London School of Economics staff have hit out at moves to alter rules that they say safeguard academic freedom at the institution.
The LSE has put forward plans to reform the “academic annex”, which outlines employment procedures for all academics and researchers, including what happens in the event of disciplinary action, redundancy or dismissal.
However, the institution’s University and College Union branch has argued that the plans amount to the abolition of the annex, which it says was introduced to provide “mild employment protections for academic freedom” in light of the end of formal tenure in 1988.
In a statement to members, the branch claimed that extra protection was vital at the LSE because “social sciences are especially vulnerable with regard to academic freedom because of [the] proliferation of competing paradigms, differences in method and their tendency to challenge prevailing economic, social and political orthodoxies”.
“Removing the safety frame from a high performance racing car and replacing it with that of a conventional family car is unlikely to make it safer,” the UCU adds.
However, the LSE claimed that the annex required modernisation because the rules “not only contravene best practice, but also employment law”. It said the changes would not increase job insecurity or undermine academic freedom.
Measures to address what the LSE calls “cumbersome” and “unhelpful” procedures have been particularly criticised, with the UCU insisting, for example, that independent legal experts should continue to play a major part in the university’s performance management and dismissal proceedings. Devolving such work to heads of department and human resources would be unwelcome, the UCU added.
It also said that the LSE’s plans to alter procedures to prevent formal grievance hearings were misguided.
“The adversarial nature of proceedings is inherent in any attempt to deprive an individual of his or her livelihood,” the statement argues.
While the union branch is willing to discuss reform of the annex, it said it will not countenance the “replacement of what is…fair by what is convenient for management”.
The row follows similar uproar at University College London, which is seeking to update its statute 18 - a similar clause to the LSE annex.
An LSE spokesman said the plans would ensure its staff “have the freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges”.