Briefing to Colleagues

The purpose of these briefings is for you to have detailed, and yet concise information about the process of redundancies at the University of Leicester School of Business (ULSB). As you know 16 people have been put at risk of redundancy. They are now in a consultative process which will determine, over the next weeks, whether they will be made redundant. As early as 1st of August 2021, all 16 may be without jobs.

What is going on at ULSB?

The university proposes to disinvest from two areas of research. The university calls these areas Critical Management Studies and Political Economy. The purpose is to free resources to invest in other areas, such as quantitative Data Analytics, Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Leadership. In order to free resources, some academics in the school will be made redundant. They are chosen on the basis of their research areas, namely: any colleague working ‘primarily’ in the areas described as CMS or PE will have to go.

How were the 16 selected from the redundancy pool?

With the beginning of the pre-change engagement, the university identified the department of MISO, and the divisions of M&O and W&E as potential areas for redundancies. Writing the business case, it was determined that CMS and PE will be areas to divest from. In the weeks since the pre-change engagement, the ULSB’s Dean and Deputy Dean have conducted a ‘initial screening exercise’, of all ca 70 colleagues in scope (All R&T staff in the three groups). Using a ‘basket of indicators’ which includes journal publications, grant applications, staff university websites and self-descriptions dating back to 2014, the Dean and Deputy Dean claim to have screened 70 colleagues work, read papers and abstracts, and made the decision of who to include on the basis of their research being primarily in CMS/PE. 

How is CMS/PE defined in the redundancy case?

The Dean and Deputy Dean, who are not working in these areas of research, have used arbitrary definitions consisting of the following:

CMS is defined as:

  • deep skepticism of prevailing conceptions and forms of management and organization
  • profound questioning of the authority and relevance of mainstream management thinking
  • CMS scholars have also characterized mainstream business education as being irrelevant and falsely justified as ‘practical’ and ‘business relevant’.
  • CMS draws on ‘post-structuralism, post-modernism, anarchism and autonomism’

The first two definitions seem to indicate that CMS is mainly about being critical of other management research and scholarship. This seems to mean that researchers identified as engaging primarily in CMS would spend most of their research time on being critical of management practices and being critical of management research.

Point 3 is really about business education, so this would seem to apply only to scholars who reflect, in their research, on business education and do so critically.

Point 4 is the broadest definition, by stating that CMS is drawing on a variety of perspectives and pointing to four specific intellectual areas. We are still not clear whether that means that any engagement in any of these traditions counts towards being considered a CMS scholar. In any case, many approaches draw of these intellectual areas that this cannot be considered a valid definition of CMS.

PE is defined as:

  • The study of how marco structures of PE relate to the activity of business organizations
  • The study of micro structures of PE as they occur in organizations
  • It is not about ‘orthodox PE as in rational choice theory’
  • Study of ontological and epistemological underpinnings of diverse field in Business and Management Studies, with a commitment to social justice’

The first and the second aspect of this definition are hard to separate. In any case they do not define PE, rather says how it is being used. 

The third aspect rules out PE as defined by some economists in the rational choice tradition.

The fourth point is a very wide definition which may include all sorts of research which is interested in ontology and epistemology, and also has a normative impetus. This can hardly be a valid definition of Political Economy, as it covers all kinds of research. 

Both definitions are thus very specific in some respects and very wide in others. 

It is important to remember that any process of making someone redundant must be based on fair and objective criteria. It is hard to see how this is possible on the basis of these criteria. Indeed, as the research committee has also stated, the areas of CMS/PE are not so much defined as research areas but as attitudes or perspectives.

The process has grave implications for academic freedom, as attitudes or perspectives rather than actual research areas seem to be in question.

What about consultation on this process?

Following the announcement of those at risk of redundancy, the school is currently in a formal process of consultation. This primarily with the trade unions and secondly with the individuals involved. 

However, we understand that the Dean has invited all constituent bodies of the school to be involved in the consultation. In this spirit, the research committee has already discussed and drafted a statement, and other comittees, divisions and departments will likely follow.

In the individual consultations, the question is for the employer to show that their initial screening was correct, and that colleagues research is actually primarily in CMS/PE as defined. While most elements of the definition are narrow and specific, some aspects of the definitions are so wide that anyone engaging in any type of research may reasonably be covered by it.

We have repeatedly asked for the selection criteria — the objective and fair method that identified fit between our research and these ill-conceived definitions. We have yet to receive an answer. The Dean and Deputy Dean simply repeat the list of sources, telling us that journal publications, grant applications, staff university websites and self-descriptions dating back to 2014 were used.

It is inconceivable, when using these broader definitions, that only 16 were deemed to be at risk. It is hard to see how the process can be regarded as fair and objective.