In a press release published on Monday night, Lancaster UCU branch announced that they have now formally entered a dispute with Lancaster University over trade union victimisation and 'an endemic bullying culture at the university.' The trade union claims that university management 'appears unwilling to resolve the issues internally'.

The case relates to Dr Julie Hearn, Lancaster UCU's branch president. It was recently revealed that Dr Hearn has faced trade union victimisation after she represented 14 of her colleagues who brought a collective grievance against her Head of Department, Professor Andrew Dawson, accusing him of bullying. On Friday morning, the preliminary hearing of her Employment Tribunal against the University decided that Dr Hearn's case will be heard in full in summer 2021.

Today's statement from the UCU reveals that 'instead of addressing the issue, management proposed to send the branch president on an extended leave until August 2021.' Shockingly, this offer was conditional on the UCU curtailing 'any public discussion of bullying in the workplace.'

The revelation that University management has tried to stop the UCU discussing workplace bullying comes just days after Spineless named two senior Professors accused of workplace bullying.

It's unclear if this attempt to gag the union is legal – as the UCU statement points out: 'Any attempts to prevent the union from carrying out its legitimate activities are completely unacceptable & potentially unlawful under the Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.'

The UCU has requested that University management immediately implement 'alternative line management arrangements' for Dr Hearn, 'to avoid further detriment and to ensure her well-being and safety'. The union has also called for an independent audit into bullying at Lancaster University, to assess the current implementation of existing policies, and to investigate the institutional culture of bullying.

At the start of February, 400 students, alumni, academics, professional services, and trade unionists from across the country signed a letter to the interim vice-chancellor expressing solidarity with Dr Hearn, and condemning Lancaster's 'endemic' culture of bullying and intimidation. When the letter was presented to the interim vice-chancellor, he refused to accept that such a culture existed in Lancaster.