Assembly May 2017 – Statement by proposer of motion

The statement below was given to the Assembly by Prof. J Donaghey, proposer of the motion entitled ‘Reforming the University of Warwick’s Employment Statute (Statute 24)’.  You can see the motion here.

Vice-Chancellor, Colleagues,

First of all, I would like to thank Adam Waddington and the 25 other members of staff here today for enabling this Assembly to take place.

It is with much regret that I stand in front of you today to propose this motion. The University of Warwick has been good to me. However, the change which management are proposing in both procedural and substantive terms is a highly regressive step which both decreases job security and threatens the ability of academic to be free thinkers. I feel I have no choice but to speak out on this issue.

Procedurally, these changes are designed to make it easier for management to introduce policy changes to dismiss and discipline academic staff. The University tells us that current procedures “are unduly complicated and unnecessarily adversarial”.  It is difficult to understand how a process around discipline or redundancy could not be adversarial! I’m sorry but the process is not designed to be less adversarial but to get it over much more quickly.  A clue about management’s intention is clear when the Provost says the University needs to be “agile” going forward.  You don’t have to be a professor of industrial relations to know that means the ability to hire and fire much more quickly! We only have to look at the horrendous situation at the University of Manchester this week where 171 job cuts were announced in a cash rich university with £1.5bn in reserves under the excuse of the need for agility.  The scary thing is that Manchester’s new statute offers more protections than the current draft our management are proposing.

Academic freedom is an essential part of the job.  If Universities want academics to produce ground breaking research and scholarship, they must be secure in tenure and have the ability to challenge conventional wisdom, even within their own institution and not be subject to vague threats about “damage to the University’s reputation”.  Last week, de Montfort University, down the road in Leicester, wrote to all the professors in one department telling them they had been identified for redundancy.   There was no University level decision on who to make redundant, merely the Head of Department was told to reduce the headcount and it was left to them to identify the individuals.  These individuals have been told they are expected to be gone by 31st July. I realise this is the post-92 sector but until three days ago there was nothing in the draft Statute or Ordinance to stop the same thing happening at Warwick. This change is to be welcomed but it begs the question of why the five-person academic redundancy committee that Council currently appoint to oversee the process is being abolished.

These proposals are flawed because there is a lack of meaningful checks and balances.  Heads of Department are given swingeing powers which ultimately is a recipe for picking favourites. Everyone knows that there have been good heads of departments and bad heads of departments across the University in recent years.  However, to put this huge discretion in the hands of one person is not good.  HoDs are not Gods!

The University says they want procedures to be fair and equitable, which is part of their rhetoric that this is about having the same processes and procedures for all staff.  I also want there to be fair and equitable treatment for all.  However, the approach of Management is to devise a system that is about levelling downwards, not upwards.  The argument of management is one of pursuing a race to the bottom.  They think we should be happy that everyone is having their standards pushed down.  I’m sorry but to use analogy from the airline sector, just because everyone is flying Ryanair does not make it a good experience.  If management were really interested in equity and fairness they would be looking at improving job security for all, not leading the race to the bottom.  Management want the same policies in areas that work for them but what about academic probation? If the same policies are to be for everyone will management confirm academic staff in post after 6 months? Fairness is too precious a commodity in today’s world to be abused in the way management are doing.

I know management don’t like it being discussed as a “Race to the Bottom” but the provisions contained around academic freedom in the current draft statute are only minimally better than those rights staff already have, dating from s.202(ii) of the Education Reform Act 1988.  This was an act introduced by the Thatcher Government and we know what they thought of worker protections”! In fact, the only addition to this provision is “to avoid unlawful discrimination and promote equality of opportunity, dignity at work and good relations with the University”. Again, this is merely legal duty the University must already follow.   This definition of academic freedom is one of limited scope and contains no provisions about freedom to pursue particular areas of enquiry and the like as outlined in the UNESCO definition.

These proposals are the antithesis of a properly engaged scholarly community: they are proposals which by their very design are meant to place academics in fear and be constantly looking over their shoulders so as not to displease management, particularly their HoD.

To this point, what I have been saying has been critical.  But now some constructive suggestions, management should develop statutes that protect staff and embrace a wider range of protections to us to have the confidence to develop free thinking. Universities are communities of scholars, not managerially led hierarchies. I’ve now outlined in general terms the motivations behind the motion and will now yield to hear inputs from others. I particularly look forward to hearing management’s defence of this race to the bottom.

This was followed up, after other staff spoke in favour of the motion and against the proposals, with Prof. Donaghey’s Right to Reply

Vice-Chancellor, we have heard people speaking against the proposals.  However, NOBODY has spoken in favour of them.  Where are senior management? Why have none of the Provost, the PVCs or chairs of faculty come here to explain why these draconian changes are necessary? I agree with Saul.  I trust many of current managers- Stuart, you know I trust you. However, it is the powers these changes gives to those who come afterwards that is the problem.

Vice-Chancellor, your first blog of the year was entitled “Relationships matter”, so why embark on a route that threatens the relationship of academic staff to their employer? You said “We will not be able to attract a global and inclusive community of the best students and staff from all walks of life to drive genuine innovation in education and research.” Will we be able to attract the best staff when the University threatens their job security and face threats to their academic freedom? Vice-Chancellor, in your email on your first morning you said “I hope this is a useful way of beginning a conversation”. Vice-Chancellor, a conversation involves a two-way communication with both sides listening, but as we’ve seen here today, it doesn’t seem like senior management is listening:  are you listening?