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Mass resignations from the AUT? - Michael Yudkin
Added by David Hirsh on May 19, 2006 12:56:17 PM.
I almost resigned my AUT membership (of 40 years' standing) after the scandalous Council meeting in April last year at which a small and well-organised minority drove through motions to boycott two Israeli universities. In the end I was persuaded to remain in the AUT and fight for the motions to be reversed. But many AUT members did in fact resign (some of them returned after the boycott motions had been rescinded), and many more said they would do so if the boycott were confirmed. (In Oxford, for example, a rough count shows that, out of 59 members who wrote in to express their views on the issue, 21 said they would resign if the boycott went ahead).

We now have the hard left of NATFHE trying, in the dying days of their union, to force through an even more pernicious motion ("Motion 198C – Academic Responsibility"). It's more pernicious a) because it potentially affects all Israeli academics (or possibly all Israelis: the language is highly ambiguous), not just those at the two universities named in the AUT motions last year; and b) because it imposes a McCarthyite test that requires Israelis, if they wish to remain on good terms with their NATFHE colleagues, to say that they are not now, and never have been, in favour of the policies of their Government.

But if NATFHE is indeed dying (it merges with the AUT on 1 June to form the UCU) why should we care about all this? There are two very good reasons. The first is that the motion sends an appalling signal to the world of higher and further education that UK academics have learned nothing from the AUT débacle of last year. The second reason is perhaps even more important: motion 198C, if passed, may well become the policy of the merged union and thus commit the very members of AUT who voted so decisively against boycotts last year.

Officers both of NATFHE and of AUT have expressed (no doubt in good faith) their opinion that the motion, even if passed, will become null when the merger takes place. There are several reasons for doubting whether their opinion is correct.

First, among the FAQ's on the AUT web site is the question "Do all agreements or policies have to be resigned or ratified in the new union?" And here is the AUT's answer: "No, there will be an assumption that the acts of the predecessor unions are adopted by the new union except where it specifically decides otherwise." We're not told how the new union might "specifically decide otherwise"; but a plausible answer is that we'd have to wait until the new union's first Council meeting (next year?), when the whole sorry boycott debate would need to be started up all over again, resulting in yet further damage to the international reputation of UK academics.

Secondly, nowhere amongst all the documents that govern the new union's constitution and standing orders and describe the arrangements for the amalgamation between AUT and NATFHE, is there any guidance on whether the policies of the constituent unions survive the merger. The FAQ mentioned above is the best information we have.

Thirdly, motion 198C is clearly intended to be more than transitory, as it speaks of "facilitating meetings in each university and college". Necessarily these meetings would take place after 1 June, when the merger between AUT and NATFHE comes into force.

Motion 198C also instructs the Executive to offer to fund the travel costs of [pro-boycott] speakers at these "facilitated" meetings. In other words, the subscriptions of all UCU members, including present AUT members who last year firmly squashed (or thought they had squashed) any notion of academic boycotts, are now to be used to finance speakers who will travel from place to place inciting academics to boycott Israelis.

If motion 198C is passed by the NATFHE Conference we can envisage two results. First, the pro-boycott members of UCU (who may be bigots and extremists but who are not stupid) will demand that their motion be considered as binding on the new union. If they aren't satisfied with the UCU Officers' implementation of their boycott policies, they will set up a squawk about how their democratic decision is being trampled on and ask the Officers to cite their authority for ignoring it. (As we have seen, there is no such authority). Secondly, the former-AUT members of UCU will consider that they have been conned and will resign in droves; and this time we shan't get them back.

Michael Yudkin
Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry
University of Oxford