False dichotomy 1

February 18, 2010

You have misrepresented the University and College Union's position on academic freedom. In your editorial, "Rise up, freedom fighters" (11 February), you say that the UCU "doesn't really get involved in individual cases". In the feature "A clear and present danger", it is stated that "... academics suffer because the UCU is more interested in defending salaries and working conditions than in pursuing universities that infringe academic freedom".

Here you present a false dichotomy between salaries, working conditions and academic freedom. The defence of jobs is synonymous with the defence of academic freedom: after all, the latter means little if universities can make people compulsorily redundant.

At the University of Leeds, we supported a member's petition to the university visitor. This linked academic restructuring to the management's disregard for the governance that protects academic freedom. The elimination of checks and balances is a dangerous fashion in university management.

The issuance of narrowly defined job descriptions for professorial staff as part of the restructuring in the biological sciences at Leeds is clearly a threat. Our campaign in support of our members and against the job-matching process in which professors are forced to apply for newly defined jobs combines defence of academic freedom with the defence of jobs.

Academic freedom is fundamental to academic working conditions: if we defend the latter, how can we avoid defending the former, both collectively and individually? I would suggest that the UCU is the most effective defender of academic freedom.

Malcolm J.W. Povey, President, University of Leeds UCU.

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