Three-D Issue 30: Chair’s report

I’m beginning this report with thanks to our previous Chair Natalie Fenton who, for an incredible 12 years, was tireless in her service to MeCCSA members. In her final Three-D report she outlined the evolving landscape of the REF and the struggles we’re experiencing as individuals, HEIs and as an Association to navigate this new terrain.

As Natalie noted in December 2017, subject associations and learned bodies have played an important part in nominating REF sub-panels members. Since then we have kept watch on the emergent panels and their composition. In March 2018 we noted with concern that the composition of panels (as they stood at the time) didn’t seem to include sufficient representation and expertise across the relevant fields of research. The UoA appointment criteria state: ‘membership should collectively command the respect of the relevant research and wider communities’ and ‘the diversity of the research community in the relevant fields should be reflected in the sub-panel membership.’ From our perspective, these criteria are met when panels include assessors from across media, communications, film and cultural studies theory and practice, and when BAME colleagues are among those appointments. We continue to liaise with the British Association for Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS)in this regard and we wrote to the Chairs of sub-panel 33 and 34 who responded quickly and positively. In March 2018 we also wrote to HEFCE to express concern about the current constitution of sub-panel membership. In particular, we questioned the capacity of sub-panel 34, comprising a small number of people, to assess across the range of its remits.

At institutional level we continue to scrutinise the ways in which REF carrot-and-stick practices may adversely affect promotion, research time allocations and career progression. While some HEIs publish clear codes of practice in this regard which support researchers in reaching their goals, others are shameless in their pursuit of short-term REF success above the long-term sustenance and vitality of their departments and the people who work in them. If you are invited to act as a REF reviewer please make it clear that you will not provide anything that is intended to contribute to a performance review.

Colleagues have been under strain in other ways too. Again, in March 2018, MeCCSA publicly supported those members who took strike action in opposition to proposed changes in their pension arrangements. We argued that the health and diversity of our field are already too dependent on the goodwill of colleagues working in unacceptably precarious employment. The attack on pension rights would further erode the quality of working lives and undermine the academic vitality and vigour of our field.

On a happier note, we continue to enjoy meeting in welcoming spaces designed to exchange ideas, share strategies of resistance and to network – including, of course, at the MECCSA Annual Conference. Preparations are progressing well for our 2019 conference that will be hosted by the University of Stirling, our first time in Scotland. We are also pleased to announce that Brighton University will be hosting our 2020 conference. We extend our gratitude to the conference organising teams, and look forward to seeing you there!

Posted by Einar Thorsen