"...It sends out a signal...how universities are about business and profit, and that education is secondary..." UCU
Yesterday at The Lowry, as Peter Hook and Tony Walsh were getting their honorary doctorates from the University of Salford, 'Manchester', and hundreds of cap and gown wearing graduates were receiving their degrees, outside in the plaza there was a quiet protest about issues underlying further education...
Professor James Newell worked at the University for 27 years and is the most prominent UK scholar in Italian politics, having organised over thirty international conferences, events and workshops on the subject, and produced hundreds of articles and book contributions. Yet he was recently sacked from his post for basically failing to chase cash.
"It's about the marketisation of education" he explained "It involves running universities like businesses and using financial targets as a means of assessing staff, rather than their genuine abilities in the area of teaching and research.
"For example, what will happen is that the university will say you have to achieve a certain level of research grant income every year, expecting you to shoehorn research into the achievement of a research grant, rather than deciding you need a research grant in order to carry out a piece of research" he added "I don't think this is an appropriate way to treat staff and I wouldn't go along with it."
Professor Newell handed out leaflets and spoke to graduates before and after the ceremonies, aided by members of lecturers' trade union UCU who had come from Sheffield Hallam University to support him. Salford University lecturers themselves couldn't be seen to be lending support as they would have found themselves in hot water for 'bringing the university into disrepute'.
"I'm here in support of an eminent professor and comrade who has an unblemished track record, but has been dismissed from his job for failure to attract sufficient grant income" said Annie Jones from Sheffield Hallam UCU
"I'm not sure that has been very expressed in anyone's employment contract, and I think it sends out a signal about the march of neo-liberalism, and how universities are about business and profit, and that education is secondary" she added "An injury to one is an injury to all, therefore this is not just Professor Newell's fight; it's a fight on behalf of everybody working in our education system."
Indeed, almost 3,500 people have signed a petition calling for Professor Newell's reinstatement, while a letter in his support is being prepared for The Guardian signed by prominent academics.*
"It is wider than my case" he explained "I've got over the personal slight, and for me it's all about trying to push back on the marketisation of education, which is the essential issue that underlies the exorbitant fees that students have to pay; it's the issue underlying the attack on our pensions which we tried to resist in February and March, and it's about ensuring that what happened to me is less likely to happen to people who come after me..."
The Salford Star contacted Salford University for a comment, and a spokesperson said: "The University is unable to enter into dialogue with third parties regarding any of our employees or former employees for clearly identified legal reasons including those contained within the Data Protection Act 2018.
"Please be assured that the University of Salford seeks to uphold the highest possible standards in relation to both research and teaching" they added "and that we are accountable for any action that we take in this regard..."
* To sign the petition in support of Professor Newell – click here
Main photo shows Professor Newell (on the left) with UCU supporters