Hundreds sign petition as St A ‘ends contract of only female Gender Studies professor’

Over 1,500 academics and students have signed a petition condemning the decision

Students and academics worldwide have expressed outrage after the University of St Andrews “refused to renew the contract of the only female professor at its Institute for Gender Studies”.

Almost 1,600 students and academics have signed a petition condemning the decision by the University to part company with Dr Alison Kerr. 

It was reported by The Times the course “will now be taught by two men who, critics say, do not have a background in the subject”. However, St Andrews University has now said these reports “are inaccurate and incorrect”, and Dr Kerr’s “duties are being covered by several colleagues, women and men”. 

In a statement, Dr Kerr said the university’s decision to end her contract is a “slap in the face for all of us who took them seriously when they promised to promote diversity”.

The campaign, Stand with Alison, has attracted support from academics globally.

They say American philosopher Dr Kerr, who is director of the institute, is integral to the department and its credibility.

Elinor Mason, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said: “I want to stress how valuable this programme is, and what a shame it would be to squander all the work that Kerr has put into it.”

Andrea Peto, from Central European University in Budapest, said: “Gender studies is under attack globally. Very sad that this is also happening at University of St Andrews. Maybe it is not too late to change this decision.”

Professor Kirstein Rummery, from the University of Stirling, said: “At a time when gender studies and interdisciplinary feminist scholarship are badly needed, growing in popularity and under epistemic attack, this seems a questionable decision from a prestigious institution that should be leading the way.”

In a statement Dr Alison Kerr said: “The decision by the university to end my contract and put the entire gender studies programming at risk is a slap in the face for all of us who took them seriously when they promised 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. 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.”

A spokesperson for the University did not discuss the specifics of Dr Kerr’s case, which is subject to an appeals process, but said: “We are aware of various communications circulating about this case, including an ‘open letter’. There are several fundamental misrepresentations in these communications. The impression given is both misleading and unfairly damaging to the university and to other respected academic members of staff.

“The MLitt was never set up to be operated by a single person. The long-term plan was always that a cohort of suitably qualified individuals would teach and direct the programme.”

“The colleagues teaching on and directing the MLitt programme currently are suitably qualified to do so, and have taken over at extremely short notice.”

“The ending of any fixed term contract is deemed as a redundancy, with staff given the opportunity to bring forward considerations, and the right to appeal. The University does not undertake this exercise in a perfunctory manner.”

Update – A university spokesperson has added: “Reports in the UK media that the Director of Gender Studies at St Andrews has been ‘replaced by men’ are inaccurate and incorrect.

“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.

“Current responsibility for the Gender Studies Programme lies with Dr Morven Shearer, Director of our Graduate School, who is currently in discussions with a range of academic colleagues in St Andrews about appointing a programme director for the remainder of the academic year.”

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