On the picket line at Brighton University (Picture: Brighton UCU/Twitter)

Brighton university says it’s an “anti-racist university” where “recognising and celebrating black history is a year-round commitment”.

That rings pretty hollow to Ken, who’s studying for a PhD in anti-racism. He discovered last month that one of his two supervisors, Professor Cathy Bergin, was on a list of 22 workers facing compulsory redundancy.

Ken backs the indefinite strike by UCU union members at the university. “My supervisor is an excellent teacher”, he told Socialist Worker. “She’s an expert on race and colonisation as well as black left wing activists and thinkers. It was academics like her that made me want to study at Brighton.” 

For all their corporate hand-waving about fighting oppression, bosses are pushing through a wave of job cuts that cull academics teaching race and gender studies. 

Ken says it’s part of a bigger battle taking place at universities. “The Black Lives Matter movement opened up discussions about race, colonisation and empire,” he explained. “This is something that those in power would like to see put back in the box.

 “If you’re a university boss who wants to run your institution for profit, you don’t want people teaching subjects that shake the boat or challenge the status quo. 

“We should be proud of the academics that teach these subjects and highlight, for example, black or women thinkers that have been largely forgotten. But instead this is seen as a problem. Every day you see papers like the Daily Mail sneering at so-called ‘woke’ academics, or Rishi Sunak saying that some degrees are ‘low value’.”

Ken added that the university told postgraduate students about the redundancies in a misleading and unclear way. “We were emailed by the university saying they wanted to arrange a meeting with postgraduates,” he said. 

“They said they would sort out what would happen to us going forward. This initially sounded reasonable. But workers are on indefinite strike. Some of us replied and asked, ‘How can we have a meeting when there is a strike in process’”? 

“The university says courses won’t be affected if they make these redundancies. But again, how is this possible? Whole sections of workers have already left, and more could go. 

“I think the bosses are likely to increasingly use postgraduates to fill in the gaps and teach.”  But again students are hitting back at this plan. We say we won’t teach when other university workers are on strike.” 

“It’s not enough to say ‘I’m not racist’,” says Brighton university’s website—calling on people to “actively challenge others and fight back against racism.”

In Brighton, workers and students are doing that by fighting bosses who talk the talk about anti-racism, while slashing staff who teach about it. 

Messages of support via Twitter to @BrightonUCU Donations to bit.ly/3NE6u5o  

Low-life Tories target ‘low value’ degrees 

“There’s no such thing as a ‘low value’ degree,” says Anna Zueva, UCU branch secretary at Huddersfield University. She’s furious that Rishi Sunak wants universities to limit the number of students taking what he deems “low value” degrees. 

Anna told Socialist Worker the Tories and university bosses don’t want “working class people to have access to subjects where they discuss ideas and critique society”. 

The University of Huddersfield announced mass job cuts just before the summer break.  The UCU union estimates that around half of the 106 staff at risk of redundancy could lose their jobs.

Anna said this round of redundancies comes after waves of sackings in the last few years. “In May, over 100 people, both academics and professional services staff were forced to take voluntary severance,” she said. 

“We’re not a big university, so this was a real blow. But the university wasn’t happy with just that. It announced another redundancy round of about 100 staff— although only about half will lose their jobs. 

“Others will be forced to cut down their hours or go part time. Most of those affected are in the arts and humanities department, the department of applied sciences and education and the business school.” 

Anna said bosses have mainly targeted the arts and humanities department over the years. “They have suffered three rounds of redundancies in about four years,” she said. 

“I think you can argue these are ideological attacks. But they are also about the marketisation of the university and how management sees this university as a business.” 

“The bosses constantly claim that because student numbers are falling so they have to make redundancies. Of course, there are good times and bad. But management doesn’t try and see the bad times through. They just go for another round of redundancies. 

“And sometimes this argument doesn’t even make sense. We have never been told there were financial difficulties in the school of applied science, for example. In fact it had generated a 5 percent increase in students. 

“My university mostly serves the local area. Most of the students that come here are commuters. Huddersfield and Kirklees is not a particularly affluent area, and if we don’t stop these redundancies going ahead, then it will be a real loss for the whole community.” 

Strikes and a bigger fightback nationally are needed to stop the Tories’ and bosses’ plans. 

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