Censors and sensibilities

May 28, 1999

Does being a personnel director who wants to end the statutes of universities make me "hostile", as David Triesman claims ("Threat to academic freedom 'will mean war'", THES, May 21)?

Not in my view since I am very clear that the Association of University Teachers, MSF and Unison have a pivotal role in developing with us new employee-relation frameworks that meet the needs of higher education. That means that we need to consider new concepts and ideas openly.

We also need a degree of honesty. Tenure and the statutes derive from a time when workers' rights for the many were non-existent. They are therefore expressions of privilege that separate academic and related staff from other groups of university employees, encouraging the petty apartheid that afflicts us in higher education.

How can it possibly be justified to give rights to the junior research assistant that are not given to the senior research technician? Why should Poppleton's recently appointed trainee administrative assistant have better conditions than Maureen?

The way forward is to make dismissal or detriment because somebody has exercised their rights under academic freedom an inadmissible reason.

That brings academic freedom into line with proceedings linked to sex or race discrimination. The evidential burden in such proceedings rests essentially with the employer.

The process for deciding issues of sex, race or academic freedom should be the same for all staff (common internal procedures and the employment tribunal and so on). Because we would no longer have the needless delays of two years or more that are built into the statute, we would be able to take a more relaxed view about whether or not funding was sufficiently guaranteed to allow us to place people on a permanent contract. Rather than seeing the removal of statues as a cause for war, Mr Triesman and his colleagues should see this as an opportunity of harmonising conditions, improving employment prospects while still preserving the academic freedom of all who work in universities.

Ged Murray

Director of personnel services, University of York

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