Thursday, 3 April 2008

Save Jobs, Save Keele

Ever since the plans to close Keele's School of Economic and Management Studies and Centre for Health Planning and Management were announced shortly before Christmas, university management has met with three demonstrations, a one day strike, email bombs, non-cooperation on some admin, boycotts and leafleting of open days, adverse press ... all of this was leading up to this morning. At 10am Keele University's governing body, the council, heard Vice Chancellor Janet Finch's plans to force through 38 redundancies and replace SEMS - a key trade union academic resource - with a smaller and less specialised business school. This body, made up of sundry local notables, had within its power to rubber stamp the proposals, ask for significant modification or have them thrown out. Would they listen to the voices of staff, students and the wider academic community?

Even if they didn't listen the 250 demonstrators protesting outside made their chants and whistles heard! Considering the demonstration was taking place in the middle of the Easter holidays with many staff and students away from the campus such a turnout was good. It was boosted by contingents from the local labour movement and numbers of UCU activists from other HE institutions. There was an excellent atmosphere as the banners of Burslem CWU mingled with Telford Unison, Brighton UCU and West Midlands PCS. The march around campus was noisy and good natured and the left had a fairly good reception - Keele Socialist Party members and Socialist Students had no problem distributing literature and neither did the Socialist Worker sellers who parachuted in for the occasion.

The demo was followed by a packed meeting in the KUSU ball room. We heard a number of trade union speakers. Notable contributions came from UCU Scotland president, Alastair Hunter; Roger McKenzie of the Midlands TUC; KUSU's Mark Holland; and SEMS action committee member and famous ethnographer, Paul Willis.

Alastair Hunter said something is wrong when a known centre of excellence is under threat. Is it coincidence SEMS teaches Industrial Relations? Coincidence it receives trade union income and trains labour movement activists? Coincidence it is not "business facing"? This attack is nothing to do with cutting costs - it is about ideology.

Roger McKenzie echoed many of Alastair's comments. "If this was about quality HE we would be talking about more resources". He argued the VC's plans are wider than Keele. It is about the elite's vision of higher education. They want education to be a service industry for business. Courses teaching working class people about the nature of the workplace have no place here.

Mark Holland said the VC tried to drive a wedge between staff and students by pretending it was a local departmental difficulty, that staff did not have students' best interests at heart. Fortunately KUSU's decision to back the UCU's actions were overwhelmingly passed at its AGM earlier in the year. "It would be misguided of us to side with management" he concluded.

Paul Willis took apart management's empty market forces mantras. They evoke markets and skills in reified ways - if this was the bottom line, Keele's actual "market dominance" of Industrial Relations would rule out SEMS closure. But it isn't. They are code words for discipline, control and fear. He finished by saying the heirs of the university are not the outside consultants the VC employed to dismember SEMS, but we are - the staff and students who constitute the academic community.

Unfortunately slightly after three news came through that the VC's plans were passed by council. Though it was a body blow this outcome was not entirely surprising. A general members meeting has been scheduled for next Tuesday to decide what the next steps will be. It is very likely the UCU will vote to escalate the dispute.


Anonymous said...

"It is very likely the UCU will vote to escalate the dispute."

Or they could go off and find jobs where they do something of real value to others in return for money. Come on, there must be something you can do that would genuinely benefit others!

How many of the "working class" people who've been trained in an antagonistic world view have actually benefited from it? Apart from those who have gone on to become similar academics, or those who've put their new found antagonism to good use as high-ranking trade unionists.

Anonymous said...

The fact that you feel that high -ranking trade unionists 'put their new found antagonism to good use' tells me that the last comment is both subjective and misinformed. Low C for you! Not for your opinion but your inability to present a sound argument supported by evidence. I suspect that you need to advance your reading beyond the Daily Mail!