LSE Covid Solidarity Campaign petitions protection for all

On 19 May 2020, a students and staff collective launched the ‘LSE Covid Solidarity Campaign’, to petition the LSE Council, Court of Governors, Director, and School Management Committee to protect all workers and students in this crisis. The petition aims to oppose cuts at LSE in order to protect the most vulnerable at the university and campaigns for the needs of all students and staff, both academic and non-academic, to be recognised and secured. This is in solidarity with similar campaigns, such as #CoronaContract and KCL Petition.

Currently, it is collecting signatures on a change.org petition LSE Covid Solidarity Campaign-Protect Staff, Support Students. At the time of writing, 449 people have signed this petition. Specific commitments demanded include protection for precarious workers: casualised academic and non-academic staff (cleaners, security), PhD students, , fixed term contracted staff, professional services staff (Departmental, Library, etc.), and students. 

Firstly, the petition calls LSE to secure and extend contracts for all academic and non-academic precarious university staff for a guaranteed minimum of two years, regardless of current contract and visa status – in line with the demands of the #CoronaContract. Secondly, it demands that financial cuts, if necessary, should be made at the top of the staff hierarchy, as opposed to redundancies and cuts that will have the greatest impact on the vulnerable. Instituting a 6:1 maximum pay ratio would also redistribute funds from the top to allow those on fixed contracts to be retained. 

Thirdly, it calls for LSE to stop monitoring attendance of international students and staff and to lobby the Government to end hostile environment policies. This means LSE should support its students and staff in applications for visa extensions and associated fees. Finally, all major decisions by the School Management Committee – including furloughs and voluntary severance schemes – should be in full, transparent, and open consultation with the Council, campus Trade Unions, and the LSE Student Union.

A full list of demands for specific commitments to protect each vulnerable group is available to view on the campaign’s website. In addition to the actions listed above, commitments for students range from automatic extensions for PhD students during the crisis, to implementing a no-detriment policy for summative assignments and supporting LSESU Rent Strike efforts. Further commitments for staff range from provision of PPE and hazard pay to cleaners, to guaranteeing institutional access to the library, email accounts/SSO, and school support networks for a minimum of one year after fixed contracts end. 

As reported by the Beaver, furloughing some staff and considering different pay strategies are some actions the School will take due to financial strain. According to Higher Education Statistics, 59% of all LSE academic staff were on a fixed term contract in 2018/19, whilst 41% were on a permanent contract. There is thus significant concern this will be to the detriment of fixed-term staff who face increasing job insecurity, and worsen the existing inequalities within academia. Indeed, on Twitter, LSE Covid Solidarity Campaign retweeted a letter of solidarity with precarious academic staff written by LSE Permanent Staff. At the time of writing, 161 LSE academic staff have signed the letter stating they are willing to take temporary and voluntary pay-cuts to support precarious staff as a last resort.

LSE Covid Solidarity Campaign has also been collecting testimonials from staff and students on its blog. Concerns from LSE Cleaners include the lack of PPE negatively impacting the health and safety of workers and losing their jobs. Given that cleaning and security staff are disproportionately BAME, who are at greater risk of Covid-19, the lack of a guarantee to protect LSE frontline workers and casualised staff who cannot work from home is a significant source of worry.  

Concerns from LSE Fellows include a poor job market, marked by hiring freezes everywhere including LSE. Whilst many will be forced to leave academia at the end of their contracts, those remaining will be forced to endure a greater admin workload, with less research time and professional reputation benefits. Additionally, many student staff are on zero-hour contracts, and have faced uncertainty over whether they would be furloughed after shifts stopped.  LSE has been unable to commit to retaining all fixed term staff during the March 19th Virtual Town Hall, stating that its endowment- valued at £155 million–  is smaller than commonly thought, with most assets invested in buildings. LSE has also asked for a bank loan and is obliged to show a credible financial plan, which includes cuts to staffing budgets. 

The Twitter account posts updates at @lsecovid, #lsecovidsolidarity, #lsecoronacontract. Students and staff can also anonymously share information about their difficulties through this Google form link: https://forms.gle/LrvALMj5jZHvvpET6

This article has been edited to correct the value of LSE’s endowment, which was previously misstated as £155 billion

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