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Diversity – letter to THES 15 Jan 07

Two articles in last week’s THES (“Scrapheap still looms for those who hit 65”, and, “Sector is slow to embrace diversity”) are, or should be, of great interest to all members of the University and College Union, as they both affect the working relationship between employer and worker. 

What those articles demonstrate is a lack of understanding of the equality and diversity agenda, not just in the world of academe, but in society I general. 

The issues of compulsory retirement at 65 has already hit the Employment Tribunals and the higher courts in England, and is now winging its way to the European Court of Justice.  In seeking clarification and a judgement form the ECJ, the courts and other legal commentators have warned employers that to force employees to retire at 65 might well lead to cases in the future and to compensation for lost earnings. 

The safest thing that the universities (and FE colleges) can do, is to, seek the advice of, and negotiate with, the UCU on each and every case that they have and come to an agreement.  Indeed, when this situation was pointed out to the management in a Welsh FE college, an agreement was reached. 

The LGBT issue is also one where a joint approach between the employers and the UCU might prove beneficial.  The reason for this is not that the education institutions have not got policies, (although in many cases they haven’t), it is the lack of diversity training among their managers that leads to both direct and indirect discrimination. 

All of diversity problems facing the education sector are compounded by the culture in which they currently operate – a culture influenced by managerialism, competition and privatisation.  Whilst the figures show that the universities are light years behind the some of the other sectors, employers, generally, still have far to go. 

Education, along with local and national government and the other public sector organisations, should all be leading the way when it comes to the diversity agenda.  Fostering an environment where all members of society can feel comfortable and make a positive contribution.  That should be one of the roles of our education institutions, and that can be helped by real consultation, negotiation and agreement with the UCU.   


January 14, 2007 Posted by | Diversity and Academia | Leave a comment

Free Speech and Fascist Organisations

 In one of my discussions, I talked about juggling free speech and a certain amount of confusion. 

Having thought about it a bit more, and dwelling on my political experiences, especially those in Burnley, I have gone a bit further in my musings on free speech.  I turned to the problem of free speech and fascist organisations. 

It might have been some time ago that the fascists tossed their pebble into the political pond, but the ripples can still be seen. 

Sixty years after the end of the Second World War, sixty years after the holocaust, sixty years after the defeat of fascism, we are, all over Europe, still having to remain ever vigilant. Sixty years after young soldiers, like my father, waked into the Nazi’s death camps, people like you, like me, like us are still issuing the warnings from history, whether it be on the football terraces, the corridors of town halls, or the seminar rooms of universities. 

The UCU members cannot become complacent about this.  Complacency is our enemy, but vigilance is our watchword. And thousands of trade unionists all over this country, all over Europe, all over the world, are, like us, keeping that watch. 

And why?  Why should this concern us, as educators? Because, despite what some UCU members might think, despite what we are told about the academic sparring ring, despite the strong urge to accept free speech, there are some things that are so unacceptable, that to allow them to be aired freely, is to give them credence. 

Do we really believe that it is right to give free speech to paedophiles, eugenicists, racists? 

This is not like listening to the proponents of the flat earth theory, where we can nod and smile knowingly. 

Some things are dangerous and some things are evil. 

One of the things we do learn from history, is the fact that lies told long enough and loud enough tend to get believed.  When the modern day nazis talk of immigration, refugees and asylum seekers, with deliberate conflation, and swamping, and culture, and when the media and main political parties latch on to this, then there is, indeed, a dangerous environment being fostered. 

How, then, do our students feel, when they are faced with lecturers who promote the ideas of fascism?   There exists no equal relationship between tutor and student.  It is a power relationship, with the tutor being the more powerful. 

How can it be right for the UCU to accept that free speech can intimidate and threaten students, individually and collectively? We cannot and we must not. Speech is only free when no-one is intimidated by it. 

So, my message to trade unionists everywhere, to all educators, to all UCU members is: “Wherever and whenever it rears its head on campus, we will oppose the promotion of racism and fascism.” 

And let’s not pander to the misguidance of those who call for “free speech”. Speech is only free when it is free from intimidation, when it is free from fear, when it is free from Nazi tyranny. 

This is an issue where the UCU should not back down, should not buckle, and where we should not blink. The UCU must remain vigilant.   

January 4, 2007 Posted by | Free Speech and Fascist Organisations | 2 Comments