A review of the University of Oxford statute put in place to protect employment rights after tenure was abolished by Margaret Thatcher’s government is likely to spark fierce debate at the institution.
The Oxford branch of the University and College Union said it was “strongly opposed” to any changes to Statute XII, which details the processes required for the redundancy, dismissal and grievances of academic and academic-related staff, including senior administrators, librarians and computing staff. It covers about three-quarters of the workforce.
Oxford’s personnel committee is calling for views on whether to limit the coverage of the statute to academics and senior research staff only, as other professionals have “no special need relating to academic freedom”.
Oxford UCU said that it “firmly opposed” withdrawing any groups from the statute.
Views are also being sought on clarifying dismissal procedures and introducing local-level grievance procedures.
Gill Evans, emeritus professor in medieval theology at the University of Cambridge, said the Oxford disciplinary procedure was overly cumbersome but that it was important not to water it down so much that it “ceases to protect fairness”.
The initial consultation, which will run until June, will establish whether there is agreement that the statute should change. A second consultation, starting in 2015, would focus on the detail of any changes.
Alterations can be made only by the Privy Council – a process that would take months – and must be approved by the university’s Congregation.
Professor Evans said that it could be “quite tricky” to get Congregation – the university’s “parliament of dons”, which has more than 4,500 members – to support any changes.
“How you would ever persuade an enormous number of people in the senior administration who have academic rights in this statute to vote themselves out of it?” she asked.
Oxford UCU said that any potential changes to Statute XII would “damage the interests of staff, and therefore also their students” and “undermine now and for the future the principles that have given the university its strength”.
A spokesman for the university said: “The University of Oxford has a long history of treating all employees fairly and with respect.
“Any changes to the statute will maintain this tradition…Academic freedom remains a key principle for the university.”