Man for a merger

8th April 2005 at 01:00
Natfhe's new vice-president will become its last leader. Steve Hook reports

A controversial lecturer who says there is no such thing as institutional racism and opposes political correctness was this week elected vice-president of lecturers' union Natfhe.

Dennis Hayes will automatically be president after one year - and the last to hold the post before the union merges with the Association of University Teachers.

Mr Hayes is head of the centre for professional learning at Canterbury Christ Church university. He is a member of the Institute for Ideas, a libertarian think-tank, and has provoked upset through his columns for FE Focus.

His appointment surprised union officials, who were confident the post would be won by treasurer Fawzi Ibrahim, the only other contender.

Mr Hayes has promised lecturers that their voices will be heard above those of old-fashioned activists. He will take office in May and, after becoming president, will oversee Natfhe's merger with the university lecturer's union.

He told FE Focus: "I want to be the voice of the ordinary membership of the union, rather than an old-fashioned activist.

"I am opposed to the political correctness which is growing in the union. I would like to see the union strengthened by challenging the victim culture that threatens to turn a collective organisation into a counselling or therapy group by continually representing its members not as strong, critical individuals but as vulnerable people."

The union, he says, must work harder at fighting inequality by holding those responsible to account.

He added: "There is no such thing as institutional racism (a term frequently used against colleges from the platform at annual conference).

It is a fabrication which lets intentional racists off the hook."

Mr Hayes won 5,529 votes, compared with Mr Ibrahim's 3,403, with 8,932 of the union's 62,840 members voting.

Mr Ibrahim is widely credited with rescuing the union's finances. He says he does not intend to stand for any other office after his term as treasurer ends in May.

The union's share portolio, which had dwindled from pound;3 million to Pounds 1.5m, is now growing for the first time in 25 years under Mr Ibrahim's financial stewardship.

Paul Mackney, Natfhe general secretary, paid tribute to both men as the result became known this week.

He said Mr Hayes's background will be welcomed by those who support the merger of the two unions.

He added: "Dennis will be a very good spokesperson for Natfhe. He has focused on the quality of education in FE and higher education, which is a subject close to our members' hearts. I think our members might have decided they want an HE person as we go into the AUT merger.

"Our membership owes Fawzi an enormous debt.

"As treasurer, he took over in a very difficult financial situation and has seen us through to calmer waters."

While his views will ruffle feathers among some of Natfhe's old guard, Mr Hayes's enthusiasm for the merger will hit the right note with the majority of members who support the proposed marriage.

His election address urged the union to take a high-profile role in promoting good-quality further and higher education.

Mr Hayes says post-16 education is increasingly threatened by what he calls "McDonaldization" - with courses being offered in bite-size chunks "with no concern as to whether they are intellectually nutritious".

Natfhe - with members in colleges and universities - is larger than the AUT. In the combined union most members will be employed in higher education, but there will be separate wings for FE and HE along similar lines to those in Natfhe's current structure.

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