30 April 2023

Marking and assessment boycott

The union and the universities have been in a conflict for a while now, about pay and working conditions. There are negotiations, but it's not been resolved. And in the latest ballot, it was decided that we would participate in action so short of a strike. And the crucial part of that action was a marking and assessment boycott. 

I struggle with marking and assessment boycotts. I know the whole point of taking industrial action is to have an impact, but this seems very very big. The big things to mark at the moment are the final work of students about to graduate. If we don't mark it, can they graduate? And is that proportionate?

On the other side of the scale are the first year students. Their grades don't count towards their final agree. So we could refuse to mark their work without feeling too guilty about it, but the problem is, they might just shrug, and the University with them. That would not be much impact! And then there are the second years; they hang nicely in the middle. But should it just be them who take the brunt of this?

Then there is another issue; that is what the University does if you engage in such a boycott. They say that as an employee, you can't pick and choose which parts of your job you do, so if you refuse to do part of it, you don't get paid for any of it. And the University has said that they will not withhold all the pay of staff who don't mark, but I will withhold 50%. And it's not 50% of the pay for the time that you would've spent marking but aren’t; this is really 50% of your monthly wages. Because, as they say, not marking is a breach of contract, and if you do not honour the contract, they don't have to either. So basically, as soon as you refuse to mark one assignment of one student, they can dock 50% of your monthly wage. And I don't know how many of us could afford that.

There was an online meeting with the Bangor University branch of the union. And we had a meeting within the school of ocean sciences. None of us are really sure about the situation! But there was one option; the union does have the right to change the action into an outright strike if they can argue that the university’s threat is too punitive. And if you strike, you only do not get paid for the days you're actually on strike. They won't withhold your entire monthly pay if you strike one day!

The problem with a strike, this late in the day, is that there isn't much teaching anymore. As I write this, there is only one week of term left, and it is a four day week. So if they don't call this strike immediately, the only thing we cannot do because of strike is basically marking, supervision of master students, and preparing for the new year. Some of that is work that needs to be done anyway; if you don't do it because you're on strike, you will have to catch up later, and that defies the purpose of the strike. And with the marking and the supervision of master students we go back to the original dilemma. So there is something to say for it, but also plenty against!

I haven't refused to mark anything yet. The university’s threat surely works on me. And I don't know if anybody else has already nailed their colours to the mast. I have no idea how this will pan out!

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