STAFF at the University of Warwick have forced an emergency meeting of academics over concerns that the university is seeking to rip up the rule book surrounding academic freedom and employment rights.
The University and College Union (UCU) on Monday triggered an extraordinary meeting of the university assembly by presenting vice-chancellor Stuart Croft with a formal motion, a rare move.
The union says the university wants to remove protections for academic staff against redundancy.
UCU says the changes are little more than a “race to the bottom” in terms of rights at work and that if the university really wanted to equalise staff contracts, as it claimed, it should offer everyone better protections, rather than ‘devise ways to make sacking academics easier’.
Under the new rules, academic redundancy decisions will be made by heads of department and senior management, rather than by council, the UCU says.
Appeals will be heard by two members of management, rather than an experienced, independent lawyer.
The union said it fears the university is trying to rush the changes through at a university council meeting on May 17. Council is the main decision-making body at the University of Warwick although the assembly is able to pass motions and make recommendations directly to it.
Warwick UCU president, Justine Mercer said: ‘This is a clear attempt by the university to engage in a race to the bottom when it comes to employees’ rights and academic freedom.
“They have consistently downplayed the significance of what they are proposing and the strength of our opposition.
“We have been left with no alternative but to force the vice-chancellor to schedule a meeting of all academic staff.
“The university says the reform is a simple tidying-up exercise; we want to know why it fears proper accountability and staff security. And why the vice-chancellor would be the only staff member immune from the changes.”
A Warwick University spokesman said: “The university wrote to staff in November last year to let them know that we were reviewing of the university’s governing instruments, a review that continues work first commissioned in 2012.
“Some of the existing statutes and ordinances no longer reflect our current organisational structures and processes; there is need to ensure clarity on delegated authorities within our systems, and both the university and our trades unions recognise the need for our statutory provisions to be brought in line with modern employment law obligations and practices.
“We have been in consultation with all four recognised trades unions. The university has already enhanced the statutory protection over that period of consultation, that the consultation process is still ongoing. Our governing instruments will continue to enshrine the university’s commitment to academic freedom and to the principles of justice and fairness.”