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Academics challenge Warwick University over workers’ rights reform

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University staff have called for an assembly of all academic workers to challenge a controversial statute reform which could limit employees’ rights and academic freedom. On Tuesday, it was announced that this meeting will take place on Friday 12 May, between 10:30 and 11:30am.

The Statute 24 reform will repeal most of the current provisions for redundancy, discipline and dismissal, effectively making it both quicker and easier to sack academics. It could also jeopardise academic freedom in niche or less lucrative courses by prioritising the financial imperative.

While the current state allows for appeals to be heard by an experienced and independent lawyer, advised by members of the Council and Senate, the reform would reassign this to two of three departmental managers.

Furthermore, the reform could allow summary dismissal if a member of staff disobeys a Head of Department or engages in “conduct that could damage the reputation of the university.”

The new policy, which will apply to all academic staff members except the Vice-Chancellor, allegedly falls short of the employment security, discipline and dismissal recommendations set out in the UNESCO Higher Education guidelines.

Our governing instruments will continue to enshrine the University’s commitment to academic freedom and to the principles of justice and fairness.

Peter Dunn, Director of Press and Policy

The assembly motion, proposed and seconded by WBS’ Professor Jimmy Donaghey and the History Department’s Dr Jonathan Davies respectively, accused the University of “leading a race to the bottom” and asked the Council not to approve the changes without the support of the staff affected.

Thirty-five academics signed the motion, ten more than the required number. Besides members of Warwick’s University and College Union (UCU), signatories included some Heads of Department who opposed the new methods proposed by the senior management and director of Human Relations.

The University is currently in ongoing consultations with four trades unions; the UCU, UCATT, Unison and Unite. While the management is obliged to consult its staff before the reform, their feedback need not be acted upon.

The change has been bid by the Vice-Chancellor as a push to “simplify, clarify and modernise” the University’s governing instruments.

Warwick Director of Press and Policy Peter Dunn added: “Some of the existing statutes and ordinances no longer reflect our current organisational structures and processes.”

Warwick students will definitely lose out because our working conditions are your learning conditions. Some of our most innovative and outspoken academics will move to more conducive environments.

Member of Warwick UCU

“There is need to ensure clarity on delegated authorities within our systems, and both the University and our trades unions recognise the need for our statutory provisions to be brought in line with modern employment law obligations and practices.”

“Our governing instruments will continue to enshrine the University’s commitment to academic freedom and to the principles of justice and fairness.”

However, sources from the Warwick UCU said: “We believe such a major change in our terms and conditions should be negotiated and that it is much better to have an outcome agreed by all parties than to have management impose these changes on academics against their will.”

“Warwick students will definitely lose out because our working conditions are your learning conditions. Some of our most innovative and outspoken academics will move to more conducive environments.”

“What they are doing is undemocratic and, in terms of institutional stewardship, it is incredibly short-sighted.”

Meanwhile, a Warwick Professor and former Head of Department who signed the assembly call expressed anxieties on pursing potentially controversial research as well as expressing themselves freely at the University, especially with regards to gender and religion:

“Academic staff have a distinctive role, and it is sensible and fair for the University’s statutes to reflect that role. I am aware that even accurate statistical summaries can cause offence.

“Some social scientists tell us we have sold out on women by being scientists, using mathematics, logic and hard evidence. Apparently logic is a masculine construct.”

Another academic added: “I know many colleagues (including myself) who seriously explore job opportunities elsewhere as the University is trying to make it easy to fire academic staff.”

“The wider picture is not rosy. As a result of Brexit, the UK is going to lose almost half of its research income by 2019 and last September already welcomed the lowest number of international students since 2012.”

“Compared to other countries, the UK is exceptional in that even under Statute 24 it does not give tenure to academics, which is normal in most other countries such as the U.S., Canada and most European countries.”

“Who would like to stay or come under these circumstances?”

The UCU has been in contact with academic staff, members of the Senate and local MP Jim Cunningham over the issue, and intends to set up a petition for students. It has also considered pushing for industrial action should the University ultimately choose to go ahead with the reform.

What they are doing is undemocratic and, in terms of institutional stewardship, it is incredibly short-sighted.

Member of Warwick UCU

This comes after the University was involved in a labour conflict as Warwick for Free Education (WFFE) staged a 14-day occupation of the University’s new £5.3 million conference centre last December. The Vice-Chancellor ultimately agreed to include hourly-paid teachers in union pay negotiations, but rejected WFFE’s call to opt of the controversial Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

The marketisation of higher education and casualisation of its workforce have increasingly come under public scrutiny. A recent Guardian report found that Russell Group universities employ well over half of academic staff on insecure contracts, more than any other type of UK university.

Meanwhile, a survey from March 2016 suggested that 24% of Warwick’s hourly-paid teachers are effectively paid less than minimum wage.

The issue has been gaining traction in universities around the UK. Last week at the University of Leeds, a statute reform which would facilitate staff dismissal led to clashes between the Vice-Chancellor and UCU, which plans to vote on industrial action unless negotiations are resumed.

At Warwick, the reform was initially scheduled for the next academic year but has now been postponed to January 2018.

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Comments (1)

  • anonymous former staff

    Dangerous.
    Peter Dunn has himself been caught out lying to an employment tribunal, and distorting investigations to effect dismissal of staff who were otherwise performing, and the “disobeying a request from a manager/chair’s is far too Draconian anyway, but exceptionally dangerous when you consider that an academic’s global status can be enhanced or reduced by competition on his or her own department, and also the intensely competitive and political cultures In some departments. Unethical department leaders already play personal games, but allowing the freedom for a politically motivated chair to force an academic rival to either take on too much administrative responsibility (to damage research output) or face dismissal if the refuse..Damaging their research output, is extremely dangerous in the direct sense, but also indirect, in that this will mean chairmanship politics will be ramped up to include the “shit, if x gets the job, they’ll damage me or fire me, so i better support the rival’ etc.

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