Threatened closures and strikes

There are some fairly momentous events going on at my University just now, although I feel curiously detached from them (but more of that later).

Like many (most?) universities, mine has a deficit, and needs to make savings. To cut a long story short, it has proposed to cut the Philosophy programme, and to close the Centre for Professional Ethics (PEAK) at least as a separate centre. These proposals will be discussed in a Senate meeting tomorrow, 23 March, and will then go to a Council meeting on 7 April, which can make a decision one way or the other. The possible closure of Philosophy, in particular, has led to meetings being held by the Students Union, and to demonstrations being planned to coincide with tomorrow’s Senate meeting. You can read all about this here, which also has links to Facebook and Twitter sites.

Back in 2002, my School (which was just Chemistry and Physics at the time) was threatened with serious staff reductions. Shortly after that, the university tried to close the Physics programme, but thanks to some imaginative thinking, it survived, although there were serious staff reductions. At the time I was both a member of the (then) AUT committee and a member of Senate, and I will never forget the indifference of my Humanities colleagues towards our problems! Fast forward 9 years, and in some ways the position is reversed. By sheer hard work, including coping with very high teaching loads, we survived, and (at least for now), things are looking OK for us, at least as far as it is possible to look ahead, given the uncertainty of the effects of the tuition fee hike in 2012. So it is hard not to look on the possible closure of Philosophy and PEAK with a wry smile, and a feeling that ‘the boot is on the other foot’ now. But a collegial attitude is important (even if some of my Humanities colleagues were not collegiate when we were threatened), and I do regret the need to close any academic programme. However, the cost cuts must be made, and unless a compromise can be reached, as was done in the case of Physics, it is hard to see that Council will not vote for the closures. But I hope that alternatives to closure will be considered, and that such options will be discussed at the Senate meeting.

One consequence of my experiences when my School was under threat was that I found the AUT (now the UCU) to be entirely ineffective (even from the viewpoint of a committee member), and for that reason mainly, I left the union when the UCU was formed. So I will not be involved in any strike action in the coming weeks and months. I feel that the action being taken by the UCU is disproportionate and unreasonable, especially at a time when many people working in the public sector are losing their jobs. We are lucky to have employment, and as for arguing over the pension scheme, even with the proposed changes it is still excellent.

So, to return to the beginning of the post, I feel detached from what is going on, partly because I am not a member of Senate, or a even member of the UCU. Instead, I’m an observer, and for someone who was previously so involved in university politics, that’s a significant change!

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