise of individual managers, curators, and visitor services staff
  • they CRITICISE the management of UCL Culture for undertaking a consultation without consulting stakeholders

They also are firmly in favour of stronger oversight by academic stakeholders and a change in directorship towards someone with academic standing. Further, there is a range of frustrations associated with the proposed style of reorganisation. I think this raises a fundamental point about the priorities given to university museums: they are not the same institutions as local authority museums, or nationals. They occupy an important niche to serve research and teaching needs, and investigation by dedicated amateurs. This message from the Petrie audience is especially strong.

These letters date predominately from 5-11 March 2018. That’s 6 days. There certainly are more sent directly to UCL Culture, and I continue to receive copies. (Apologies to xx, who received quite a number directly, too.) The rushed nature of this consultation, and its undertaking during a period of UCU industrial action, makes the scale of this response all the more notable. A very quiet “consultation” undertaken during a period when significantly important other activities are taking place, magnify the power of these letter.

Make no mistake. Stakeholders are furious with this direction of travel, and they do not support it. This whole process is not the UCL way, and it ought to be abandoned immediately.

I’m happy to discuss at any time. …

It gives me no joy to openly criticise my university. I am a part of this institution, and I help create what UCL has become and what it shall evolve into. This open campaign has come in response to the (1) severity of the change, (2) the urgency of the timing, and (3) the Orwellian nature of UCL Culture’s consultation (failing to talk with the people who use the museums and have a stake in the services they offer while claiming it was undertaking a “consultation”).

It is an overwhelming joy to read the stories I’ve been sent from academics and amateurs, like me, who use UCL museums and who use them to add meaning to our past, present, and future. Experts in those museums are the key interlocutors in our experiences.

I’ve tried to thank everyone I’ve heard from about this. Again, let me thank you for taking the time. Let’s hope your voice is being heard. Together, we’ve created a roar.

The consultation formally closes 13 March 2018. If you haven’t submitted your views, please read the proposal and submit your views.