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January 30, 2021

Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

Posted by John Baez

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, Nishan Canagarajah, wants to lay off all 8 of their pure mathematicians, including the only 2 women with permanent positions, and then rehire just 3 of these mathematicians — to do teaching, but not research. He and his flunkies claim:

[…] to ensure a future research identity in AI, computational modelling, digitalisation and data science requires ceasing research in Pure Mathematics […]

Protest by signing these petitions:

The category theorist Simona Paoli is one of those who will lose her job if this goes through. But the proposed cuts are not limited to mathematics:

UCU members ‘overwhelmingly’ back no-confidence motion in Leicester University vice-chancellor

Union members at University of Leicester have voted overwhelmingly in support of a no confidence motion in its vice-chancellor.

The University and College Union (UCU) members met yesterday to respond to the university’s proposed cuts that have left 145 staff members at risk of losing their jobs.

Some 60 people could be made redundant at the end of a current consultation and staff have been angered by vice-chancellor Professor Nishan Canagarajah’s assertion that the move is needed to “continue to deliver excellence.”

Around 200 UCU members voted in the special meeting on Monday with 98 per cent supporting the motion and no one opposing it.

The affected staff are in five academic departments:

  • English

  • Business

  • Informatics

  • Mathematics & Actuarial Science

  • Neuroscience, Psychology & Behaviour

and three professional services units:

  • Education Services

  • Student & Information Services

  • Estates & Digital Services.

Posted at January 30, 2021 6:42 AM UTC

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14 Comments & 1 Trackback

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

How much of this have to do with the economic fallout of the coronavirus?

Posted by: Madeleine Birchfield on January 30, 2021 8:21 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

There’s certainly a shortage of students, not helped by the demographic dip around 2000.

Posted by: David Corfield on January 30, 2021 8:55 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

I have no independent knowledge of this, but Leicester’s University College Union says that student numbers have gone up, at least recently:

Staff are already facing a triple workload crisis. One year ago, our workloads were unmanageable – to the extent we took sustained industrial action on this question. For 10 months we have continued educating and supporting our students in the midst of a global pandemic. At the beginning of this pandemic the University’s vice-chancellor Nishan Canagarajah and his executive board cancelled the contracts of hundreds of casualised staff, shunting additional work onto the remaining employees. There is a freeze on the recruitment of new staff. Student numbers have increased. Everyone is working around the clock. To make staff redundant now makes no sense. No One is Redundant.

By the way, in the US we don’t use “redundant” as a euphemism for “gonna be fired”, so it still strikes me as Orwellian, especially when non-bureaucrats use it — people who have no special reason to twist our perception of what’s going on.

Posted by: John Baez on January 30, 2021 5:52 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

I hear from someone at Leicester that the school of mathematics is doing very well at recruiting students now, and that Vice-Chancellor Nishan Canagarajah has stated publicly that the planned layoffs are not due to the financial situation.

Posted by: John Baez on January 30, 2021 10:15 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

In case this sounds eerily familiar, you’re not imagining things:

Disaster at Leicester, nn-Category Café, September 2016.

That disaster was (partially?) staved off, but five years later, management are back with another attack.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on January 30, 2021 11:59 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

By the way, University of Leicester has included all books and papers since 2014 of the professors they intend to kick out as part of Leicester’s material for the 2020 REF (research assessment exercise). This is allowed, but it doesn’t seem very fair: the university will get credit for the research of the professors they plan to fire.

Posted by: John Baez on January 30, 2021 10:05 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

Here is a similar petition for Foundations of Computer Science at Leicester, which I think is also a topic of interest to many at this cafe.

Posted by: Sam Staton on February 3, 2021 12:04 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

Thanks! I signed that petition and copied it to the top of my post.

Posted by: John Baez on February 3, 2021 9:31 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

I wrote:

I hear from someone at Leicester that the school of mathematics is doing very well at recruiting students now, and that Vice-Chancellor Nishan Canagarajah has stated publicly that the planned layoffs are not due to the financial situation.

On the other hand, these tweets from the Leicester UCU on January 27th say the university has now admitted their financial situation is dire:

Some financial background to the crisis besetting our university. Formerly one of the UK’s leading pre-1992 universities, the University of Leicester made significant investments in expansion and update of its facilities pre-Covid, and was in a great deal of trouble even then.

The university, in common with many others in the UK, has been hit by a perfect storm of Brexit and Coronavirus, but this ship was already heading full steam down iceberg alley. Brexit has cut Leicester off from its main source of soft finance, the European Investment Bank.

It has been forced to resort to private placements with harder US insurance companies, who probably thought they were getting a good, safe deal for their pensioners and life policyholders: turns out, not so much.

For operating cash flows and managing repayments it has been forced to rely on its local lender, Barclays bank, at much higher interest rates. The financial statements show that it is paying 22% higher interest rates than its accounts declare.

This suggests penalty charges, and emergency overdrafts. Since 2014 administration costs have mushroomed, even while traditional departmental administration was replaced with a call centre model so that administrators are isolated from the academics.

The university senate was drained of its powers. Many departments lost their identity and autonomy, subsumed into colleges, while student numbers began to fall. The university responded like a classic business caught out overtrading.

They borrowed more at higher rates from US insurers on account of unnecessary capital projects. £55 million of policyholder money was used to gloss over the hole in the balance sheet. An Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) was created with financier Equitix Investment Management.

This resulted in the SPV owning 90% of some university property while other lands were just sold off, but the university began to run out of easy cash. Some of the lenders got wise and made the management put £16 million in escrow so it couldn’t be diverted to cover running costs.

But by the end of 2019, the University still only had barely enough cash to cover its liabilities, including the escrow money. Actually, it really only had about 70% of the money necessary, then Covid hit.

The 2019 financials indicate that, going into Covid, taking account of the money in escrow, Leicester was in the same cash to net liabilities position as the London School of Economics was after a semester, and far behind such financially conservative universities as Aberdeen.

The University replaced its Vice Chancellor in November 2019. However, the new Vice Chancellor does not seem to have been able to resolve the situation. The university, unlike most pre 1992 UK universities, has yet to publish its 2019/2020 financial statements.

This indicates significant difficulties, usually a technical breach of covenant with its lenders. Such delays normally result from disagreements with auditors, or other more significant breaches of lender covenants. Assuming no major accounting breach, peculation or fraud, this is likeliest to be a problem with the going concern problem in the financials. Thus, the auditor is waiting for a credible business plan from the university and has yet to receive one. The auditor is Ernst and Young (@EY_UKI) in Birmingham.

The university has finally admitted it is in financial difficulties and has instituted this current round of redundancies. The slash and burn approach adopted will likely make matters worse not better due to a storm of controversy, and escalating negative publicity.

Posted by: John Baez on February 5, 2021 7:35 PM | Permalink | Reply to this
Read the post The Mess at Leicester
Weblog: The n-Category Café
Excerpt: The London Mathematical Society has taken a stand on the proposed layoffs of mathematicians at the University of Leicester.
Tracked: February 12, 2021 7:56 PM

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

The butchering of the University of Leicester goes on. It’s much more than just maths. Academics are now receiving their redundancy notices (letters firing them); here’s one received by a neuroscientist.

The University and College Union — the UK-wide trade union representing academics and academic-related staff — has now put in place a boycott of the University of Leicester, supported by Leicester’s own UCU branch. If you’re invited to do something like speak at a seminar or examine a thesis (added later: oops, that one’s wrong) at Leicester, you are asked to refuse and tell the university why.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on May 12, 2021 7:16 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

It’s a bit sad that the two boycott activities you listed hurt the faculty at Leicester more than the administration. It reminds me a bit of putting a trade embargo on a repressive regime, making the citizens suffer in hopes that their leaders will be pressured to improve their behavior. Are there activities that can put pressure on the administration more directly?

Posted by: John Baez on May 12, 2021 7:50 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

I agree, it’s sad: boycotts and sanctions are a blunt tool, and it’s often difficult to decide whether to use them. That’s why I mentioned that the Leicester branch of the trade union is itself requesting that the boycott be observed. They have a FAQ about it here, but at a quick skim, I don’t think they answer your point (which is a pity — it’s the perennial question about boycotts).

I don’t have any opinion myself on the efficacy of this boycott as a tool, but if the Leicester branch of UCU — which represents ordinary staff and is the key organization fighting on behalf of those facing redundancy — asks us to observe it, that’s good enough for me.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on May 12, 2021 9:32 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

I was wrong: thesis examining is not part of the boycott. Here’s the list from the Leicester UCU website:

On Tuesday 4th May UCU formally announced a Global Academic Boycott of the University of Leicester and informed its members across all institutions.

For UCU members and supporters outside UoL, this means

  • not applying for any advertised jobs at Leicester
  • not speaking at or organising academic or other conferences at Leicester
  • not accepting invitations to give lectures at Leicester
  • not accepting positions as visiting professors or researchers at Leicester
  • not writing for any academic journal which is edited at or produced by Leicester
  • not accepting new contracts as external examiners for taught courses at Leicester
  • refusing to collaborate on new research projects with Leicester.
Posted by: Tom Leinster on May 12, 2021 11:58 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up

NC, poor fellow, displays an astounding ignorance of the power and purpose of pure mathematics and its application to other spheres of the development of human knowledge.

Posted by: John Hammond on May 19, 2021 3:45 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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