On 12 May 2017, members of academic staff at the University of Warwick voiced their overwhelming opposition to the university’s plans to gut its employment statute because of their concerns about the impact on academic freedom and job security. 97% of the assembly (over 140 people) voted in favour of a motion calling on the university to rethink its approach.

The motion, proposed by Professor Jimmy Donaghey of Warwick Business School and seconded by Dr Jonathan Davies of the History Department, calls for the university to keep measures for redundancy and serious disciplinary matters within statute and for any changes to statute to be agreed through the democratic structures of the university, including agreement with the recognised trade union.

Professor Donaghey noted that the proposed changes were “regressive” and would impair “the ability of academic staff to be free thinkers”.  He also attacked the university’s claims of equity, arguing that the proposals represented “levelling downwards and not upwards”.  In a strongly-worded statement Professor Donaghey challenged management to justify this “race to the bottom”.

A string of speakers from the floor drew attention to various concerns particularly around academic freedom and ability of the university to recruit world-class scholars. No one spoke against the motion, even when explicitly invited to do so.  Members of management, other than the VC who has to chair assembly meetings, were conspicuous by their absence.

Professor Saul Jacka, one of the longest-serving professors and a member of Senate, drew attention to the fact that while the university’s proposals might be acceptable in times of benign management, he feared for what might happen if any future regime was minded to operate differently. Another speaker from the floor highlighted that since both sides were in clear agreement about the importance of academic freedom, it was important to consider whether the current proposals would extend or curtail academic freedom. He argued that they would inhibit the ability of researchers and teachers to ask those “inconvenient” questions which challenge received wisdom and thereby extend the boundaries of knowledge. Another contribution from the floor dismissed the university’s reforms as unnecessary and urged the vice-chancellor to build trust between academics and management which had suffered much damage during the previous VC’s tenure.

University of Warwick UCU branch president, Dr Justine Mercer, commented:

“This is a hugely important victory. The proposals which are on the table will seriously erode job security and academic freedom. We have been arguing for five months that university management need to take a step back and rethink their approach to this reform. We have offered an alternative model statute for discussion which we would like to see taken forward. A university such as Warwick which aspires to be world-leading should not be undermining academic freedom and eroding the job security of the staff on whom that reputation rests.”