Effort Launched to Save Job of Philosopher at University of St. Andrews


An effort is underway to protest the decision of the University of St. Andrews to fail to make permanent the contract of a philosopher on a fixed term appointment who has done an extraordinary amount of work for the university over the past three years.

The University of St. Andrews policy on fixed term appointments says that those hired into such temporary positions should have the expectation that after three years of service, “they will normally be provided with confirmation that their post is to be made standard unless clear objective justification applies, or their post is not being renewed at this point” and that they should “not be selected for redundancy or be unfairly dismissed if the principal reason for the selection was because of their fixed term status.”

Alison Duncan Kerr has been continuously employed by the University of St. Andrews since 2017. In 2018, she obtained a 3-year research fellowship in order to establish the St Andrews Institute of Gender Studies (StAIGS) and a new Gender Studies MLitt program. It appears that in many ways she went above and beyond what was expected in her position, not just in regard to the development of the new institute and program, but also in teaching, research, and service.

Dr. Kerr’s contract is set to end at the end of June, 2021. The university has declared that they will not be transfering her to a standard contract and intend to let her go—despite the apparent absence of a “clear objective justification” for doing so and the university’s plans to make sure the work she has done in her post continues to be done (by others, who reportedly do not have central research interests in gender studies).

In response to the university’s plans, colleagues and students of Dr. Kerr have published an open letter (currently accepting additional signatories) and created a website (and Twitter account) to advocate for her. The letter, an accompanying fact page, and some commentary on the strategic goals of the university, make clear how outrageous the university’s decision seems, given the expectations with which it hires people into positions like Dr. Kerr’s.

As of the time of this post, the letter has over 900 signatories.

UPDATE (2/15/21): The story has made The New York Times.


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Andrew
Andrew
2 months ago

Just based on the information here, isn’t this a case in which “their post is not being renewed at this point”? They aren’t hiring someone else to fill the same post, they’re declining to renew the post and redistributing some of the work formerly involved with that post to other, already existing posts. Report

Matt
Matt
2 months ago

It is so unbelievably cruel for universities to make these temporary hires to do a bunch of exceptional labour like this simply on the hope of converting into a permanent position.

They want the fruits of the exceptional and labour but are not willing to compensate for it.

“Thanks for all your hard work! Bye!”

The disrespect shown to her is unbelievable. Report

Alex Milanoff
Alex Milanoff
2 months ago

First, If she invested all that effort without assurances, tacit or otherwise, that she would be able to continue, then it was merely a gamble on her part. To ascribe anything else to the situation, based on what is reported here, would be inadvisable.
Second, it would definitely fall under the “their post is not being renewed at this point”, proviso.
Just because you want it to be so, does not mean it must be so. Just because it seems to be a perceived injustice, does not mean that it is an injustice that is being deliberately perpetrated for nefarious reasons.
I’m sure an economic reason is easily referenced ,if necessary, by those involved.Report

Elizabeth Finneron-Burns
Elizabeth Finneron-Burns
2 months ago

I have a lot of sympathy (and empathy) for her position as I was in a similar situation a few years ago. But that’s also my point – I know countless early career academics who have been in exactly this situation. Universities hire us on 1-3 year contracts to teach, research, do service/admin work, etc. and then do not renew us at the end, often with very little notice – weeks sometimes. I’m not quite sure what is special about this case that has garnered so much attention (although I’m glad it has). This is standard operating practice for British universities. Hopefully the attention to this case will go some way to changing that!Report

Nicole M Wyatt
Nicole M Wyatt
2 months ago

@ Alex Milanoff who writes: “Second, it would definitely fall under the “their post is not being renewed at this point”, proviso.” This legalistic reading of the proviso would make it meaningless, since all you would need to do to not renew some one would be switch half their work with half the work of another person, rename the post, and you can claim “the post is not being renewed”.

Moreover, she did not invest that work without assurances — the very provision in the policy that says people who perform well in limited-term positions will be converted to permanent positions as long as the work they are doing is continuing was an assurance that her investment would pay off.Report

Elizabeth Finneron-Burns
Elizabeth Finneron-Burns
2 months ago

To Nicole Wyatt – I think what is missing from US/Canadian understandings is that these positions are usually paid for from a grant. So when the grant runs out, the position does too. The “we’ll convert you to permanent assuming the position isneeded” is usually only applicable to jobs that come from general university operating budgets. I have no idea, of course, where this job came from, but it is very very very common to let people go after 3 years. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve heard of anyone in a 3 year research/teaching fellowship who was ever converted to permanent at the end of the contract. Report

Mike
Mike
2 months ago

I sympathise. But it would unfair to acquire a permanent job without competing for it given an open advertisement for such a position. Such back door hires are unfair to others on the market.Report