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Students’ Union Sabbatical Officer Team: It Is Not Safe to Reopen Campus

We are writing today with an urgent and immediate concern for the safety of students and staff at Goldsmiths, and the local community. We are urging Goldsmiths’ Senior Management Team (SMT) not to reopen campus as they have planned, and move teaching online with immediate effect. Not doing so risks the lives of our community.

We have been working tirelessly over summer to ensure the feedback we have received from you - incoming and continuing students - is centred in University planning on Covid-19. We have been in contact with you on a range of issues: accommodation, assessments, finances, teaching, visas, placements, counselling services, timetables and access to resources. On some of this we have been successful in our lobbying, for example in pushing the University to introduce a no detriment policy equivalent, offering extensions, and introducing a fund for students to purchase tech equipment so they could engage with online learning. 

It is truthful to say that we have passionately disagreed with the University’s approach on multiple occasions. To name only a few, we thought the campus lockdown was too late, we were concerned with the way cleaners and security reported feeling unsafe on campus and casualised staff were dealt with abysmally, forced into further precarity during a global pandemic, we equally did not think that on campus student accommodation should have been offered at full room capacity - it is built for integration not isolation.

Over summer, the virus has shown no signs of going away, and the government have shown they cannot be trusted or relied on to protect the public. Goldsmiths’ leadership needs to be proactive and go above and beyond government advice to prioritise the livelihoods of students. The Senior Management Team have taken the decision to offer “blended learning,” a mixture of online and face to face teaching. This will mean thousands of students and staff coming onto campus and interacting with each other, forcing commuter students to use public transport to travel to campus, and increasing the likelihood of a local Lewisham lockdown. UCU, the academic staff trade union, have opposed this course of action, saying Universities could quickly become “the care homes of a second wave.” Independent SAGE, a group of scientists providing independent advice on the COVID-19 crisis, has also recommended that online learning should be the default position. Terrifyingly, we have seen outbreaks and lockdowns already happening at Universities that have opened early, namely Glasgow, Birmingham, Liverpool, St Andrews and Dundee. As cases rise, we have watched students be scapegoated, and forced to shoulder individual responsibility for a crisis both government and universities walked straight into. All the evidence is stacking up to make it clear that the current plan to reopen campus will be disastrous.

We are today urging the leadership of Goldsmiths to prioritise student and staff health, prevent the risk of outbreaks in the local area, and immediately halt any face to face teaching for term one and move online. We are also demanding that:

  • Adequate time and resources are allocated to the demands of online teaching. Integral to this is the status of casualised staff (those who are on fixed-term, precarious contracts aka not permanent) who have faced insecurity and threats of contract termination throughout the summer.
  • The approach for students on placements should be immediately reviewed, prioritising the safety of those students from risk of infection.
  • Vital spaces like the library should remain open so long as risk can mitigated and both students and staff are kept safe - so that students who can not work from home are still able to access resources.
  • Students should have the right to leave rental contracts in halls, or delay taking them up.
  • Increase and sustain hardship funding and the Online Learning Access Fund OLAF - a third of students will struggle to access online learning because of resources: there needs to be urgent funding to address digital poverty.
  • A localised test and trace system in college is set up.
  • Urgent provision is put in place for students’ mental health. We want students who are working remotely from outside of the UK to be offered the same provision as students inside the UK, e.g. have the same counselling available.

We are concerned that this matter is now about life and death, which we do not say lightly. We know that none of what we are saying will be easy to read, but our entire mission and purpose is to act in the student interest - and nothing could be more important than your health and welfare. If Goldsmiths’ Senior Management do go ahead and reopen campus, it will put you at risk, staff at risk and the wider Lewisham community at risk. We urge you to join us in asking Goldsmiths to change their approach immediately.

In solidarity,

The Goldsmiths Students’ Union Sabbatical Officer Team

Fowsia, Lauren, Niquella and Sara

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