Changes to the University’s employment legislation have led to accusations of impinged academic freedom.
The University and College Union (UCU) is threatening strike action over changes to the University’s employment laws after negotiations with the University regarding a proposed new clause, castigated as a “threat to academic freedom”, broke down.
The controversy has been sparked by a change to the university employment statutes which list the reasons which may be used for fair dismissal.
The University wishes to add the clause ‘contravention or some other substantial reason’ to its grounds for removal from a post, which currently include ill health and conduct.
The ambiguity of the proposed clause and its potential scope for misuse has sparked fears that dismissal might be sought on dubious grounds, such as an employee mistake or a conflict of interest between the employee and the University.
The UCU fears that, if the changes were to go through, they would result in “allowing third party pressure or workplace disagreement as grounds for dismissal” and that as a result it “threatens the principled disagreement which is essential to academic freedom and would risk the heart of what a university should be – a community of ideas debated openly without outside interference.”
Vice Chancellor Sir Alan Langlands, who has been forced to defend the University’s position, called the threat of strike action “regrettable” and claimed that there was a “great deal” of agreement between the University and the UCU.
A statement released by the University assured that “under the University’s proposed approach, the existing checks and balances that prevent any abuse of procedures will remain in place: any potential dismissal case would have to be heard by a three person committee.”
It continued: “The changes to Statute VII protect and enshrine the principle of academic freedom. All that we are seeking to do is to ensure that there are clear and transparent procedures for the dismissal of staff for any of the reasons permitted in law.”
However, UCY has declared a formal dispute and is considering balloting its members to launch an industrial strike action.
(Image: University of Leeds)