UCU Commons Candidates for Equalities Standing Committees

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A commitment to intersectional equalities work is central to UCU Commons, as set out in the first of our core values, where we state that we are for equality in all its forms. We are unequivocally committed to making our union and our workplaces trans-inclusive. We are anti-racist, anti-colonial, and opposed to the hostile environment. Taking these core values seriously, many of our members stood for election to UCU’s equalities standing committees at this year’s equality groups conference. Here we introduce our candidates and explain their motivations in standing for these committees.

The candidates listed here have all been elected unopposed, and other UCU Commons members are putting themselves forward to be co-opted to the unfilled seats on several committees.

Bijan Parsia (University of Manchester), a member of the union’s NEC, is standing as candidate for the Disabled Members’ Standing Committee. In his election address, Bijan reflects on how his multiple disabilities impacted on and nearly derailed his doctoral studies. He acknowledges that formal support structures for students with disabilities failed him and continue to be inadequate to meet the needs of disabled staff and students in further and higher education. He notes,

With the radical emergency measures forced upon us by the pandemic, we’ve seen that the old ways of doing things aren’t forced upon us by necessity but are the result of decisions that can be changed. We’ve also seen how “one size fits all” attitudes make things worse.

Bijan is committed to pushing for better support and adaptions for disabled members across the union.

Mark Pendleton (University of Sheffield) is standing for re-election to the LGBT+ Members’ Standing Committee. He is joined by Gavin Brown (currently an unemployed member of the union attached to the University of Leicester branch) and Matilda Fitzmaurice (Durham University). In the two years Mark has been on the LGBT+ Members’ Standing Committee, he has assisted with the organisation of two iterations of the UCU LGBT+ research conference and worked to develop UCU’s policy and training materials in relation to LGBT+ issues. Mark says,

My politics are also shaped by my migrant and HIV positive status, as well as a 25-year history of involvement in activist networks around these and other issues.

Between March 2020 and May 2021, Mark was a member of our union’s NEC. He helped co-author a statement on trans-inclusion and academic freedom, signed by many candidates then and in subsequent elections. Mark is currently the Branch Secretary for Sheffield UCU and has worked on a major report for the Royal Historical Society around LGBT+ history and inclusion.

Gavin has worked in the HE sector for 30 years, in both professional services and academic roles, and has been an active trade unionist in NALGO/Unison and AUT, then UCU, throughout. Until July of this year, Gavin was Professor of Political Geography and Sexualities at the University of Leicester; he has researched LGBT lives and sexual politics for over 20 years. Although currently unemployed, Gavin has honorary visiting professor posts at Sheffield and University College Dublin. Gavin says,

I have been involved in LGBTQ activism and community building since the 1980s. As a newly out teenager, I marched against Section 28; as an undergraduate I participated in the direct actions of ACTUP London. I am currently a trustee of a LGBTQ health charity in Leicester. Trans and non-binary people have always been part of my queer community and my activist networks, and I am committed to defending them now that they are under intensifying attack.

Matilda is also a geographer and in the final stages of her PhD at Durham University. She has been active in UCU at branch level and nationally, as a member of the Women Members’ Standing Committee for the last year, where she has worked in unequivocal support of trans and sex worker rights. She wants to work with the LGBT+ committee to raise specific awareness of biphobia, panphobia, queerphobia and aphobia.  Matilda co-authored our statement on LGBT+ solidarity, which was well-received across UCU and beyond. She says,

As a queer woman academic, I am still cautious about being out in a professional setting, especially in the context of an accelerating backlash, particularly concentrated on educational institutions, against LGBT+ rights. I want UCU to lead in supporting all LGBT+ members, whoever they are and however long they have been out (if at all).

We are also standing three candidates for the Women Members’ Standing Committee: Emma Battell Lowman (University of Leicester), Ruth Holliday (University of Leeds) and Laura Chuhan Campbell (Durham University). We hope they will join Matilda Fitzmaurice on WMSC, alongside Jo Edge (University of Edinburgh) who sits on WMSC as one of the Women’s Reps on the NEC. Emma and Ruth are also currently members of the union’s NEC. Emma is a Settler Canadian migrant and has been active in the branches at the universities of Hertfordshire and Leicester over recent years, where she has been heavily involved in leading campaigns against redundancies and to defend the rights of precarious and migrant workers. Emma says,

As a precariously employed queer woman, I know well the challenges facing many marginalised members of our union. I want to bring my expertise in iterative, constructive communication and community building processes to UCU, as we work to improve our own collective approaches to organising.

Ruth is Professor of Gender and Culture at Leeds and hopes to bring her professional expertise, as well as her long-standing experience in UCU to the work of the Women Members’ Standing Committee. Like all our members, Ruth is committed to UCU being a trans-inclusive union that respects and defends the interests of all women. As Ruth says,

Who is and who is not a woman is one of the most prominent (wedge) issues of our time. Gender is proliferating, equality and inclusion departments booming, yet attempts to re-fix women to their biology, and a more regressive notion of gender binarism, have re-emerged to reverse decades of gains made by women in the labour market. Covid has only compounded this, especially for women with intersectional identities.

Laura is a medievalist at Durham and notes that, historically, the university was “conceived as an exclusive space for wealthy single men who were free of family ties and other responsibilities”. She goes on to say that,

In my work as a UCU rep, I understand that this basic principle still lies at the heart of the modern university, which rewards long hours and prioritising work above all else. Women (both cis and trans) are disproportionately affected by this culture, and are subject to more acute discrimination on grounds of age, race, parental status, and caring responsibilities. As a UCU campaigner and personal caseworker of several years, I have worked hard on the ground to establish a better working environment for all women in the academy.

This year, we are not standing new candidates for either the Black Members’ Standing Committee or the Migrant Members’ Standing Committee. We thank David Hitchcock (Canterbury Christchurch University) for his service on MMSC over the last two years. We do currently have representation on BMSC, as Kirsten Forkert (Birmingham City University) has another year of her current term to serve on that committee.

Collectively, we believe the process of nominating members for the equalities standing committees needs reform. Allowing each branch to nominate only one person per standing committee is not the best way for our union to harness the commitment and enthusiasm of our members. This process tends to favour candidates who have strong connections with branch leaderships, discriminating against precarious and early career colleagues, and often promoting ‘model minorities’ over those who experience multiple, intersectional oppressions.

As this year’s equalities conferences now mostly fall on national strike days, we hope that more members than normal will be able to attend. Attendees of one (or more) of the union’s equalities conferences in December are able to vote for the new members of the relevant equalities standing committee(s). We fight for secure jobs, humane workloads, and the end of gender and race pay gaps in our sector. We also fight for the future of research and education as a public good, a collective endeavour dedicated to the pursuit of mutual understanding and common flourishing. If you share our vision of an inclusive union that tackles intersectional inequalities and strikes to win, we encourage you to support the UCU Commons candidates. More than that, if you share our core values, we encourage you to join UCU Commons.

Thanks to Gavin Brown for compiling this post on behalf of all UCU Commons members.

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