Why quality is strained

June 19, 1998

YOU report (June 5) that the Quality Assurance Agency's proposed new system is being attacked from more than one side. There is a further problem with the way in which the system is being implemented in law, one of the subjects selected for trial. Lola Young, writing in the same issue of The THES, notes that when something happens to a black person it happens to them as representatives of their "race". We believe that the same can still be said of women.

In its rush to appoint the benchmarking panel, the agency has failed to notice that law schools employ women as well as men. While women have comprised at least 50 per cent of law graduates for a number of years, the proportion of women in senior academic posts remains woefully small. Nonetheless, there are at least 50 women professors in law departments in the United Kingdom. The agency has managed to miss all of them, although the panel includes one woman member nominated by the legal profession in Northern Ireland.

One of the effects of women being seen as representatives of their gender is that complacency sets in once departments have a few women in senior positions. These days most appointed committees and panels do pay lip service to the same complacency by the selection of one or two women. The QAA's benchmarking panel in law is all the more remarkable for failing even this small test. A panel in which women are in the majority is clearly a far-off post-millennial dream.

Celia Wells. Convenor of the Women Law Professors Network

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