In the previous post, Carol and Chris from the Centre for Academic Practice were attending their first Union meeting. There was too much business to cover in one post…
Holly looked fixedly down at her notes and read in a monotone. “the meeting is asked to condemn the attitude of the Vice Chancellor in criticising our Vice Chair in a public forum.”
Chris cleared his throat again.
“Um. Could you just update us on this one?”
Martin looked hard at him. “You may know that I was recently elected by other academic staff to represent them on Academic Board. Shortly afterwards, the Vice Chancellor got an article in the local rag bringing up a, er, an incident from the dim and distant past, then put a motion to Academic Board saying it was bad publicity and I should consider stepping down.”
“The VC told the local paper?” Chris sounded sceptical.
“Well, someone did, and he hates me, so I think we know where to point the finger.”
“He hates you?”
Carol elbowed Chris again.
“That’s terrible.” Chris offered. “If true.” he added in an undertone. He continued at normal volume. “Sounds like victimisation. Are you going to step down from Academic Board?”
Martin glared. “No. I was democratically elected. We can’t let them intimidate us like that.”
Chris nodded convincingly. “Fair enough. I’m sure the incident was a one off.”
Martin narrowed his eyes. “Let’s go to a vote, then, Holly, if anyone’s not sure.”
Holly looked up from her notes. “All those in favour?”
Everyone sitting round the table raised their hands. Martin looked meaningfully at Chris and Carol. Carol lifted her hand slightly. Chris nodded.
“That looks unanimous.” Martin said.
Holly made a note.
“Right, I’ll take the chair back now. Thanks, Holly. OK. Item 3. Attack on our professionalism. The Centre for Academic Practice is insisting that we all have a teaching qualification.”
Chris opened his mouth, but closed it again when Carol kicked him hard on the shins.
Martin continued. “They’ve got no right. Nobody’s discussed it with us, and we’re the recognised Trades Union for academic staff. And we don’t need it anyway. Teaching qualifications. In HE. Do they think we’re school teachers? Do I have your approval to open a grievance with HR?”
There were nods and mutters of approval around the table.
Someone said “Centre for Academic Practice. What do they know about teaching?”
“Just management stooges.”
Chris cleared his throat again. Carol kicked him even harder. She raised her hand. “Could you tell us any more about what’s being proposed before we vote?”
Martin sighed. “I think it’s obvious. It’s just another form of management control. Student feedback isn’t too good, so they think a bit of paper will sort it out. They need to sort themselves out first.”
Carol persisted. “Yes, but I don’t think anyone’s told us what the management proposal is.”
“They want all academic staff to have a teaching qualification.” repeated Martin.
“Really?” said Carol. “Has there been an announcement?”
Martin looked very hard at her. “Not officially. Someone in the Centre for Academic Practice has told us about it. Early warning.”
“Oh well, glad to hear we aren’t all management stooges, then.” said Carol, icily. “Chris and I also work in the Centre for Academic Practice, and as we’re also Union members, we thought we’d come along to see how colleagues would like the Centre to develop the proposal. But I see you’ve all made up your minds already.”
Martin didn’t even blink. “I’m sorry that you think that. But this really is an attack on our professionalism. We don’t need teaching qualifications” – he almost spat out those two words – “to teach well.”
“I’m sure that’s true.” Carol’s tone was calm, and even. “I think the purpose of the qualification is to acknowledge the professional achievements of most of our colleagues, and to enable us to provide support for those few who may, for whatever reason, find some aspects of teaching difficult.”
Chris had more difficulty staying calm. “You know, like those lecturers whose students write ‘always reads off the lecture slides’, or ‘my feedback was illegible’, or ‘I didn’t get my feedback from the second year until Christmas in the third year.’”
Everyone sitting in the magic circle had turned to look at them. “Oh well, if we’re going to be in thrall to student feedback…” said one of them, a large, red-faced man wearing a checked shirt. The woman next to him sniggered.
Martin obviously felt the need to pull the meeting back to order. “Well, exactly, Jim. This is a knee-jerk reaction to some off-the-cuff comments from students which are better addressed at module level. Sledgehammers and nuts. Let’s go to a vote. All in favour of a grievance against this. When it’s formally announced.” he added, looking meaningfully at Carol.
Everyone in the inner circle raised their hands. Martin looked at Carol and Chris. Neither moved.
“All those against?”
Carol and Chris raised their hands.
“Two against, Holly.” said Martin. There was some whispering around the inner circle.
Martin raised his voice. “Right, item 4. Solidarity with the Halesowen branch.”
Chris nudged Carol and they both stood up. “Excuse us.” said Carol. “We’ve got classes starting in ten minutes.” They tiptoed to the door.
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