Warwick Law School condemns proposed Statute 24 reforms for “infringing upon academic freedom”

Warwick Law School have passed a motion condemning management’s proposed changes to Statute 24. The motion reads as follows:

As a Law School we recognise that the proposed reform of Statute 24 and its related Ordinances infringes upon academic freedom and the intellectual independence of our profession, both in terms of substance and procedure.

We commit therefore to act as an example within the University in communicating the School’s concerns to the Vice-Chancellor, and to support the ongoing negotiations and consultations by the trade unions and other colleagues, including supporting any proposed motion for debate of the reforms at a Staff Assembly.

In a letter to Stuart Croft, the Vice-Chancellor, the Law School stated that “the meeting was unanimously of the view that the procedure by which it is proposed to replace statute 24, without full prior consultation with the academic community, is inappropriate in view of its importance in relation to academics’ contracts and relations between the University and its academic departments.”

The School also said: “We would ask that any further consideration of these measures should be put on hold until the University has explained the rationale and expected impact of the proposed changes and has facilitated full consultation with the academic staff, departments and Faculties.”

Other departments have passed similar motions. The staff Assembly, the most democratic collective body of academic staff on campus, passed a motion with 97% in favour condemning the reforms. Warwick cannot continue to silence and ignore the overwhelming voice of the academic community.

Save Our Statute! Defend Academic Freedom at Warwick!

Find out more about how you can help the campaign here.

Bristol UCU in solidarity with Warwick UCU’s struggle for academic freedom!

Bristol UCU have released a statement of solidarity with Warwick UCU’s fight against reform to Statute 24, which will crush academic freedom, destroy employment protections, and worsen teaching quality at Warwick. See the statement below:

University of Bristol UCU expresses its solidarity with Warwick UCU in its ‘Save Our Statue’ Campaign.

Warwick University’s statue reforms, the repealing of current provisions for redundancy, discipline and dismissal, effectively making it both quicker and easier to sack academics, are a blow to academic freedom and job security at Warwick University and Higher Education in general.

They represent yet another example of a UK university’s callous disregard as regards protecting staff from the whims of unaccountable academic management.

Warwick’s disgraceful institutional behavior in the Docherty affair in 2014-15 clearly did not serve as much of a lesson.

Bristol UCU asks that the reforms are withdrawn as soon as possible and joins with its sister Warwick branch in advocating the continuance of the current Stature 24 at Warwick

Find out more about Statute 24 reform and how you can get involved here.

What is Statute 24 reform, why does it matter, and how do we stop it?

What is Statute 24?

A statute is a part of the University’s governance structures. Statutes set rules and regulations determining what management positions there are, how the university is structured, and lay down employment protections. Once something is in statute, it is very hard for management to change it, making statutory protections particularly robust. To change statute, management need to go through the University Senate and Council, and the national Privy Council.

Statute 24 is the statute which protects academic freedom at Warwick. It contains an abstract commitment to academic freedom and, more importantly, concrete limitations on when and how staff can be fired, a clear appeals mechanism, and the ability to have legal representation and oversight of the disciplinary process.

What is Warwick trying to do to Statute 24?

Warwick is seeking to move all of the concrete employment protections – appeals process, legal representation, protections against unfair dismissal – into ordinary policy. This means management could – and almost certainly would – change and water down these employment protections at a later date, without anyone knowing, and without any ability for staff to stop them. This is exactly what happened at Salford University: statutory employment protections were moved to policy, and over the course of several years they were subsequently abolished. 13 rounds of job cuts ensued, and the academic community was decimated.

Why should we care?

Firstly, academic freedom is one of the most important rights for a democratic society. The ability for academics to pursue innovative, controversial, or commercially unproductive work is vital for making the University a vibrant, dynamic intellectual environment. Academics are there to test received wisdom and challenge accepted dogmas. To do so, they need some insulation from the pressures of management, the state, and the market. Statute 24 reform will severely endanger this. UCU, the staff union, fear that removing these employment protections could result in academic staff at Warwick being sacked “in a matter of weeks” for “disagreeing with departmental or university policy”. Thomas Docherty, the Warwick English academic and critic of the neo-liberal university who was suspended in 2014 for “projecting negative body language, making ‘ironic’ comments and sighing during interviews”, argues that he would have lost his job permanently at the time if it weren’t for Statute 24.

Secondly, academic staff need their employment rights protected. Since Margaret Thatcher made the UK one of the few countries in the developed world without academic tenure, staff rely on their individual university statutes for security and stability. Removing these protections will increase stress levels, making staff more precarious, unsure about their long-term prospects, and afraid to challenge management and the University.

Thirdly, teaching quality will almost inevitably decline if these reforms pass. Because staffs’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions, a decline in the freedom and individual rights of academic staff will inevitably rebound on students. After statutory protections were scrapped in Salford University, class sizes expanded, workload for academics increased, and teaching quality declined. We could be in for the same here at Warwick – it is no wonder that the head of Warwick UCU has described these changes as “most significant changes at Warwick for 30 years”.

Already six departments have condemned the reforms, with Warwick Law School declaring that “the proposed reform of Statute 24 … infringes upon academic freedom and the intellectual independence of our profession”. Assembly, the biggest democratic body of staff on campus, has passed a motion calling for the reforms to be halted, with 97% voting against the changes to Statute 24. Staff need our solidarity.

Can we defeat these reforms?

Yes! Similar reforms have been proposed at UCL, and elsewhere, and successfully fought off after a concerted and unified effort by students and staff. In 2015, Warwick proposed a new employment outsourcing scheme, TeachHigher, which was smashed after a large campaign waged by students. Recently, great strides have been made by Warwick Anti-Casualisation and the Warwick For Free Education in winning more rights for hourly-paid tutors. We have, and can win again!

What can you do?

  1. Sign UCU’s petition against the reforms to Statute 24.
  2. Get in touch with your departmental SSLC, and ask them to pass a motion condemning the changes. Get them to pass this on to their departmental representative on Senate.
  3. Get in touch with your departmental Senate representative directly, and ask them to vote against Statute 24 on June 14. You can find the Senate representatives for your department, and a model email to send, here.
  4. Vote for the motion condemning the reforms going to referendum at the Students’ Union, 23-26 May. This will allow the SU to campaign on the issue. From Tuesday, you will able to vote at: http://www.warwicksu.com/vote. 
  5. Like, follow, share, RT, invite all your friends to our social media accounts:
  6. Help organise! Get in contact with Warwick For Free Education on Facebook or email us on warwick4freeeducation@gmail.com if you want to do more to help: social media, action coordination, press work, and more.

To find out more about Statute 24 reform, head to UCU Warwick’s information page or check out this explanatory article in the Warwick Globalist.