Life is not terribly good these days for most university teachers. Colleges, once centres of collegiate administration run on a principle of de facto equality and open expression of opinion, are now top-down managed by a cadre of bosses more interested in spreadsheets than seminars, and image more than erudition, where an injudicious word can cause serious trouble. To add insult to injury, jobs at the lower end, previously fairly safe, are now precarious and pretty wretchedly paid.

You might have thought the lecturers’ union UCU would be an effective counterweight to all this, especially since universities are to all intents and purposes public sector employers, with union representation correspondingly high, at something over 120,000. Unfortunately you would be disappointed. True, UCU is formally demanding big pay rises and more job security, and backing its demands up with widespread, though not very productive, strike action. But its support for academics’ rights is at times curiously limited. Furthermore, it is diluting its efforts, not to mention its support, by all sorts of other posturing.

UCU has been gently taken over by activists more interested in revolution than rational thought, and frankly at times rather obtuse

Recall, for example, the saga of Kathleen Stock, the philosophy professor who resigned from Sussex in 2021 following threatening student demonstrations and demands that she be prevented from expressing her opinion on trans issues, which the administration did little to counteract. What was UCU’s response to the affair, as an organisation set up to defend academics?

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Iron Will

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