The founding of St Andrews Institute for Gender Studies and development of the Mlitt in Gender Studies by Dr Alison Duncan Kerr directly meet the strategic goals of the University, in aiming to develop a culture of emergent leadership that spans all levels of experience, while giving explicit attention to EDI issues within the University’s leadership structures.
In identifying something that had been missing at St Andrews and that competitors have had for over a decade, StAIGS was set up by Dr Kerr with a multi-year plan to firmly establish the Institute and its related components (e.g., the MLitt) to create a community within the University, giving it a vision that sets the Institute apart from its competitors, and helping to satisfy multiple aims of the current strategies for the University, the School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies, and the Department of Philosophy.
As a result, StAIGS and its MLitt programme are featured prominently in the School and University’s current Athena Swan awards and REF statements. Through Dr Kerr’s leadership, the Gender Studies MLitt offers a model of best practice in addressing diversity in the curriculum, a key objective of the School’s Athena Swan Action Plan, and a notable gap highlighted in the Department of Philosophy’s most recent teaching review.
We are deeply concerned that the redundancy of Dr Kerr and the resulting closure of StAIGS and the MLitt in Gender Studies directly contradicts the following:
- the commitment of the University to its strategic goals, especially with regard to diversity and inclusion;
- the commitment of the School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies to its strategy and the promises of its Athena Swan application;
- the commitment of the Department of Philosophy to its strategic plan to enhance interdisciplinarity, increase the diversity of its staff and curriculum.
The University of St Andrews Strategy 2018-2023 is centred on four main areas: World-leading, Entrepreneurial, Diverse, Global.
In the strategy for Diverse St Andrews, the University positions intersectionality and investment in leadership as the keys to “our ambition to be a beacon of inclusivity“. The University plans to “give focus to intersectionality and the promotion of a strongly diverse community” and foster “a growing pipeline of leadership and expertise among our community of staff, students, and alumni“.
Dr Kerr’s vision for StAIGs and the MLitt in Gender Studies provides precisely the community, leadership and training, within a strongly intersectional framework, to make this possible, and as such directly meets the fundamental investment requirements for this strategy:
- Development of strategic leadership;
- Coordinated training programmes to develop diverse talent.
The strategic need for a “growing pipeline of expertise” is directly delivered by the Mlitt in Gender Studies. Moreover, within the Department of Philosophy, Dr Kerr has gone to great lengths to build more diversity into the curriculum, including specialist research-led honours modules: she introduced the honours course on Gender and Feminism to the curriculum in 2017; she solely designed, established through CAG, and delivered (in 2018) a new honours course on the Philosophy of Love and Sex. Both new modules had strong evaluations and very high enrolment in the Philosophy Department.
These modules and the addition of StAIGS have helped the Philosophy Department to carry out its strategic plans to address “philosophical issues which are increasingly important in the philosophical community — and indeed in society at large — but in which we do not have significant strengths. Among these issues are gender, sexuality, and race. We plan to ensure that future appointments are made with an eye to our being able to carry out research and offer teaching in these areas. … It is arguable that we should be able to offer modules in non-Western philosophy too, but, again, that would require new appointments. In general, it seems likely that there will be increasing pressure for academic philosophy to diversify itself and show itself able to engage with the interests and concerns of previously marginalised groups.”
Indeed, since Dr Kerr arrived in the Department, there has been a significant increase in the gender-focused honours dissertations, gender-focused PhD applicants, and gender-focused PhD theses within the Philosophy Department.
Diversity is further highlighted in the strategy for Social responsibility, where the University states that it will:
- Follow and contribute to best practice in the pursuit of greater equality and diversity
- Demonstrate how we are able to invest in our staff, and ensure our staff are closely involved in planning the prioritisation of resources
Dr Kerr’s redundancy constitutes a failure to invest in a staff member who demonstrates strategic leadership and best practice in pursuit of greater equality and diversity in research and teaching practices.
Interdisciplinarity informs the strategy to make St Andrews World-leading, part of which includes the University’s plan to grow the student population to 10,000 by 2025. Cancelling an interdisciplinary MLitt programme which promises to be highly attractive to students (already set to double its numbers in its second year) goes against this strategy of growth for the University (where the goal is 2000 postgraduate students) and the School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies, which plans to grow PGT numbers by 10% by 2022/23.
As the largest interdisciplinary research institute at the University, StAIGS clearly “Promote[s] working across disciplines and interdisciplinarity in our priority areas”. The work of the institute, including external speaker series, the initiation of a Scottish Gender Studies Network and the attraction of students from around the world, “Promote[s] areas of world-leading research that provide international leadership, engage with big societal questions, have the highest level of integrity, and the potential to resonate externally“.
The removal of Dr Kerr and the Institute thereby directly contradicts the university’s promises to deliver world-leading research and student experience by:
- Strategically investing in the individual and collaborative work of the University’s centres and institutes
- Taking forward the development of interdisciplinary programmes at graduate level through the University’s Graduate School for Interdisciplinary Studies
- Development of interdisciplinary initiatives in line with our strategic objectives
Investing in staff
Underpinning the strategies of the University and the School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies is an investment in staff.
The University strategy begins with this statement: “Our fundamental goal is to attract and nurture the best staff and the most promising students from around the world, and provide an environment in which they can produce their best work for maximum societal benefit.“, while the School states its intention to “Nurture our talent and grow the careers of all our staff on professional service and academic contracts, E and ER focus, fixed and standard. We aim to develop future leaders in each of our disciplines while supporting individual career aspirations.”
Dr Kerr’s redundancy operates in contradiction of these statements; removing a colleague who has a world-leading research profile in a key strategic area who has shown outstanding vision (an institute with 10 years of planned development) and leadership (bringing together over 180 academics and students together, developing an interdisciplinary Mlitt) at an early stage in their career.
The School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies places interdisciplinarity at the heart of its overall strategy: “The School strives to be interdisciplinary, and to form connections with other Schools.” Key to this ambition is the objective to: “Support and enhance the work of all our research centres, developing cross School interdisciplinary initiatives where appropriate to foster stronger links between each of our three departments“.
StAIGS is the only research centre which achieves this ambition, bringing together not only researchers from across the School, but across a further 19 Schools in the University.