UCU tackles racism at grassroots level

November 17, 2006

Union calls for equality support groups on every campus, says Tony Tysome.

Academics will be asked to set up black and minority ethnic (BME) staff support groups in every university as part of a campaign to fight racial discrimination at grassroots level, University and College Union leaders have said.

The union, which launched a campaign on race equality at a conference in London on Thursday, is keen to mobilise academics amid claims that it had not done enough to combat racism and discrimination in higher education.

Campaigners said the UCU should overhaul its approach to race equality at national and local levels to improve support for BME members, many of whom have been left feeling "short-changed" by the union in the past.

According to the UCU, levels of discrimination against BME academics remain high even though many institutions have introduced equality policies since the Race Relations Amendment Act was passed four years ago.

Gargi Bhattacharyya, UCU joint vice-president, said: "After the initial attempts to get race equality policies in place, there has been a stumbling and stalling over what the rest of the statutory duties in the Act mean."

Roger Kline, head of equality and employment rights for the UCU, said that the campaign was designed to improve the union's handling of race equality issues and to help it better deal with them in institutions.

He said a network of university groups would help staff keep race equality at the top of the agenda for institutions and the UCU. The union should strive to ensure that BME officials were among its top-level representatives, he said.

"BME members can sometimes feel it is them against the world when they face equality problems," Mr Kline said. "We need to lend them more support."

Chris Nichols, UCU equality support officer, said the campaign's main aim was to inspire grassroots action. "We have to activate our local members to drive the campaign forwards. All branches should seek consultation with their institutions to work on strategies to deal with inequalities," he said.

But Bill Gulam, who co-chairs the UCU's equalities committee, said that if the union wanted to mobilise BME staff, it would need to show that it was prepared to tackle racial discrimination and harassment head on. "Many BME staff feel that they have been short-changed when they have asked for support. We have to overhaul our processes so that local representatives show empathy and a willingness to help."

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

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