UCU has 'duty to confront' lackadaisical academics

Union taken to task for not reprimanding scholars who fail to perform. Melanie Newman reports

October 22, 2009

The University and College Union has been accused of backing away from dealing with poorly performing academics.

Maurice Glasman, director of the faith and citizenship programme at London Metropolitan University, said this failure to confront scholars who are not pulling their weight was a dereliction of its duty as a union.

"The UCU would support the sacking of an academic if they were a member of the British National Party, or for being racist or sexist, but they would not support the sacking of an academic for not doing their work properly," he said.

Academics as a group must establish a much stronger notion of vocation, with all that that involves in terms of reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity, Dr Glasman said.

"If an academic does not reciprocate in the fulfilment of their duties and leaves the work to others, they should be internally disciplined by their colleagues."

Under Dr Glasman's ideal of democratic self-government, if an academic felt they were being oppressed "the first response would be an appeal to colleagues for support", he said. "The second would be an appeal to an external group made up of academics who ensure that self-government does not degenerate into a self-serving oligarchy."

The UCU's "commitment to academic exclusion from decision-making power" has left academics isolated and incapable of resisting directives emanating from human resource managers, teaching and learning centres, and the university's executive, he added.

"There is no departmental democratic power. The most you can aspire to is a solitary academic voice on an executive committee committed to your marginalisation."

Dr Glasman is a leader of London Citizens, a coalition of mainly faith-based organisations that has persuaded several financial institutions to pay their cleaners and security staff a "living wage" of more than £7 an hour, rather than the minimum wage.

At Queen Mary, University of London, a campaign for a living wage for contract cleaners and security guards prompted the university to take the staff back in house, pay them a higher salary and give them a proper career path.

Dr Glasman said academics had much to learn from staff in more lowly positions.

They need to remind themselves of "the importance of putting in an honest shift and building strong one-to-one relationships with students, and improving the quality and ethos of their work", he said.

"The restoration of the academic vocation is to be found in the way that the people who clean our offices are treated."

A UCU spokesman said the union "exists to defend its members" and that it does so "in the face of increasing and varied attacks from employers".

He added: "Governance of our universities is an area in which UCU has consistently called for greater input from academics, as it is academics who truly understand what a university should be."

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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