Within the context of already tense relations between students, academics and the management at the University of Warwick, the effective removal of provisions contained in statute 24 of the University’s constitution marks a new attack by the management on academia.
What is this “statute 24” and what is its significance? Statutes in general form basic constitutional features of the institutions of the university. Statutes can only be changed or amended with approval of the Privy Council. This means that changes to the statute require significant effort and therefore are fairly resistant to the whims of university management. Statute 24 in particular concerns the process of dismissing academic staff. It explicitly seeks to protect academic freedoms by protecting the employment of academic staff a through a variety of measures that make it very difficult to dismiss staff.
The chief change being made is to alter the status of the provisions within statute 24, changing them from a statute to a more ordinary university policy. Whilst nominally all the same protections will remain in place, the removal of those protections will become significantly easier for university management in absence of the need for approval from the Privy Council. Consequently the positions of academic staff will be made vastly more vulnerable. Warwick management undoubtedly pushing for these changes as it will give them greater control over the institutions of the university by allowing them to hold the threat of job losses over the head of academics. Given the university management’s links to the businesses that fund and finance the university, their interests are firmly on the side those with the money. It suggests that the university can be shaped, “streamlined” or “modernised” to suit the capitalists’ agenda. Whether that be the removal of academics who speak out against these business links; or any who profess views critical of capitalism; or indeed any academic staff employed in departments that are not directly providing research useful for profit-making business and industry. But this does not just constitute a threat for academic staff but also students who rely upon the freedom of academics to provide intellectually challenging and controversial material without fear of censure.
The UCU, unsurprisingly, has come out in opposition to these changes and is garnering support amongst various groups in including Warwick For Free Education, NCAFC and Warwick SU. Warwick Marxists is also standing in solidarity with the UCU and academic staff in opposition to the changes. We will resist any attempts to increase precarious employment and any attempts to consolidate the control of university management. The success of this collective action will depend upon publicising both the fact that these changes are happening, and their significance to both academic staff and the wider student body. This will require the cooperative efforts of the UCU and its allies to publicise and explain what is happening, so as to prevent management from keeping the changes a secret.
Secondly, what is required is to mobilise academic staff to actively fight against these changes and encourage students to participate actively whether it be strikes, demonstrations, or protests. On the 13th at 12:30 (OC0.03) the UCU called an emergency meeting to discuss a motion to take industrial action. This is the right way forward and we will be backing our staff all the way.
Ultimately, as long as universities are run by those who base themselves on the logic and laws of a profit-driven capitalist system, threats to staff and students like this will be a recurring theme. The UCU needs to take this opportunity to raise the demand that universities should be run democratically by staff and students, in the interests of the needs of society as a whole.
Fight against the management! Save Our Statute! For universities run by staff and students in the interests of all!