Threats damage this university

August 6, 2004

US academic George Martin is backing the boycott of London Metropolitan University and fears for its reputation.

Through the academic grapevine, I recently learnt that the management of London Metropolitan University is attempting to impose a new staff contract. Word of this attempted fiat reached me in May before I left the US and, since taking up my summer visiting professor position at Surrey University, I have learnt more about it. London Met has now threatened to dismiss 387 lecturers. The scale of this threat is without precedent and puts great doubt in my mind that the managers have serious intent to negotiate a contract.

I am quite concerned about the situation and have decided to support a boycott of London Met. I believe that this offers the greatest possibility of encouraging the administration to negotiate with staff in good faith.

In the past year, I have been exploring the possibility of furthering my informal links with London Met academics. What I had hoped to do was to mount collaborative work with an international comparative perspective in my field of research, urban social ecology. The research would focus specifically on London and New York City. I am putting the formalisation of my links on hold until a contract is successfully negotiated. I am dismayed about this, but I am not, in good conscience, able to develop a professional relationship with London Met until this impasse is resolved to the satisfaction of my colleagues.

To my mind, the point of a contract is that consenting parties enter into a binding agreement. There can be no consent without mutual agreement, which flows from consultation and negotiation. Certainly, threatening to fire staff is not an appropriate negotiating tactic.

As word of management's intransigence reached me in the US, it was apparent that the news was spreading beyond the UK. Among academics such as myself the situation reflects badly upon management and, unfortunately, upon the reputation of London Met. Perhaps management does not recognise the full consequences of its present course of action.

I hope my rather modest boycott action will add to the voices of reason calling on management to rescind its threat of mass redundancies, and to negotiate in good faith a fair and equitable end to this corrosive dispute.

George Martin is professor of sociology at Montclair State University, New Jersey, US, a senior research fellow at the University of California, Santa Cruz, US, and a visiting professor at Surrey University, Guildford.

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