Reece Parker: Our professors must be protected

The University of Leeds.
The University of Leeds.
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Student life and political engagement often go hand in hand.

We are heralded for our protests, for example our role in the 1960s civil-rights movement, condemned for it, in instances such as the picket-cum-riot of the London 2010 protests, and often downright ridiculed for it.

One protest which has swept across campuses throughout Britain, the most recent of which being Leeds, has not been performed by the students themselves, but actually their professors.

The University and College Union (UCU) picketed the University of Leeds from Wednesday to Friday this past week, in a protest against a proposed change to university statutes. The new policy has been dubbed the ‘Sackers’ Charter’, as it permits universities to dismiss its employees for ‘Some Other Substantial Reason’ (SOSR).

This phrase is incredibly vague, and some would argue it’s purposefully so. The UCU argues that the policy allows employers to sack without just cause, giving the example that in a ‘prestigious university in the South of England’ a UCU member was dismissed after they ‘raised concerns of racism by senior managers and possible fraud’. Despite being cleared of gross misconduct, the UCU alleges that the employee was then dismissed under SOSR because ‘the senior managers did not want to work with them’.

Such an open ended policy has huge potential for misuse, creating a significant threat to the job security of employees in the institutions that employ it.

This is intensified in a university environment, exemplified by a student briefing released by the UCU which claims the new statutes are ‘a threat to the very heart of what university is about’. Universities, which by their very nature should be the built upon the exchange of ideas, should not allow dismissal over something as trivial as a conflict of interest.

A spokesperson for the University of Leeds argued that, in fact, ‘the university is not introducing any new grounds for dismissal, it is simply modernising the procedures it would follow, in the interests of openness and transparency’.

As arguments often are in student politics, the issue at hand is both vague and muddled. To truly understand the reasoning for the change, we must question what the impetus was for the change in the first place.

The previous set of policies which outlined the reasons for dismissal seemed to work perfectly well, achieving the intricate balance between protecting those at the university as well as protecting the university as an institution themselves. To change these policies, despite such vocal opposition from employees, suggests an ulterior motive. If ever students had a reason to protest, this is it, to protect those who are here to serve our interests.

Reece Parker is the Editor-in-Chief of The Gryphon at Leeds University