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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

UoA Chief George Boyne Told Colleagues He Wanted Staff To Feel 'Pain Along The Way'

Updated: Jan 20

The UCEA chair pushed for May pay deductions for UCU members participating in boycott


By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Messages sent by UoA Principal George Boyne re: pay deductions for the ongoing MAB. Photo Credit: University of Aberdeen/Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

‘Nothing deducted until the end of June? I’d prefer pain along the way- we can return their money if they change their mind and do the marking.'

- George Boyne, 10 May, 11.23 AM (WhatsApp messsage)


A Gaudie investigation has uncovered a number of emails and WhatsApp messages between members of the University of Aberdeen’s Senior Management Team.


The correspondence, acquired via Freedom of Information request, sheds light on UoA Principal George Boyne's attitude toward members of staff participating in the ongoing UCU industrial action.


Professor Boyne, who was appointed University Vice Chancellor and Principal in 2018, also serves as the chair of employers association UCEA.


Labelling the marking and assessment boycott a ‘horrendous infliction of misery,' Professor Boyne told a colleague in early April that he favoured ‘immediate withdrawal of pay’ for Aberdeen UCU (AUCU) members.


A 3 April email from Professor Boyne to Director of People Debbie Dyker.


'No damage' or 'Their choice' ?


However, in an email to Senior VP Karl Leydecker the day before the MAB began (19 April), Professor Boyne appeared to strike a somewhat conciliatory tone.


He wrote: 'No actual pay deductions unless they miss the deadline for work to be marked on time for students to progress or graduate. No damage, no deduction.'


Later that morning, Director of People Debbie Dyker outlined the University's potential options for pay deduction.


She wrote: ‘The earliest any pay could be deducted would be the end of May as we would have missed payroll cut off for April. That would give individuals at least 4 weeks to decide if they did not wish to participate, having already indicated they would.'


'I am mindful that if we wait until the final deadline in June when marking must be returned and we then backdate this to 20 April, staff will then have no pay in June and a fraction of pay in July if we are not spreading this out for them. I know that is more of an issue for them having participated in the action but just flagging for awareness.’


This time, Professor Boyne’s response was just one sentence.


He succinctly replied: ‘Their choice to have little or no pay in June; our responsibility to make them aware of that potential consequence.’


A 19 April email from Professor to Boyne to members of the senior management team.


‘I’d prefer pain along the way...’


In early May, discussions again turned to pay deductions.


At 11.08 AM on 10 May, Professor Boyne asked in a senior management WhatsApp chat: ‘Will money start coming out of May salaries for MAB?’


Mrs Dyker responded at 11.21 AM: ‘No, nothing will be deducted this week as we were giving them to the last possible date to undertake their marking before we deduct salary…’


Two minutes later, Professor Boyne incredulously replied:

‘Nothing deducted until the end of June? I’d prefer pain along the way- we can return their money if they change their mind and do the marking.’

At 12.20 PM, Mrs Dyker confirmed that salaries would not be deducted until the end of June.


She said: ‘Yes, nothing deducted until June. This is what we have communicated to staff to give them every opportunity to get on and do the marking before it becomes too late.’


Staff received notice of their 50% pay deductions on 28 June, back dated to the beginning of the MAB on 20 April.


University says Boyne's comments were 'unfortunate.'


A University spokesperson defended Professor Boyne's comments as part of the University's strong focus on ensuring student graduations.


They said:


'Throughout the marking and assessment boycott the University remained strongly focused on protecting the interests of our students to ensure that all those due to graduate could do so, and with a classified degree. Likewise, that students could progress to the next year of their studies.'


'Professor Boyne acknowledges that the language used in this short and private WhatsApp message was unfortunate. The context makes clear that this refers to the financial pain associated with pay deductions falling in a single month as leadership teams across the sector discussed potential options to encourage participants to mark and avoid negative consequences for students and staff. This was entirely consistent with our focus on ensuring that students could graduate or continue with their studies.'


In an press briefing last week, Professor Boyne acknowledged the 'financial pain' caused by the deductions.


'There have been negative consequences for some groups in our community, starting with the students...', he commented, adding he regreted 'all of it.'


UCU Blasts Boyne:


Aberdeen UCU reacted strongly to the discovery of the messages.


In a statement, they said: 'The extreme callousness of these remarks lays bare George Boyne’s contempt for the staff who make up this University. This is how he earns his £296K a year—by driving his team of well-paid senior managers to inflict as much ‘pain’ as possible on those who dare to protest against casualisation, pay cuts, unbearable workloads, and inequality...'


'This man is also the current Chair of UCEA, the body representing the employers in the national dispute with UCU.'


'The Gaudie has exposed the ugly truth behind UCEA’s obstinate refusal to negotiate. George Boyne is trying to grind staff into submission. He may find that he has succeeded only in rousing their anger and strengthening their resolve.'


Lecturers respond:


One DHPA lecturer told us:

'George Boyne wants us to feel “pain along the way” – to suffer because we have chosen to take industrial action. What he fails to acknowledge, is that we are taking industrial action because we are already suffering. Our students are suffering...'


Another lecturer, who received significant pay deductions in their June salary, added:


'Boyne's desire to inflict pain along the way shows the intimidatory nature of their response to a reasonable escalation in union action. This was difficult for all staff as we care about our students and this fight was needed as previous action had elicited no meaningful response in terms of working conditions, precarity, equality and pay.'

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