Open letter

1st February 2021

Open letter to the University of St Andrews on the redundancy of Dr. Alison Duncan Kerr.

Dear Decision Makers,

The University of St Andrews is a world-class university, topping UK league tables and boasting elite alumni. Several departments, including the Philosophy Department, have been awarded the prestigious Athena SWAN award, which “encourages and recognises employers’ commitment to advancing the careers of women in research and higher education”.  Diversity is “at the heart of the University’s Strategic Plan 2018-2023”, which states an ambition “to be a beacon of inclusivity”.

Since 2017, philosopher Dr. Alison Duncan Kerr has been key to realising this ambition. She was contracted to establish the St Andrews Institute for Gender Studies (StAIGS) in 2018 and launch a complementary Gender Studies MLitt, a taught postgraduate programme, in 2020. Beyond her contractual obligations, Alison successfully ran StAIGS for two and a half years. In doing so, she created the University’s largest intellectual interdisciplinary network, with over 100 affiliated researchers from 18 different schools. In addition to launching the MLitt, Alison has taught, designed, and developed the entire curriculum, and has also being responsible for marking, assessments and advising. The current cohort of 10 MLitt students is projected by the admissions team to double in 2021.

Alison has laboured far beyond the University’s official requirements. Her dedication was born from passion but sustained by the reasonable expectation that after three years of such exceptional service her position would, in line with the University’s employment policy, become permanent. Moreover making her position permanent would also help to address the problem of gender equality within the Philosophy Department, where currently only 4 out of 19 permanent faculty members are women and the only junior female faculty are on temporary contracts.

Yet instead Alison is to be made redundant in June 2021. This does not enable her to see the academic year through with her MLitt cohort, let alone be fairly acknowledged for the impact she has had on the University’s equalities agenda. Her tasks are to be distributed to other members of the Philosophy Department, none of whom has gender as a central research interest. Since 2010, Alison has taught the Philosophy of Gender and has published articles, given scholarly presentations, and supervised postgraduate students on the topic. The future of the institute and its MLitt programme is seriously threatened by the redundancy of Alison’s role.

We call upon the University to apply the same vision which achieved Athena SWAN awards to Alison’s case. Indeed, the action plan her School submitted for its award contains the objective of “fair treatment of fixed-term staff which allows for career progression, especially standard contracts”. Making Alison redundant directly contradicts this objective. But there is an alternative path.

We call upon the University to:

  • Stand by its own equalities agenda
  • Honour the commitment to the Athena SWAN charter
  • Honour the commitment to the School’s Athena SWAN action plan
  • Stop taking advantage of the hard work of early career academics in insecure contracts

Dr Kerr’s experience is indicative of the multiple barriers faced in academia due to sexism, racism, ageism, ableism and homophobia etc. which are the domain of StAIGS and the study of gender at St Andrews.  She has fulfilled her contract in an outstanding fashion and University policy and regulations state that having spent more than three years on her contract it must become permanent.  By failing to fulfill its own policies the University risks the reputation of the MLitt Gender, the StAIGS programme, and the University as a whole.

Signatories

The list of signatures is being updated several times daily.

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