Philosopher named as preferred candidate to chair UK Equality and Human Rights Commission

Onora O’Neill has been named as the Government’s preferred candidate to chair the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission:

Following a recruitment process, Cambridge academic, Baroness Onora O’Neill of Bengarve, has been selected as the Government’s preferred candidate for appointment to the role of Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller has written to Dr Hywel Francis MP, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Committee will hold a pre-appointment scrutiny hearing with Baroness O’Neill on 16 October.

The Committee’s conclusions will be considered carefully before the final appointment is decided.

If her appointment is approved, she’ll have  a tough job. The Commission has been heavily criticised from all sides since it was formed in 2007 – several much-respected commissioners resigned in 2009 – and the coalition government has massively reduced its budget.

Academics talk about access…

This video is just hands-down, no contest, absolutely the best and funniest and most awesome thing I’ve ever seen. Its creator, Melanie Yergeau, calls it  “an example of digital activism, not to mention collective resistance to the repetition that is exclusion.” Go check out Melanie’s blog about it, then watch the video.  It’s captioned, it’s less than seven minutes long, there’s no excuse.


UK Research Excellence Framework: Equality Training Materials Now Available

I don’t think we’ve linked to these before: the Equality Challenge Unit‘s training materials on equality and diversity for the REF process are now available, including a full trainer handbook, customisable powerpoint slides, and scenarios and activities for discussion. Although these resources relate to a very specific UK process, the scenarios might be of wider interest.

There are other useful materials on equality and diversity in research careers on the Vitae ‘Every Researcher Counts‘ page: see links to ‘resources’ and ‘case studies’.

Update: I forgot to say that the Every Researcher Counts page also has a link to the Premia project, which gathered views from disabled postgraduate researchers (aka grad students) and developed guidance materials aimed at helping to improve the quality of their experience.


Death by a thousand cuts

Here’s a great piece by Jackie Leach Scully about the UK Government’s attack on welfare support for disabled people. She concludes,

Disabled people are right to be concerned about the practical impacts of government cuts, and right also to be worried about what government spin does to public perceptions of disability. At the heart of both of these is something even more worrying. The current prime minister has said “I passionately believe that the welfare system should be there to support the needy and most vulnerable in our society”, yet the actions of his government demonstrate clearly its willingness to reinforce the persistent idea that disabled people are not the most vulnerable in society, but just the most dispensable.

The Guardian data blog looks at who actually gets DLA (Disability Living Allowance) one of the crucial benefits under threat, and the “Spartacus Report” offers a detailed argument against the Government’s proposals. Our previous post on this suggested ways to take action.

Towards radical inclusion: Bring down the barriers!

great article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week calls on people teaching in universities to recognise the need for radical inclusion:

A genuine effort to include—not simply to accommodate—people with disabilities could have a radical effect on our teaching and our professional practices. What if the instructor who silenced the stutterer had instead taken his disability as an opportunity to examine the goals and purpose of class participation? What if a professor who was asked to give a disabled student extra time on an exam paused to think about whether 50 minutes was the ideal time for any student to complete the exam?

When our campuses tolerate, but do not welcome, people with disabilities, they undermine the values of democracy, justice, and intellectual freedom that are the core values of higher education. And when we regard students and colleagues with disabilities as nuisances or disruptions, we lose the opportunities they provide to think critically, with fresh eyes, about the assumptions on which our pedagogy and our intellectual projects are based.

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, disability offers us a lens for looking at learning and teaching – it sharpens and makes vivid some of the difficulties which many students face. Mick Healey found that

[a]s with many academic endeavours, the more I learn about supporting the learning of disabled students, the more I realise I have to learn about supporting the learning of all students.

He sees disability legislation, which requires us to remove the barriers which disable people, as a Trojan horse smuggling in good teaching practice to everyone’s benefit.  And the author of the Chronicle article, Rachel Adams, has a practical suggestion – learn from the Universal Design movement.

So what a great opportunity to link to some resources for doing just as she suggests:

– at the University of Connecticut’s Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability, they call it Universal Design for Instruction, and at the University of Washington, where the DO-IT project promotes the use of technology for access, it’s Universal Design of Instruction
– the University of Guelph has all kinds of resources on Universal Instructional Design
– there’s even a US National Center on Universal Design for Learning (though unlike the other links, this one’s not specifically aimed at postsecondary education)
– the Australian site CATS has tips for inclusive teaching in higher education, and they emphasise that it’s important for meeting the needs of students from different cultural backgrounds, too
– The UK’s Open University has a site on making your teaching inclusive which incorporates video clips of disabled students talking about their experiences

Let’s bring down the barriers and let the Trojan horse in!

Man launches sex discrimination case against gender studies course

Apparently, Tom Martin, a former student at LSE’s Gender Studies Institute, is suing them for discrimination. The F-word picked this up days ago, and it’s also been in the Guardian.

So the first thing I have to say about this is: I was wrong, badly wrong. Tom Martin was a student at LSE last year, and since then the Equality Act 2010 has come into force. s.94(2) says that ‘anything done in connection with the content of the curriculum’ is exempt from the discrimination and harassment provisions in further and higher education. The explanatory notes illustrate this in the following way:

A college course includes a module on feminism. This would not be discrimination against a male student.

I thought this was absurd, because who could possibly think it ever would be discrimination to require a man to take a feminism course?  Well, so now I know the answer to that. (And I’m very, very confident that he would have no chance if he were a student now that the Equality Act has replaced the previous legislation.)

The second thing I have to say is: I’m really, really curious to know what his claim is based on. The Evening Standard says it’s ‘breach of the Gender Equality Duty Act (by which I assume they mean the Equality Act 2006) but the gender equality duty doesn’t directly create anything an individual can sue for damages under. Elsewhere the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 is mentioned, but it’s not clear whether he’s arguing it’s direct discrimination, indirect discrimination or harassment.  (Apparently among LSE’s arguments in response is that if there was any discrimination, it was justified: this suggests there’s an indirect discrimination claim in there somewhere, because direct discrimination can’t be justified in law.)

The third thing I have to say is that I’m not sure the new s.94(2) is a good thing. This is because it not only protects course content (and, remember, ‘anything done in connection with’ course content) from being found to have resulted in unlawful harassment, it protects it from being found to have resulted in unlawful detriment or disadvantage. It seems entirely possible that certain choices of course content could put a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage, but s.94(2) means that would be perfectly lawful. (At least, that’s how it seems to me. The people responsible think that the distinction between content of the curriculum and delivery of the curriculum will take care of this concern, but I’m not convinced.)

Feminist philosophers right again…

Okay, that’s possibly overstating it slightly.  But we posted in July about the worrying decision of the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission to intervene in four cases being taken to the European Court of Human Rights. These cases involved

  1. Being forbidden to wear a cross at work (Eweida, Chaplin);
  2. Being required to perform a public service without discriminating against gay people (McFarlane, Ladele).

In all four cases, UK courts had found that there was no discrimination on grounds of religion, and the EHRC’s press release suggested it was equally critical of the UK courts’ positions in all four cases. But now – vindication! – it has apparently changed its position.  The full consultation document is on the EHRC website, and says,

We propose to intervene in:

  • Eweida and Chaplin on the basis that the Courts may not have given sufficient weight to Article 9(2) of the Convention.
  • Ladele and Mcfarlane on the basis that the domestic courts came to the correct conclusions.

If you feel strongly about this, do respond to the consultation *by 5 September* to support the EHRC’s new position. I shall certainly be doing so.

CFP: Special Issue of Human Relations – Organizational Justice and Behavioural Ethics

There’s a call for papers for a special issue of the journal Human Relations on Organizational Justice and Behavioural Ethics: New Perspectives on Workplace Fairness – here’s an excerpt:

The aim of this special issue is to begin to bridge the divide between the organizational justice and behavioural ethics literatures, encouraging future research that integrates the field and extends our theoretical understanding of these issues….we feel that the time is ripe for a special issue that aims to bring together research from these parallel disciplines so that new insights into workplace (un)fairness and (un)ethicality may be generated.

By recognising the shared concerns of, and concepts within, organizational justice and behavioural ethics research, scholars are challenged to explore, and borrow from, each other’s field to more effectively respond to individual and societal concerns regarding workplace (un)fairness. Indeed, recent organizational justice research has taken tentative, yet encouraging, steps in this direction. For example, studies of fairness motivations and deontic justice have begun to explore the importance of morality (e.g. moral motivations, moral convictions, moral identity, ethical orientation) in the driving of individual justice behaviours and judgements. By opening up the organizational justice research agenda to these wider ethical models and concepts we begin to better understand how and why various actors within the employment relationship behave (un)fairly, justify their decisions and actions as fair, and react to the perceived (un)fairness of others.

This special issue invites papers that are at the forefront of contemporary research into organizational justice and/or behavioural ethics. Our hope is to develop new insights into the moral, ethical and justice challenges facing organizations. In particular, we encourage submissions that address the following research questions, although this is not meant to be an exhaustive list:

  • What are the contextual antecedents of (un)just (e.g. discrimination, denial of voice) and (un)ethical (bribery, corruption, theft, whistleblowing) behaviour? For example, what is the role of HRM/people management policies and practices?
  • How can collective justice concepts, such as systemic justice, entity justice or justice climate, help us to understand (un)ethical phenomena at work (e.g. multilevel research on ethical climates or culture of justice)?
  • What is fair, just or ethical leadership? How can organizations promote, support and develop ethical/just leaders?
  • What are the individual differences that may explain (un)just and (un)ethical behaviour – including themes of justice sensitivity, moral identity, ethical orientation, moral maturity and empathy? Work on individual differences should not simply be a search for moderators but should provide substantial insight and contribution through clearly articulated conceptual models. Individual differences could also consider the role of context and circumstances.
  • How can theories of justice and behavioural ethics inform policies of environmental sustainability, corporate social responsibility and business ethics?
  • What are the challenges of managing fairness cross-culturally – including questions of societal/cultural values and differences in what is perceived as (un)fair and people’s reactions to (un)fairness? What are the implications for multinationals and FDIs?
  • When might morality and justice be incongruent – can moral decisions be unfair, or fair decisions be immoral?

We are particularly seeking submissions based on well designed empirical investigations of these issues, although strong conceptual work will also be considered…

Deadline is 31 January 2012.