Universities are important for the development of critical thought, for challenging those in positions of power, and for finding out about the world. Central to their ability to do these things is academic freedom: the principle that people who work at universities can investigate and express opinions freely without fear of reprisal.
This principle is currently under attack at the University of Leeds. Management at the university want to modify the institution’s statutes to permit the sacking of staff for ‘Some Other Substantial Reason’ (SOSR). Third-party pressure falls under SOSR; so, for example, the change would allow the dismissal of a researcher because her findings displeased a major corporate funder of the university.
Members of UCU at Leeds are in dispute with management over the SOSR and over other changes to statutes relating to the chairing of dismissal panels. We have taken strike action and are involved in ongoing action short of a strike. You can find out about our action at our web page: http://www.leedsucu.org.uk/
This is an important dispute, with implications far beyond Leeds: if management here get away with including SOSR in the statues, other universities will follow suit. Quite apart from being an attack on workers’ rights, this is another chapter in the ongoing saga of neo-liberalism in universities. Increasingly higher education is being viewed explicitly as a resource for capital, producing graduates with ‘transferable skills’ and churning out research in accordance with the needs and priorities of industry. Talk of ‘partnership’ with business is pervasive. Those who believe in strong, independent universities characterised by critical research and rounded education need to take a stand.
Support from the labour movement is crucial in this dispute. Motions from Labour parties and trade union branches would be welcome. You can sign a petition in our support here: http://speakout.web.ucu.org.uk/university-of-leeds-statutes-no-sackers-charter/
Leeds Central CLP and member of UCU executive committee at Leeds University,