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Staff-Student Protocol

25 Feb 2008 17:31

The staff-student protocol (SSP) is an often misunderstood document. It forms part of the Memorandum of Understanding with the College.

What is it?

The SSP governs the relationship between Imperial College Union, its officers and its employees. At the time of writing the latest copy of the staff-student protocol can be found in the Annex G of the constitution.

Why does it exist?

The SSP is designed to achieve the following things:

  1. Protect the democratic structures of ICU from staff interference
  2. Protect ICU's staff from public criticism by officers

The first point is fairly straightforward: staff should be prevented from taking over the governance structures, as ICU is a union of and for students. This appears to be misinterpreted on occasion - the sections below give a clearer explanation of what it actually means.

The second point, protection of staff, is as much for the protection of ICU as its employees. Employment law provides a number of protections for employees, the primary one being against harrassment.

If a member of staff is harrassed by their employer - in this case ICU or any of its officers - they may feel the need to resign. In law, this could be a case of constructive dismissal. Should the media explicitly attack a member of staff for their performance it is highly likely to get ICU in front of an employment tribunal and may cost money in compensation. Note that criticising the performance of a union department or division is permitted.

How does it limit staff?

ICU's staff must not have an influence on policy decisions, except where they are asked for advice in their area of expertise.

This does not mean staff may not criticise at all. A common misconception is that the SSP prevents staff giving their views on their areas of expertise. Should, for instance, a member of bar staff have a problem with the way things are run, they are perfectly entitled to discuss it with their line manager. Any problems can be escalated through the chain of command up to the Union General Manager and ICU President.

However, a member of staff must not simply mouth off to other officers - their point of contact to students is via the ICU President.

How does it limit students?

The most noticeable effects on students are as follows:

  1. Meetings discussing staff matters are held in closed session
  2. The student media cannot directly comment on the performance of a member of staff, nor permit discussion on message boards

All matters dealing with specific members of staff are carried out behind closed doors. Problems with operational units (catering in general, bars in general) can be discussed in the open, both in meetings and in the media.

Does it affect sabbaticals?

Up to the 2006-2007 academic year (and possibly past that) it did. Student sabbaticals signed employment contracts, so were technically members of staff. The no-confidence of the Deputy President (Graduate Students) caused a number of concerns about the employment status of elected officers who have what resembles an employment contract. Live! also received an email from a trade union concerned at the effect negative press would have on the holder of that position when applying for future roles.