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.