Angry AUT bowls Brunel a Google-y

July 29, 2005

Would-be staff and students using the web search engine Google to find information on Brunel University are being met with a plea to boycott the institution.

In an innovative and provocative twist to the industrial dispute over Brunel's redundancy programme, the Association of University Teachers has bought advertising space with Google to criticise the university's employment practices and tell prospective students they will be "treated with contempt".

In the build-up to the period of intense competition for student places across the university sector, internet users who type any of 39 different combinations of words, including Brunel and university and the name of its vice-chancellor, Steven Schwartz, are met with a series of aggressive messages.

One says: "Brunel - AUT's prospectus. Staff are treated with contempt. Will students be treated any different?" Another advert says: "Contemplating Brunel? Brunel Uni axes teaching staff! Support the AUT greylist today."

Adverts include a link to the AUT website, containing information on its campaign against plans to make up to 60 non-research active Brunel staff redundant.

Google is one of the world's biggest internet brands, valued at $80 billion (£46 billion), with millions of users every day - including prospective degree students.

Matt Waddup, AUT assistant general secretary at Brunel, said: "The AUT will use all means open to it to bring Brunel's appalling employment practices to the attention of staff and students around the world." He said the adverts had been approved by Google.

A Brunel spokeswoman said the university would not react to the adverts, but stressed that it was committed to "replacing non-research active staff" and said that investment in additional research staff would result in an overall increase in staffing levels.

The move, which follows both parties taking out full-page adverts in recent issues of The Times Higher , is the latest twist in an increasingly bitter dispute.

This week, the AUT accused Professor Schwartz of trying to "smash the union", after the university issued two compulsory redundancy notices - one to the AUT's branch president, Alan Harrison, and the other to a high-profile union activist.

The union said that five of the 11 members of the Brunel AUT committee had been targeted for redundancy and it would take legal action against the university under the law protecting union activists from being victimised for their activities.

Brunel said that there was no room for any bias in its process. "At all times, the correct process was followed and the criteria were upheld by an independent committee and council," the spokeswoman said.

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