Restricting dismissal in universities to protect academic freedom: the Lord Chancellor in 1988

To have academic freedom you need to have job security – the two go hand in hand. The decision to exclude the right of ‘dismissal for some other substantial reason’ from universities was a deliberate one, taken in Parliament back in 1988.

While ‘dismissal for some other substantial reason’ (“SOSR”) exists in employment law (it has done since 1978), it was specifically excluded from the statutes governing universities for reasons relating to the role of academics and the nature of a university. Part of the debate around the 1998 education reform bill focussed on how far academic tenure – job security for academics – should be removed with the new act. In the section below the Lord Chancellor replies to questions in the House of Lords about an amendment to the bill. Both times, he explicitly ruled out dismissal for some other substantial reason.

“I cannot stress enough the fact that academics are not deprived of the protection afforded to others by the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act. However, the situation of redundancy which enables them to be dismissed before they get to the stage of claiming compensation or payment is more ample in its definition of redundancy than appears in the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act.
On the other hand, that Act allows dismissal for some other substantial reason. We have not followed that, so if one is to compare the position of the academic with the position of a person covered under the employment protection legislation, one must take the whole of it. The person covered under that legislation can be dismissed not only for good cause in relation to conduct and the like, but for some other substantial reason. We have missed that out but we have made a wider definition of redundancy applicable here in order to cover the particular situation of the university.”

and again:

“In the ordinary case, I agree with the noble Baroness that the definition of redundancy given in the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act is narrower than this. However, I have pointed out that one must take the whole of that Act into consideration. It allows dismissal for some other substantial reason than the specified reasons, but we have not followed that provision. Therefore one must take account of the whole situation including the fact that the employment protection legislation is still available after the dismissal.”

Hansard link:

We must not allow further erosion of our job security. We don’t want to see ‘dismissal for some other substantial reason’ in the armoury of options for managers who want to get rid of someone. We continue to call on the University of Leeds senior management to reconsider this course of action.

Please support the strike on Thursday 22 June.

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