An improvised opera performance at the Grant Museum of Zoology

UCL Culture's restructure plans come under fire

Jonathan Knott, 14.03.2018
Proposals would remove three museum manager posts
A proposed restructure of University College London’s (UCL) cultural unit that would remove three museum manager posts has come under fire from academics and other campaigners.

UCL Culture, whose responsibilities include managing the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, the Grant Museum of Zoology, and UCL Art Museum, told its staff of plans to restructure the unit on 13 February. The proposals, which have since become public, would involve removing manager posts for the three museums as well as a senior conservator role. Curatorial staff would report to an overall head of curatorial services, enabling them to work across different sites when required.

UCL Culture’s business case for the proposals says that the current structure of the unit is “not conducive to working across the museums, theatre and public engagement areas and, thus, fails to capitalise on the synergies and added value each area brings to the other”.

Overall, the plans will involve removing seven posts and creating sixteen new ones, increasing full time equivalent staff numbers from 48.5 to 51. Staff whose roles are deleted would be able to submit expressions of interest for the new roles.

The business case document says that the current structure makes it difficult to respond to opportunities such as UCL East, a planned outpost in London’s Olympic Park.

It said: “The current site-based structure of the museums function, which attaches a core staff of 3-4 persons to a specific venue, is no longer viable as UCL’s campus grows, the interdisciplinary research context becomes increasingly important, and new spaces for engaging with collections develop.”

But an online petition created by Joe Cain, a professor of the history and philosophy of biology at UCL, argues that the proposals should be rejected because they “move too far away from supporting the needs of academic stakeholders”. The petition also says the proposals would result in a loss of expertise, and that the one-month consultation period, which ended yesterday, was too short.

The petition argues for ensuring UCL Culture’s director has “academic standing” and placing the unit in an academic management line.

Cain told Museums Journal that he had worked for 20 years with elements of UCL Culture to support research, teaching and public engagement. He said that those planning the restructure had “got it wrong” by proposing to remove three museum manager posts currently filled by “specialists in their area”.

“Everybody raves about the individuals who are in the posts now,” said Cain. “Not only do they know the material, they also know the university.”

Cain said he had been copied into more than 250 critical responses to the consultation, including those from academics, museum professionals and heritage enthusiasts within the UK and internationally. “Certainly no one has written to me to say ‘I think it’s a good idea’,” he said.

UCL Culture originally planned to announce the new structure next week and implement it from July, but Cain said that he thought that plan was now “inconceivable”.

He said: “There are very senior people within the university who have listened very carefully to what this campaigning has said.”

A statement from UCL said: “UCL Culture museums and collections services are growing and developing, and we want to be able to respond to this.

“We truly value our museums and none will be closing. Rather, we want to develop new exhibition spaces that bring our collections to a wider audience and the redesign will help us achieve this. For example, a new object-based learning space is in development on UCL’s Bloomsbury campus and we plan on including exhibition and community spaces in our new campus currently under development in East London.

“We have consulted with our internal stakeholders, including academic representatives, as part of a formal consultation on a service redesign.

“Our proposal has key three aims: to improve integration of activities across the department, to offer more flexibility to academics and others according to their needs, and an increased staffing capacity.

“It’s premature for us to discuss outcomes while the consultation is in progress. We welcome input on it and all feedback will be thoroughly reviewed and communicated once the formal consultation is complete.”