UCU NEC Election Position: UCU for (a Very Specific Issue in) Academic Freedom

UCU for Academic Freedom (which, as I will briefly explain, is a terribly misleading name) is a group which offers endorsements based on a pledge to support something like a 2019 motion about academic freedom specificallywith respect to “Gender Critical” feminism which (in general) seems more accurately termed trans-exclusionary (e.g., trans women should be separated from cis women in various ways) or perhaps trans-skeptical (e.g., trans women aren’t women).

As an NEC member, I definitely would not support a motion like HE32 in spite of being a pretty die hard and feel uncomfortable supporter of academic freedom. So I don’t have their endorsement 🙂 My fellow UCU Commoners re-upted a very good statement in response and I was happy to sign and endorse it and esp glad to see folks from other slates and groupings join it as well.

Sometimes, defending academic freedom requires defending reprehensible people or folks holding ridiculous or nasty views. I am committed to that! But this motion isn’t focused on a specific case of, say, an academic being fired for their personal political views (however abhorrent). Indeed, it seems designed to weigh in on a political dispute on, what I firmly believe to be, the wrong side while pretending to be about procedural issues.

This is not a group concerned with the massive attack on academic freedom we’ve seen from the government for quite some time culminating in a new governmental post designed to aggressively control academic research and teaching to governmental ends (actually quite close to the assault on woman’s studies in Hungary). They aren’t talking about redundancies notionally focused on “rebalancing” which is increasingly being normalised in the UK (and fundamentally undermines academic freedom even very narrowly construed).

I’ll work with all sorts of people and prefer to be charitable to all union members, but that doesn’t mean I’ll support things transparently in bad faith. Building good things on rotten foundations is very hard as witnessed by some attempts to amend the motion, e.g.,

HE32A.1  Higher education committee

Add at end:

reaffirm that the rights of trans people and women are complementary

This implies that trans people and women are not overlapping groups (i.e., that trans women are not women). This is not a neutral formulation!

So bad substance and bad form. I’m glad not to be endorsed by them. I’m glad on academic freedom grounds since I think they are a net detriment to it.