Hundreds of students and academics from around the world are calling on Scotland’s St Andrews University to reverse a controversial decision not to renew the contract of the director of its Institute for Gender Studies (StAIGS).
As of Monday morning, more than 1,500 people had signed an online petition calling on the university to keep Dr Alison Kerr, an American philosopher, on board as director of StAIGS after the university decided against renewing its contract with the educator.
Dr Kerr’s supporters say she has been the architect of much of the institute’s programming, as well as of its MLitt masters degree. Once she leaves, however, they say the university is expected to hand her teaching over to at least two male professors, who, despite being experts in their own fields, do not have academic backgrounds in the subject, Scottish newspaperThe Herald has reported.
In a statement sent to The Independent following the publication of this story, a spokesperson for St Andrews University said the suggestion that Dr Kerr is being replaced by men is inaccurate.
“Dr Kerr is in post and under contract until June 2021. She has however withdrawn from continuing to teach the programme. Her duties are being covered by several colleagues, women and men, from disciplines across the University,” the spokesperson said.
They further said that the “current responsibility” for the Gender Studies Programme lies with Dr Morven Shearer, Director of the university’s Graduate School, a fact that the university had not raised in an earlier statement.
Those who have signed the petition, however, have suggested that they believe Dr Kerr is being booted out of the role at the end of her contract in order to avoid regulations that would require her post to be made permanent.
Noting Dr Kerr’s accomplishments at St Andrews University, thepetition, dubbed “StAndWithAlison”, credits the philosopher for successfully running StAIGS for the past two and a half years and creating the university’s “largest intellectual interdisciplinary network” during that time.
“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,” the petition argues.
Yet, despite Dr Kerr’s contributions to the school, it asserts, “Alison is to be made redundant in June 2021”.
“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,” the petition states.
In an earlier statement sent to The Independent, a spokesperson for St Andrews University said that “anyone who is on a fixed-term contract, however, is fully aware that their contract may end”.
“We have excellent HR policies and we apply them consistently, in the interests of fairness to everybody and in the spirit of our unswerving commitment to equality and diversity. These include the process for dealing with the end of a fixed-term contract,” the spokesperson said.
Of their MLitt in Gender Studies course, the spokesperson said the class “is in very good hands and is continuing, with contributions and support from excellent, highly-qualified staff.”
“We are currently recruiting students to the programme for next year,” they said.
The university has further asserted that the MLitt programme was never meant to be run by a single individual, but by a cohort of educators.
It also said an appeals process was underway for Dr Kerr’s case.
The Independent has contacted Dr Kerr for comment.
In a statement supplied to The Herald, the educator said she believed the university’s decision to end her contract “and put the entire gender studies programming at risk” came as a “slap in the face” to educators who believed in the school’s promise “to promote diversity among staff and the curriculum they deliver”.
“I perceived St Andrews as a safe place for gender studies students and research on gender,” she said. However, she said: “In talking with various colleagues who work on gender studies around the world, I am reminded of the threat that keeps rising for research in this area, despite the fact that it is a field that clearly yields substantial income. This type of exploitation has struck a nerve with many.”
“St Andrews was where I planned the future for myself and my young family with the confidence that both the university’s employment policy and my ongoing contribution to the university’s diversity and inclusivity agenda actually meant something,” she said, adding: “I still hope to hear from the administration that they are reversing this decision.”
This article was updated on the day of publication to include an additional statement from St Andrews University, and on 18.2.21 to replace the word ‘professor’ in the headline with ‘academic’.