David 4 Treasurer | About David | Election Statement | Endorsements | Contact David
David has long been a keen thinker about the future of our Union, our sector and our society. On this page, David introduces himself, his research, his previous work with UCU and his vision for the future.
Who am I?
I’m an political economist, having started my career on a series of casualised contracts before joining Nottingham Trent University in 1999. In 2005 I moved to University of Leicester, where I was a lecturer, then senior lecturer/associate professor in finance and political economy. I was made compulsorily redundant from Leicester in 2021, as part of a targeted attack on trade union organisers by the institution’s management. (See ULSB16.com.) Following my dismissal from Leicester I’ve been able to take a (small) pension and I also work as a casualised teaching fellow where I started my career – University of Leeds. I am involved in two new projects that seek to foster research and study outside of the university. The more advanced of these – of which Emma Battell Lowman is also a part – is the Institute for Commoning, which is developing a Masters in Commons Administration.
I’ve published research in several areas, including the political economy of higher education. You can find out more information about my research and publications is here.
I’ve never allowed myself to be defined by my job or work. I’m also the parent of a teenager. For eight years I’ve been an adult volunteer leader of our local Woodcraft Folk group and since 2015 I’ve been district treasurer of Woodcraft Folk Leeds. Meeting and working with those young people has provided me with a wonderfully enriching perspective on the generation of almost-adults and a constant reminder that our struggles inside universities and colleges are struggles not only for our livelihoods but for their futures too.
Also outside of work, I’m a cyclist, a beginning drummer (inspired by picket line cacophonies of 2018) and a singer with Commoners Choir.
How have I been involved in UCU?
Much of my political experience has been in social movements – anti-poll tax, anti-racism and anti-fascism, global justice and climate justice movements. I brought this experience with me when I became more involved as a UCU activist and organiser. From 2016 until 2021 I was Leicester UCU’s communications, also becoming one of the branch’s negotiators in 2020. As such I played a central role in three major local disputes, as well as our ongoing national disputes. In 2021 I was elected co-vice-chair, but I was dismissed from the university only eleven days after assuming the position.
One of my main contributions to Leicester UCU was analysis of the university’s financial accounts and its governance. This analysis informed local struggles against redundancies and mobilised members for national campaigns. For example, ‘Trying to Achieve Excellence by Aiming for the Average?’ was written as part of a local campaign against mass redundancies. I presented the report in a series of three open forums for members. ‘Pop goes the weasel?’ was written to as part of our GOTV efforts in UCU’s national dispute over pay and equalities in late 2018. I also wrote the entry on ‘Counter-Accounting’ for the Branch Solidarity Network’s 2018 handbook The University is Ours.
For me, Leicester UCU encapsulated everything that is positive about UCU and trade unionism more generally. I have met people who have become dear friends through my involvement in that branch. The care and joy we have shared have enriched my life – and through those relationships and that our collective work, we made a positive difference to the lives of that university’s staff and students. One of those people was Emma Battell Lowman. We developed an excellent working relationship, together helping make key contributions to branch-level strategy and communications.
Between 2020 and 2021 I was a member of UCU’s national executive committee (NEC). During this period I collaborated constructively with colleagues from a wide range of institutions to commission research into student number controls, with a view to taking a strong stance in their favour (see also see this piece.) I also helped persuade NEC to consider proposals for greater UCU accountability and transparency. I was also a member of NEC’s subcommittee, the Strategy and Finance Committee.
Reimagining our sector, reimagining our struggles
1. Engaging engagement
Members are passionate about having their voices heard: in recent years in local and national HE and FE disputes we have achieved the thresholds required by anti-trade union laws even at times when other unions failed. But our voter turnout when electing our leaders is appallingly low: 8.5% (HE) or 6.3% (FE) of the membership. These elected members lead and shape our union, make decisions about our disputes, and we need to care far more about who holds the seats in our Higher Education Committee and the National Executive Committee.
Across the country our local branches are led by small numbers of dedicated volunteers, often with very limited time and lots of passion to undertake their roles. We all need to do more – whether that be a little or a lot.
We need local branches and national committees to work together and to listen to our membership. The national committees and members of the union sometimes feel disconnected and that’s why we need our membership to help us select who should lead us. Choose us and engage with us. Our union is incredible. What other unions have members who are experts in almost anything and everything you can imagine? From space exploration to weather forecasting; from pure mathematics to creative writing; from law to poetry – we have literally got experts in it all. We have the expertise we need to run universities; so we can easily win disputes: industrial relations scholars, students of marketing and communications, professional services staff with expertise in finance and accounting, legal scholars, researchers and librarians who are able to digest complex information and summarise it in easy-to-understand language.
2. Increasing transparency
“What on earth happens at HEC?” is a familiar question amongst us all. We need to improve transparency and it certainly won’t be easy. But one starting point is to improve the transparency of decision-making and to make elected officers and committee members more accountable. I have always been committed to improving accountability and transparency in both local and national roles. If elected Honorary Treasurer I would push for the full implementation of these proposals. Following decisions at UCU’s Congress in 2022, efforts are being made to overhaul UCU’s website. Again, if elected, I would take a particular interest in this project. Financial information needs to be easier to find and located in a single place – and written in a way that members with no financial expertise can understand. And, of course, we need better information about UCU’s governance structures, so that members can easily find out who made which decisions and why.
If elected I would draw on the amazing expertise of ordinary members (although really you are all extraordinary) wherever possible. (We should explore how such time commitment to UCU can be compensated – important for offering an alternative to the free-labour model of our employers, essential for including more precarious members.) More research into the corporate structure of universities, colleges and other tertiary-education providers, for instance, would provide powerful context for our various campaigns. Creating an ongoing archive of industrial disputes – and their associated strategies, tactics and outcomes – would facilitate UCU offering tailored guidance to local branches in dispute.
3. Reimagine education
We are at a crossroads in education.UCU should open up spaces to rethink and reimagine the role of universities and colleges in the 21st century. We face multiplying social, ecological and economic crises. Our institutions could and should play a key part in society’s response and action to these existential crises. But principals, CEOs and VCs are utterly incapable of providing the necessary leadership. If not them, then it must be us. Developing and promoting a vision of education’s transformative power is socially essential; it will also infuse our struggles over pay and conditions – our livelihoods – with greater meaning and even wider legitimacy. If elected Honorary Treasurer, I would seek to push this transformative vision of tertiary education, with our union as one of its driving forces.
Find out more
David 4 Treasurer | About David | Election Statement | Endorsements | Contact David