Exeposé speaks to Professor Tim Quine, Deputy Vice Chancellor Education, about racist vandalism and whether his recent comments disrespected Exeter’s transgender community.
When speaking to Professor Tim Quine, the University of Exeter’s Deputy Vice Chancellor for Education and perhaps one of the most powerful figures in the institution, you appreciate his unfiltered honesty.
Our interview with Professor Quine, which took place several days before the University and College Union announced a second round of industrial action, is a rangy conversation. The University’s response to the racist incident at the Law School in December is challenged, as is the institutional response to the UCU’s concerns on pay.
Most pressingly, we confront Professor Quine about comments he made at a Guild Officer training day in June, where he reportedly condemned criticism of an open letter that contested the rights of transgender people to identify as their felt gender.
This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.
Exeposé: The University is committed to a decolonised curriculum. However, a decolonised university has to be actively antiracist. We want to ask about the racist vandalism that took place in the law school in December. Was the University acting transparently enough for an incident in a public part of campus?
Tim Quine: I wasn’t involved in the detail of this particular incident. Fundamentally, we are against any expression of any forms of racism. You’ll have seen how we work with the Provost commission. To be absolutely clear, we won’t stand for any form of racism and we want to ensure that all of our community know how racism can be dealt through microaggressions, actions that might be accidental.
We mustn’t let our community think that the institution is characterised by racismProfessor Tim Quine
É: We wouldn’t say this was a microaggression. It was public racist vandalism on a University building. Was the incident handled transparently enough by sending an email to only law students, and with the wider student representative bodies not aware of the incident taking place? Did the Students’ Guild have a right to know?
TQ: It is my belief that the Guild were kept in the loop. What we must do is call out and ensure that people are aware this behaviour is absolutely unacceptable. We need to develop an understanding of the University of Exeter as an inclusive environment. I suppose there are two dimensions, aren’t there? One is that we only ever talk about racism, inclusivity, equality, diversity – in the context of events that take place that represent the damaging aspects of the institution. We don’t focus on the strong commitments that individuals are developing towards an inclusive environment.
É: The Students’ Guild have publicly stated that they were unaware of the incident. They had only found out when Exeposé asked for a comment. How can a campus be committed to tackling racist behaviour if these negative incidents are then not to be so highly in focus?
TQ: I think we have to do both. In relation to the communication with the Guild, I will reiterate that if we haven’t got it right, then we will get it right next time. It is certain that there was no notion of covering up. An email had gone out from the Head of the School to over a thousand or so law students about the incident that had taken place. It’s not that we were hiding the incident – whether it should have been publicised more, is obviously something to look at. We absolutely have to do both – call out racism when it takes place, but we mustn’t let our community think that the institution is only characterised by racism.
The question of whether there is fair pay is one that has come right to the forefrontProfessor Tim Quine
É: The University and the College’s Employers Assosication (the union for University employers) have offered the UCU a pay increase of 1.8 per cent, a figure that the UCU says does not fall in line with the cost of living. Do you believe that the culture of overwork and burnout are obstacles to academics, particularly working class academics?
TQ: I think we need to address the questions about fair work and allocating the work, and ensuring staff are supported adequately, and that’s why within the Education strategy we have a section on valuing education and why one of the five priorities within the educational strategy is to support colleagues to succeed, and we can’t support colleagues to succeed if we don’t have a reasonable workload. That’s why we have that commission taking place, and why I’m going to be leading the teaching workshops, and the issues raised by the UCU and other parties are going to be on the agenda there.
The overall pay levels, I think, it remains a role that many of us think about when pursuing – many of us pursue our subjects driven by our passions, or interest in the University. We’re doing it because of our passion to communicate that to future generations.
The question of whether there is fair pay is one that has come right to the forefront. The University did say we will be prepared to offer more, but there are 147 universities involved in the bargain. We are locked into a national bargain, with limited wiggle room.
If I was interpreted as representing a view that I didn’t respect my trans colleagues or students, then I regret thatProfessor Tim Quine
É: You reportedly condemned criticism of an open letter titled ‘GAY PEOPLE LOSING FAITH IN STONEWALL’ as abusive. You described the letter as a “well written, thought out, and needed intervention” and a “defense of academic freedom.”
Many would regard these ideas as transphobic. If you recall, why did a discussion of the letter come up during a Guild Officer training day? Moreover, can you elaborate on why you felt it was an abusive act to criticise the open letter?
TQ: Well, I wasn’t speaking from a standpoint of trans issues. Across the institution we were absolutely committed to LGBTQ+ rights, around issues of gender identity and sexual orientation. It’s absolutely at the core of this institution.
My recollection of what I said was that I was trying to encourage that we disagreed with each other with courtesy. I was not trying to make any reference to this case and the rights and wrongs of what was said in the letter. The key to my report was that I announced to the subject chairs and the representatives present, that if we were going to be in an environment where we don’t always agree with each other, then what we have to do is find ways we can disagree with each other.
What I was referring to was an argument on social media that moved from any form of debate on the rights and wrongs of the issue and devolved into something that was much more personal.
We can agree to differ, but all the time we’re thinking – what am I doing for the integrity and the inclusivity of the learning community that we are trying to promote? That was the context of why I brought in that particular issue into the speech in that context.
É: Was it professional to express this view that may have been misconstrued, in such a context in your senior position as the DVC?
TQ: If I was interpreted as representing a view that was that I didn’t respect the identity of my trans colleagues and students, then I regret that. I got it wrong.
Editor: Harry Caton