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?
- Sign UCU’s petition against the reforms to Statute 24.
- Attend our emergency action to save academic freedom at Warwick! Saturday June 24th, 11AM, at the Koan on campus.
- Sign up to our Thunderclap to send Warwick a strong message over Statute 24 reform, and to advertise the emergency action.
- 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.
- Like, follow, share, RT, invite all your friends to our social media accounts:
- Help organise! Get in contact with Warwick For Free Education on Facebook or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org 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.