Statute 24 campaign: context, progress so far and where we go from here

The foundation of the strength of the Statute 24 campaign has been staff-student solidarity.  After initially forging alliances in 2015 to successfully combat the university administration’s attempts to casualize academic staff through Teach Higher, we have since preserved and fortified these relationships through regular meetings, concerted efforts on campaigns against TEF, Prevent and insecure and exploitative conditions for hourly paid tutors, and lending our solidarity to strike action, staff Assemblies and pressuring Senate and Council.  The significance and reach of these alliances was embodied in our occupation of the Slate, where we explicitly called on the University to concede to the 6 demands of Warwick Anti-Casualisation’s fantastic campaign for fair teaching conditions at Warwick and ultimately won union recognition for hourly paid tutors.

Through our combined resistance as students and staff over the past few years, we have achieved significant victories that could not have been won if we had remained divided and atomized.  It has been through harnessing and further cultivating these alliances that the Statute 24 campaign has drawn strength and borne fruit – with the plans to reform the Statute successfully delayed after a series of motions of opposition were passed in departments, the Student Union and UCU; a staff Assembly occurred and overwhelmingly voted to oppose the reforms; and awareness-raising and social media campaigns, public meetings and demonstrations of strength were staged.

A key facet of the strategy to delegitimize Teach Higher was negative press – exposing the scheme for the programme of casualization that it truly was, belied by the university narratives promising an overhaul in the conditions of hourly paid staff to streamline bureaucracy and introduce more parity.  The language of ‘efficiency’ – a deceptive and ubiquitous pretext for the kind of deregulation fundamental to the neo-liberal agenda – was dominant in the rhetoric around Teach Higher, and through effectively dismantling this coded language and exposing the real nature of the scheme, we began to reclaim control over the narratives.  The same was true of the Statute 24 reforms – except that, this time, there was even less pretence from university management that this was anything but a power-grab, another flagrant attempt to shift institutional power away from workers in favour of bosses.   Locating this set of proposed reforms as an attack on academic freedom, and perhaps even more importantly as one element of a series of broad ranging assaults on the protections, job security and conditions of workers, was essential.

Through this we anchored our campaign in the ideals of protecting a vision of education as a public and social good, conceptualizing this not as an isolated campaign but a sustained resistance against damaging institutional changes within Higher Education which have presided over service and course cuts, wage suppression and unprecedented privatisation and casualization nationally and locally.  This enabled the formation of broad coalitions, and rooted the campaign in the sustained infrastructure and collective power generated by students and workers on campus in the fight back against the Higher Education reforms, maintenance grant cuts, pay cuts, Prevent, precarity, etc.  Our struggles must be broad-ranging, unifying, and robust, emboldened by a horizon of the more just, emancipatory and democratic education system we are striving towards.  We must not simply struggle against the removal of a particular Statute – but for a fundamental shift in the balance of forces within the university, a democratization of its opaque and privately-controlled structures, and fair working conditions and dignity for all staff.

With swathes of job cuts announced on campuses across the country, and perhaps soon threatening Warwick, this infrastructure and ideal – and not simply a reliance on fire-fighting which situates us always in a position of scattered retreat – will become ever-more important to ensure we continue to expand our resistance and advance forwards.  The recent inspiring victory of SOAS Justice For Workers – a complete end to casualization across all sectors of the University – should hearten us in this context, and offer a pressing moral and strategic insight into the important potentialities of organizing service as well as academic workers, uniting all sectors of the university community against the common enemy of management.

This control of narrative was one of the reasons we staged the protests on the university open days at the end of the year.  Whilst the sleek branding and glossy PR campaigns of the open days would have prospective students believe Warwick University is an enlightened, dignified and progressive institution, we know this image is false.  When students have been resituated as ‘investors’ and ‘consumers’ by disastrous neo-liberal reforms in education, we recognize threatening the illustriousness of the university’s reputation, expressed chiefly through the ‘sales pitches’ of open days, is a particularly significant point of pressure.  Indeed, it was the looming threat of open day disruption, as a culmination of sustained campaigning efforts, that eventually forced the university administration to scrap the Teach Higher plans.  Year on year we have disrupted university open days – for a variety of reasons and causes – and we realized that continuing this tradition would impact considerably the scales of calculation of management in pushing through the reforms to Statute 24, and embed the alternative narrative of a free and liberated education further into the everyday culture of campus.  Through both exerting pressure on management by interrupting their otherwise immaculate marketing strategies, raising awareness amongst parents and prospective students about the dangers and injustices of such reforms in Higher Education institutions, and reclaiming campus as a space of militancy, resistance and dissent – once a common sense of student life – we hoped to express the power and creativity of our campaign.

As such we engaged in a noise demo in the Oculus building on the first open day, specifically targeting the Why Warwick? events orchestrated by management to further their marketing ploys.  We distributed thousands of leaflets, engaged in many conversations with parents and students around the importance of opposing the reforms to Statute 24, and effectively countered their ‘sales pitch’ of league table rankings, employment statistics and satisfaction survey results.  We are students, staff, social agents, members of a collective and a community, not instruments of metrics, markets or management: both morally and strategically we believe our presence on open days is powerful and necessary.  The central position we occupied in the Oculus entailed our banners emblazoned the windows of the building for all passers-by around central campus to see, whilst our earnest chants of student-staff solidarity reverberated through the space and beyond, galvanizing attention and conversations and infusing campus with an incendiary political energy.  Later in the day we dropped a banner off Senate House, further fostering the exciting militancy that had – rather than the university’s branding – marked the first impressions of prospective students.

The following open day we engaged in a silent march around campus, after hearing rousing speeches from SU representatives, workers and activists, to symbolize the repression of free expression and dissent that would result from the reforms of Statute 24.  We donned co-ordinated clothing, released flares, distributed flyers, dropped banners and marched through various buildings key to the university’s image and reputation.  At the end of the march we tore the tape from our mouths, entered the Oculus building then marched to central campus in a flurry of flares, chants and vibrancy, unshackled from inhibitions and constraints on free thought and expression, and unleashing finally and fully our collective strength.  We again garnered much attention, with all of campus aflame with our narrative, our actions embodying the significance of free expression and dissent in a context where those principles are under threat.  This ended the term’s campaign on an empowering note which would signal things to come in the new academic year.  Despite people being bound up with exams, lower numbers than we might have hoped on the actions, and the end-of-final-term-political-inertia setting in, these actions were a success, and set a precedent for the scope and escalation of resistance in the new term.

It is important that we are not recuperated by, nor tether ourselves to, the bureaucratic machinations of the Senate and Council as we enter this new cycle of struggle.  As discussed in a previous blog post, there has been some opposition to the reforms by members of Senate, and under pressure from concerted student-staff campaigning changes have been made to the proposed reforms, with the amendments under review by an internally formed working group.  Another Senate meeting has since passed, and it appears still that little has changed, with the elucidation of the proposed amendments to the reforms pushed back to the Senate meeting in October.

We must be vigilant, maintaining pressure and not letting up with our actions until these proposed reforms are thoroughly defeated.  Such tactics of postponement and tokenistic review are repeated time and time by such formal bureaucratic committees: adjust the proposals largely superficially and cosmetically so as to appear responsive to the democratic demands of trade unions, student unions and the pressure of activists, thus placating these efforts and jamming them in lumbering processes of prolonged tinkering until the pressure subsides.  Again, in this context of obfuscation, we must be clear in our narratives: no superficial alterations or accommodations of ‘stakeholder concerns’ can realign these reforms in the collective interests of students and staff.  As with policies such as TEF and Prevent, these reforms to Statute 24 are fundamentally damaging, intrinsically designed to attack the rights of workers.  These vague ‘working groups’ and opaque bureaucratic procedures are located entirely on the terms of management, and we should not be taken in by them – our opposition to the reform of Statute 24 at the behest of management must be firm and absolute.

As such, the horizon of struggle is clear: we must continue to pressure Senate and Council to oppose the reforms outright, as the motions passed in numerous democratic forums and departments within the university mandate.  We have won concessions and delayed the implementation of the reforms, but we have not yet won.  Warwick UCU have recently passed a motion to consider the potentialities of industrial action against the reforms to Statute 24 – this is incredibly significant and a development we wholeheartedly support, particularly as the power of trade unions has been dramatically enfeebled by neo-liberal reforms and this would signal the expansion of trade union resistance beyond narrow pay disputes.  Alongside agitating for such industrial action to occur if necessary, we must continue to broaden and strengthen alliances and the reach of our campaign, pursue a series of creative stunts, demonstrations and militant actions to maintain pressure, and convince broader layers of campus of the necessity of opposing these reforms through forums, public meetings, open letters, flyering etc.

We must do so with optimism, acknowledging that victory is possible, that the forward march of casualization and marketization is not inevitable and we can develop the collective power to resist and overcome.  We must do so with confidence, expanding the infrastructures of struggle we have already formed, taking stock of our previous victories and drawing inspiration from them.  We must do so with hope, that a different kind of education and society is necessary and within our power to enact together.

STATEMENT ON SENATE MEETING: LITTLE HAS CHANGED

Many of you may have learned that the Senate, which along with Council is the supreme governing body of the University of Warwick, was supposed to vote on June 14th on whether to support the proposed reform of statute. This vote did not happen due to objections to the reform. While some may see this as a victory, the tactics that senior management used at this Senate meeting, and the position that the Senate adopted make it absolutely clear that those who oppose the draft statute need to continue escalating the fight to stop it from becoming reality.

Thanks to the extensive lobbying of members of Senate by students and staff members, along with multiple large mobilisations of staff dissent (like the Assembly and the UCU Emergency General Meeting) opposition to the changes has achieved a foothold in the Senate. However, members of senior management were aware of their weakened position and came prepared to this Senate meeting.

At one point a small group of senate members proposed a motion to completely reject the proposed changes to statute, but senior management managed to make sure that this new motion was not voted on and instead forced a “compromise”: a small working group of Senate members would review the draft statute.

We have seen again and again that senior management have been unable to give legitimate reasons for why the proposed changes to statute will improve the university. This was most blatantly seen at the recent Assembly where administrators did not put up a single person to speak up in defense of the proposed changes; instead, their strategy was to ignore the Assembly.

Management have tried their best to push the battle on to another day by forming a working group which will most likely propose cosmetic alterations to the proposed changes and then claim that staff and student concerns have been resolved.

 While we are grateful for the courage of those members of Senate who tried to kill the draft statute outright, we must recognise that we did not win anything tangible on June 14th. We have not defeated the proposed changes, we have only forced Senate to promise to discuss the proposed changes amongst themselves. We have still not been heard.

 That’s why it is crucial to continue lobbying members of Senate to completely drop the proposed draft statute and to join the Emergency Action on June 24th called by the Protect Academic Freedom at Warwick coalition.

To find out more about the reforms and how to help stop them, see here. To read an in-depth analysis of the likely impact of the reforms, and how similar proposals have been defeated at other universities, see here.

PRESS RELEASE: EMERGENCY ACTION TO SAVE ACADEMIC FREEDOM AT WARWICK

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Students and staff to hold emergency action to defend academic freedom at Warwick University Open Day

  • Warwick University trying to gut Statute 24, which offers academics protection from managerial influence and legal representation during disciplinary appeals
  • UCU is considering industrial action over the issue
  • Student and staff plan to demonstrate to defend academic freedom and save Statute 24 on Saturday June 24, during a University Open Day

Student and staff are planning to gather at the Koan on Saturday June 24 to protest against the University’s plans to gut Statute 24, a part of the University’s constitution that protects academic freedom and job security. Warwick For Free Education, the student group which called the action, will only go ahead with the action if the University fail to immediately its reforms to Statute 24.

The action was announced on Tuesday to coincide with an emergency UCU meeting passing a motion to ballot for industrial action over the issue, just weeks after Warwick SU passed a similar motion condemning the proposed reforms. [1]

Activists and academics warn that removing employment protections from Statute could have grave consequences for academic freedom and job security at the University. They point to similar statutory changes at other universities, which they say have led to severe job cuts in the past. Salford University removed its employment protections from statute in 2006, and 13 waves of job cuts followed. [2] With Aberystwyth, Manchester and several other universities facing massive job cuts this year, many fear Warwick’s academic community could be next in line. [3]

Already, eight departments at Warwick have passed motions condemning the reforms. [4] The History Department said that the changes represent “a severe curtailment of academic freedom”, and the Centre for Applied Linguistic and the Centre for Education Studies warn that the reforms will “expose individuals to job insecurity if their academic priorities and/or ideologies differed from those of their line managers”. [5]

The Warwick Globalist recent published documents from the University of Warwick’s early years in which managers complain that statutory employment protections prevent them from dismissing politically “difficult” staff. [6]

“Academic freedom is crucial to the fight for a free, accessible, liberated and democratic education,” said Warwick For Free Education activist Ali Griggs. “The gutting of Statute 24 will suppress the voices of academics whose research may be controversial, and especially academics critical of the University – this is bad for students, bad for staff, bad for society, and ultimately will backfire on the reputation of the University.”

Nathaniel Panda, Post-Graduate Officer at Warwick SU, said: “Actions such as these are crucial in building resistance to management’s absurd reforms. It is vital to extend our solidarity to staff whose jobs may be at stake, whilst simultaneously acknowledging that erosion of academic freedom would be detrimental to students’ learning conditions. We cannot let academic freedom be endangered at Warwick University.”

[ENDS]

Contact details:

Connor Woodman, cdwoo333@gmail.com, 07954402113

Background: Warwick For Free Education (WFFE) started in October 2014 to provide a grassroots campaigning organisation to fight for a free and liberated education, and for the democratising of the university. On Dec. 3, 2014, police entered Warwick campus and broke up a WFFE sit-in, spraying students with CS gas and threatening them with tasers; following this, WFFE gained national media coverage. They fought and successfully defeated the proposed implementation of a postgraduate work-casualisation scheme, TeachHigher, later in the academic year. In December 2016, they occupied the Slate, a campus conference facility, for two weeks, winning significant concessions from the University. This protest will be part of a long heritage of political campaigning at Warwick and of Warwick For Free Education’s ongoing history of campus-based activism.

WFFE is affiliated to the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC); a national organisation geared towards fighting the government’s cuts to public services, neo-liberal policies, and privatisation of higher education.

References:

[1] https://www.warwicksu.com/democracy/all-student-meeting/results/2016-17term3/, https://www.warwicksu.com/pageassets/democracy/all-student-meeting/Protect-Academic-Freedom-Defend-Statute-24.pdf

[2] http://warwickglobalist.com/2017/05/12/statute-24-how-warwick-plans-to-jeopardise-academic-freedom-and-how-we-can-stop-it/, https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/6654/More-jobs-to-go-at-University-of-Salford

[3] http://anticuts.com/2017/05/11/tory-teaching-excellence-in-action-uom-cites-tef-as-motivation-for-massive-cuts/, http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/education/third-welsh-university-announced-huge-13009184

[4] https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2017/05/21/warwick-law-school-condemns-proposed-statute-24-reforms-for-infringing-upon-academic-freedom/, https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2017/05/27/centre-for-applied-linguistics-and-centre-for-education-studies-condemn-statute-24-reforms/, https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2017/05/27/history-of-art-slams-statute-24-reforms-for-infringing-upon-academic-freedom-and-intellectual-independence/, https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/institute-for-employment-research-warns-statute-24-reforms-will-lead-to-curtailment-of-academic-freedom/https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/statute-24-reform-will-cause-severe-curtailment-of-academic-freedom-says-history-department/

[5] https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/statute-24-reform-will-cause-severe-curtailment-of-academic-freedom-says-history-department/, https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2017/05/27/centre-for-applied-linguistics-and-centre-for-education-studies-condemn-statute-24-reforms/

[6] http://warwickglobalist.com/2017/06/06/warwick-managements-plot-to-dismiss-politically-active-staff-stopped-by-statute-in-the-1960s/

EMERGENCY ACTION: SAVE ACADEMIC FREEDOM AT WARWICK!

Academic freedom is under unprecedented threat at the University of Warwick. Statute 24 the key component of Warwick’s constitution which commits the University to uphold academic freedom, prevents politicised removal of staff, and offers a clear appeals process for disciplined academics is being gutted by Warwick’s management. Similar reforms have occurred at universities across the country. At some – like UCL – the proposed reforms have been fought off by a united student-staff campaign. At others – like Salford University – the statute has been smashed, and wave after wave of job cuts have followed, decimating the academic community and wrecking teaching quality.

We refuse to stand by whilst job security and academic freedom is squeezed and suffocated by the whimsical dictats of a managerial elite. We call for an emergency action during the University open day on Saturday 24 June, to stand in solidarity with staff and dig the last ditch for the defence of liberty at Warwick. We call on all students, staff and sympathetic observers to descend on campus and tell management in no uncertain terms: hands off Statute 24!

UCU, the staff union, today voted to move towards taking industrial action over the issue. At least eight departments have slammed the reforms, warning in the darkest tones that the era of academic freedom at Warwick hangs on a knife edge. The staff Assembly, the largest democratic body of staff on campus, condemned the proposed reforms with a majority of 97 percent. Management failed to even defend their reforms, and subsequently worked their age-old propaganda tricks to conceal the overwhelming mandate from staff to end the reform process.

Already, academics at Warwick and elsewhere operate in a shockingly stifled environment, reluctant to voice light concerns or put their head above the parapet for fear of an army of HR hacks, PR propagandists and branding bullies descending upon them to protect the University’s corporate image. As universities are forced into revenue-generating activities, protecting the University’s brand identity increasingly trumps intellectual honesty, rigor and free debate. Relentless sectoral competition, imposed by artificial league tables, attempts to cram the qualitatively multi-faceted educational experience into a series of crude quantitative metrics. You will find few outside government circles who believe British higher education is heading in the right direction. Academics and administrators on the continent watch the British experiment in HE marketisation with trepidation, fearing that their country might be next in line for catastrophic neo-liberal ‘reforms’.

It is in this context that the gutting of Statute 24 at Warwick must be viewed. Warwick seeks to make it easier to fire dissenters, those academic thorns-in-the-side-of-management with their pesky views and political engagement. When the vagaries of the market call for it, Warwick wants to be able to wipe legions of academics off the books, alleviating the University of the responsibility to pay them and leaving them to fight poverty.

Well, when management places its brand image above the livelihood of staff, above the principles of higher education, then we will respond by ruining Warwick’s image. We will disrupt, we will tell prospective students that they are coming to a University which cares not for open debate, free exchange of ideas, and job security. And if management think they can weather this storm by waiting it out until term ends: they are mistaken. We will come back in October and double down on our campaign to save academic freedom. If they gut Statute 24, we will fight until we get it back. We are prepared to use the full range of tactics available in our historical repertoire. For three months, UCU and others have tried to speak sense into management. Sadly, the University does not hear them. We are forced to speak the only language it does understand.

Warwick management: abandon your plans to smash Statute 24. Commit to leaving the Statute exactly how it is now. If you do, we will cancel our action and abandon our plans for an ongoing campaign. If not, you have a long fight on your hands.

To find out how else you can get involved in the Statute 24 campaign, see here. To find out more about the reforms, see here.

Staff union call emergency meeting to discuss industrial action over Statute 24 reform!

UCU, the academic staff union on campus, have called an emergency meeting for 12:30PM on Tuesday June 13 in OC0.03. Staff will discuss a motion to take industrial action against the University over the proposed gutting of Statute 24, which will severely imperil freedom at Warwick.

Industrial action could include a strike, marking boycott, or other tactics to place pressure on Warwick’s management through material disruption. Warwick staff embody a long tradition of such tactics, from a week-long strike of service staff on campus in 1973, to a marking boycott over pension reform in 2014/15.

The meeting will not be able to make the final decision over industrial action, but will move the union closer to making it a reality.

Email your tutors and let them know about it! We need as many staff there as possible to send a big message to management that academics are serious about fighting them on this. They also need to reach quorum to be able to go ahead with industrial action.

Defend academic freedom at Warwick! #SaveOurStatute

Statute 24 reform will cause “severe curtailment of academic freedom” says History Department

The Department of History has passed a motion against management’s proposed changes to Statute 24 at a recent staff meeting. Rejecting managements’ claim that the changes are to “simplify and modernise” governance, History staff stated:

“We believe that this represents a severe curtailment of our academic freedom. Statements about academic freedom carry very little weight unless academic staff (meaning those engaged in teaching, the provision of learning and/or research) are afforded the additional protections currently contained within Statute 24.”

The department’s motion comes in addition to 97% of staff across the University voting against the reforms in the staff Assembly, and at least five other departments issuing strongly-worded motions opposing the reforms.

Pointing out the disingenuousness of managements’ claim to be “standardising” the employment conditions of all staff, the Historians pointed out that:

Applying the same policies to all staff represents a ‘levelling down’ that is neither necessary nor fair, given the distinctive nature of academic work which requires extra protections due to the fact that our research may lead us to ‘unpopular’ conclusions and findings that might challenge the status quo and the views of our university management and/or government. Moreover, there are many areas of the University in which different policies and procedures have applied to different staff groups, most notably in relation to probation, which is five years for academic staff but only six-months for other staff.

Senate is a decision-making body that may have the capacity to reject these changes. The academic members that sit there should represent the interests of their faculties. Realising this, the History motion demands that the representatives on Senate and Council “oppose the changes to Statute 24”, and call “for a longer period of discussion, bearing in mind the magnitude of what is being proposed”.

The full text of the motion can be found here.

To find out more about the reforms and how to help stop them, see here. To read an in-depth analysis of the likely impact of the reforms, and how similar proposals have been defeated at other universities, see here.

#SaveOurStatute! Defend Academic Freedom at Warwick!

Management conceal result of staff Assembly in communications

Management have undermined the democratic process of the staff Assembly in their communications output following the meeting.

The result of the Assembly, which voted 97% against the changes to Statute 24 (changes which will gut academic freedom and job security at Warwick, according to numerous departments), was noted in an email sent by Warwick to all staff the other week. The University also posted an update online.

In the online update, Warwick asserted that “The Assembly is not a decision-making body”, essentially writing off the democratic will of the largest academic staff body on campus in one condescending sentence. They also failed to make it clear that the Assembly opposed the reforms, noting only that a “significant majority” voted for the motion “Reforming the University’s Employment Statute, Statute 24” – without explaining what the content of the motion was. This led to widespread confusion amongst those who weren’t at the meeting, with some believing that the Assembly had voted in favour of the reforms! This is clearly a propaganda tactic by management.

This obfuscation is part of a pattern of undemocratic management maneuvering as they attempt to ram these toxic reforms through. The University is showing no interest in debate, transparency and discussion – only in authoritarianism.

Stuart Croft, the Vice Chancellor, has said that the changes are designed to “simplify, clarify and modernise” the Universities governance structures. The language of “modernising” is straight from the neo-liberal playbook. As Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams write, “We all know today that ‘modernisation’ translates into job cuts, the slashing of welfare and the privatisation of government services. To modernise, today, simply means to neoliberalise”. We ought to bear that in mind when confronting the University’s attempt to reframe the changes as inevitable, progressive, modern adaptations.

To find out more about the reforms and how to help stop them, see here. To read an in-depth analysis of the likely impact of the reforms, and how similar proposals have been defeated at other universities, see here.

DEFEND ACADEMIC FREEDOM! #SaveOurStatute!