I attended an event at Northumbria University today. It was titled Brexit and the Law School and I was asked to contribute some thoughts on ‘Learning, Teaching and the University: The Changing Shape of the University Community’. Below is a summary of my brief talk. I’ll try and summarise the rest of the day’s discussion in another post
- Law Schools are, in my view, distinct little communities within the wider university community, within the wider local, regional and national communities and, again in my view, communities are shaped by those who inhabit them. Therefore, to understand the impact of Brexit on Law Schools we need to understand how Brexit might change the make-up of the Law School and university communities and what that change might mean on the ground
- So how will the make-up of Law School and University inhabits change post Brexit? We don’t know!
- Here’s what we do know
- UCAS figures show that applications from UK students for Law Courses for 2017 entry are up by 7% whereas applications from EU students are down 3%
- UCAS figures also show that applications from UK students across the board for 2017 entry are down by 4%, whereas applications from EU students are down by 6%
- The proportion of EU students studying law is relatively small when compared to the proportion of EU students studying some other subjects
- The number and proportion of EU students varies quite dramatically between institutions
- There is lots of anecdotal evidence that EU national academic staff are considering or actively looking to leave the UK and work elsewhere in Europe or the rest of the world
- There is also anecdotal evidence of EU nationals discounting the UK as a possible destination for work
- However there is also anecdotal evidence of EU national colleagues making plans to stay in the UK long term and also of some recruitment of EU national staff since the referendum
- The UCU survey about academics’ views on Brexit suggests that 76% of non-UK national academics are considering leaving the UK. That’s pretty damning. However, I would urge caution over that figure because ‘considering’ is very different from ‘planning to’ and the considering may be the result of quite significant uncertainty. Thing may change as we get clarification on what rights exactly will be available to our EU colleagues
4. This leads me on to what these figures don’t tell us
- Whether they are a trend or a blip. The applications for Law from EU nationals are still higher in number than for the 3 years running up to 2016 so was 2016 just a bumper year and we are returning to ‘normal’?
- What will the figures be over the next 5-10 years? Only once we know that can the data really tell us something about whether Brexit had a significant impact on the number of EU national (law) students in the UK
- If it is more than a blip, is it really Brexit or the uncertainty around Brexit that has caused the drop?
5. In short we don’t know how the make-up of Law School inhabitants might change. We really don’t. But let’s assume the worst – that we will loose the majority of our EU students and colleagues and that we will loose access to the Erasmus+ programme and research mobility/exchange programmes – what would the impact of that be? Well I think it would be devastating. I think we could see
- a shift on who and what is valued in Law Schools
- a more inward looking and insular approach to scholarship and teaching
- less engagement with EU and international issues and in particular with non-common law issues and approaches
- less well rounded curricula -explicit and hidden
- a reduction in the opportunities to learn from each other and a loss of the sort of creativity that happens when you tackle a problem together with people who bring different ways of thinking and doing things to the table
- less tolerance for different ideas and approaches and ways of thinking
- less well rounded lawyers – whether academics, practitioners or ‘just’ citizens of (a possibly much more narrowly defined) world
So my question really is – how do we make sure that we don’t become insular and inward looking law schools that irrelevant to the rest of the world or possibly just irrelevant?
A couple of days ago my institution opened a new entrance to one of the university buildings. Not exciting, but in that entrance area (it’s a glorified porch really) there are new toilets, not exciting either, but these toilets are gender neutral toilets. Now this is exciting. I was going to blog about them then but somehow it didn’t seem important enough. Well I think I was wrong about that. I actually think that having those toilets there is massively important and an email sent by a colleague mocking them and noting (sarcastically it seems) ‘As tens of thousands of innocent people are being cynically and perhaps routinely slaughtered in Aleppo, this remains the most compelling issue facing Students & Staff today’ suggests that maybe celebrating the toilets is even more important than I thought. Stick with me as I try to unpick this and try not to rant.
I don’t really get the obsession with toilets split by gender. It’s a toilet. I actually think it would make perfect sense to just have toilets – full stop. That would just be so much more inclusive and, well equal. Who gets to pee where isn’t about biological differences, it never has been. It’s about some old-fashioned concerns about what women should and shouldn’t be doing in public. It’s about anxiety and the misplaced perception that there is a need to protect women (or just generally protect us from each other). The research into public toilets is fascinating (see for example Molotch and Norens 2010 book ‘Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing’ which also contains a chapter by Terry Kogan on segregation) and I wish I had the time to read more of this stuff (yep, maybe I should have been a sociologist after all!). There are a number of issues around gender neutral toilets which jump out at me. I know there’s research and I am also keenly aware that most of it I haven’t read. What follows is my gut feeling about this and my initial reaction to the email I got at work which, to put it mildly, made my blood boil. I have tried to sense check my gut feelings and perceptions by talking to friends and reading some stuff but I know there’s a whole load of stuff I’m missing. If you have ideas for something I should read to help me get a fuller and more nuanced picture please leave me a note in the comments
- Gender neutral toilets are for everyone. They make sense. In buildings where there is limited space for toilets – just have toilets. Don’t make (almost always) women walk further and wait longer to pee.
- We don’t need segregation. Women do not need protecting. Segregation just encourages us to deal with each other in a slightly artificial and negative way. (I hadn’t really thought about this until one of my friends mentioned this – thanks, you know who you are). Segregation encourages us to view each other with suspicion. Well, as someone who routinely skipped the lines for the Ladies’ and walked into the blokes’ toilets – there’s no mystery. You might encounter a few more hairbrushes and a little more make-up in the little girls’ room but that’s it. Also – segregation doesn’t work. There is no magic safe space. See a recent Guardian article for examples
- Toilets can be the venue for many a drama, many tears and confidential chats and comforting. This has come up in conversation several times with female friends whose best friends are men. If the toilet is the only area at work or wherever where you can have a private conversation and a bit of a cry when you’re having a rough day, and your best friend or trusted colleague is male, you’re stuffed. You have to do your crying on your own leaving your bestie outside feeling properly useless. That doesn’t make sense
- Gender neutral toilets also make sense for parents – it means they can take their child of whatever gender to the toilet without any awkwardness whatsoever. None.
- Gender neutral toilets are also imperative for trans people. Here I think safety is an issue. The US trans survey results are pretty scary – 59% have avoided using public bathrooms (including at work and school) because of fear. Just think about that for a minute – 59% of respondents to that survey did not go to the loo because they were scared. That alone makes gender neutral toilets not just a good thing but absolutely crucial in any society or organisation that takes equality in any way seriously.
- I have re-written this paragraph several times now and I can’t quite get it right. The email I received (which went to a selection of people in response to the announcement that we now had these gender neutral toilets) was dismissive of ‘gender dis-specific’ people and pointed to the fact that there may be 3 in the institution and that ‘their survival is threatened by both a lack of tolerance and the lack of an arena where they can take a dump without the wolf-whistles’. I don’t even know what to say to this. Yep, there’s a lack of tolerance – nicely exemplified by the email. And yes actually their survival (in some cases, actual survival) and safety is threatened. Have a look for example at this article in the advocate which highlights some of the issues.
- Perhaps the most upsetting bit in the email is the assertion that because we care about gender neutral toilets we don’t care about Aleppo. I stopped breathing for a second when I read that. I care, as do my friends, about injustice. If I care about having gender neutral toilets, I can still care about Syria, about Human Rights abuses, about the gender pay gap, about every day sexism, about trans equality, about whatever f-ing injustice there is. I don’t have a finite amount of ‘caring’. Using one massive injustice to justify doing nothing about other injustices (on the basis that this means we don’t care enough about the massive one) is just idiotic. But of course I am missing the point here – if you don’t see not having gender neutral toilets as an injustice…
- For my institution as a university those gender neutral toilets are a great first step. There is somewhere to go for staff and students who do not want to deal with the ‘which toilet is the right one for me’ debate or issue every time they need to pee. I don’t care what the reason for that debate might be, nobody should have to worry about going for a pee at work/uni. I’d like to see gender specific toilets disappear – I don’t see the point in having them
So there we are. Do you see now why they are not just toilets? Why they are much more than that, a symbol of inclusiveness and equality or at least a step towards those values. They can also be genuine life-savers and certainly stress savers for many – and it’s not for me, you or anyone else to decide who gets to pee where.
I am stuck on a rather delayed train from London to Leeds and while I’ve been sitting here, I’ve been reflecting on the academic induction I did yesterday. In common with other institutions Leeds Beckett University offers an induction for all staff (which I haven’t done yet but you’ll see from the title of this post that I am keeping my option open for blogging on that one too!) as well as a full day induction for new academic staff. That full day was yesterday.
So, organisational issues aside (you know me, poor organisation drives me just a little crazy and there were one or two issues) here are my thoughts.
- Academic inductions are impossible, just impossible to get right
- I would have liked to be given a pack or folder with the information in and just left alone to read. There was nothing there that I couldn’t have just read and in fact I have forgotten a lot of the stuff we were told already and will have to find it again on the website or in the various bits of literature we were given
- I am not sure what I would put into an academic induction
- I am not sure I would have two slots for the Quality people. I say this in spite of the two short talks by the Quality team actually being amongst the better ones of the day. Somehow it sent the wrong message
- Graduate attributes are a funny concept – they are supposed to distinguish graduates of the same subjects from different universities but this presumes that institutions have different graduate attributes. It struck me how similar those of my previous and current institutions are – they just use different terms to describe them
- The research people got it – they brought leaflets, said a very quick hello and then left. I now have names which I can link to faces and leaflets to remind me as and when I need information
- It’s good to have a slot about equality and diversity – if we have to have slots at all. I still maintain that a new academic staff folder that you’re given when you start would be better! Maybe with a networking lunch or something where new academics can meet key people.
- While it was probably useful to be given an overview of services etc by central university teams there was a fair amount of stuff that referred us back to School based teams/people. It would be more useful for me to meet them but not right now, when I need them because otherwise I will just forget
- I have not been that bored in a very very long time. I feel awful saying that but I really was bored stupid. It was all so pointless. Yes, I am back to the folders idea.
- Ok, I’m trying not to be negative. Was there anything good – well I met a few people I’ll probably not see again; I touched based with the Centre for Learning and Teaching; I… nope, that’s it I think
I do wonder if everyone feels like this about the induction or whether this is me being particularly cynical again. Am I just being the proverbial cat that doesn’t want to be herded in any way at all? Do I underestimate the level of experience I have in HE and does that impact in how useful I think the induction was? I also realise that I may have tuned out a whole load of really useful information and that this might all come back to bite me when I really need to know something and can’t find the answer!