AUT chief race 'rigged'

December 14, 2001

The election to choose the new general secretary of the Association of University Teachers is "rigged", one of the three candidates for the post has complained, writes Phil Baty.

Former AUT president Martin Hughes, who confirmed this week that he would stand against the official candidate Sally Hunt, said the appointment process was unfairly stacked against the non-official candidates, who are nominated by grassroots members.

Mr Hughes, an AUT executive member, said he had faced pressure from AUT head office to stand down in favour of Ms Hunt.

The only other non-official candidate, John Duffy, who also confirmed this week that he would stand, said he too had been asked to defer to Ms Hunt.

Both Mr Duffy, a statistician at Birmingham University, and Mr Hughes, a philosophy lecturer at Durham University, had to collect 50 signatures from AUT members before they could stand. Ms Hunt, an assistant general secretary at the AUT, was appointed official candidate after an interview by the AUT executive committee.

When her official nomination was confirmed, Mr Hughes and Mr Duffy were given two weeks to "reconsider" their candidature, but both confirmed this week they would not step aside, forcing an election of AUT members early next year.

"The AUT is not the Mafia, but a certain amount of gentlemanly pressure has been put on me to stand down," Mr Hughes said. "How do we defend the principle of democracy when we cannot do it ourselves?" Mr Hughes is also concerned that the requirement to collect 50 signatures is designed to deter candidates.

The AUT's spokesman said: "The procedure for electing a new general secretary is clearly laid down in the union rules and complies with relevant trade union legislation. The current rules have existed for nearly a decade and were passed by both executive and council, which Martin Hughes was a member of."

Outlining his policy priorities, Mr Hughes said he would be ready to revive plans for a formal confederation with rival lecturers' union Natfhe and said he believed industrial action should be a "last resort".

Mr Duffy, who also favours a closer cooperation with Natfhe, signalled a more militant approach. "The AUT preferred to take tea with vice-chancellors," he said. "I'm not talking about major mass action, but I want a more robust approach."

Ms Hunt said she wanted to promote the AUT as the champion of the profession and was expected to promote her experiences as a skilled negotiator.

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