Endorsement from Dr Chisomo Kalinga, University of Edinburgh

I fully endorse Dr Jo Grady to take over as General Secretary of UCU. She is precisely the right candidate to reinvigorate a divided and fledgling union.

I joined UCU in January 2018, shortly before the industrial strike to save our pensions began. Two days before the first round of strike action, I decided to seek legal advice to ensure that my position as a Tier 2 sponsored visa would not be compromised. To my shock, I discovered that if I participated in the strike, specifically on the 5-6 March when my employment contract began on a new visa, I would lose my visa sponsorship and HR would have to inform Home Office to revoke my visa within 10 days. I also discovered the vicious labyrinth of traps that would have ensnared international staff, including new hires who would not have been aware that the absence of their supervisors to ensure they attended their first day of work would have immediately compromised their visas. No one seemed to be aware of how deeply the strike action would affect non-EU citizens on sponsorship visas. First, I was disappointed with my university’s HR department, who never, at any point during the strike, stepped in to directly advise international staff. Second, I was disappointed by how long it UCU headquarters to sound the alarm to warn international staff.

During that time, I became very active on Twitter and remain so today because of the industrial strike. That seemed to be the only place where we could openly share frustrations, fears, ideas, contacts for immigration lawyers and legal advice to understand Home Office’s mercurial regulations. That is also the forum where I first became acquainted with Dr Jo Grady. Jo emerged as one of several de facto ‘go-to’ leaders who were supporting strikers. I had innate and sincere concerns about the injustices of the proposed pension scheme but lacked the expertise to articulate these concerns. Those of us who were concerned about the lack of answers about our immigration status turned to Jo for support. She had garnered a large online following during that period and graciously gave us her time, advice and leadership. I witnessed her engage with concerned strikers; she gave us her time and knowledge on industrial strikes and provided answers based on her independent inquiries. I was most impressed by her fearlessness to take on heavy hitters within the opposition, who were also clueless about the UK’s hostile immigration policies. She directly challenged assertions made by Alistair Jarvis Chief Executive, Universities UK, among others, while I could only respond with pithy GIFs. She waded directly into political territory while academics with far more seniority in the ivory tower remained quiet on the sidelines as they waited to see the outcome. Delays in addressing issues pertaining to international staff could have resulted in certain deportation for many of striking staff, including myself. Jo had the courage to speak up and to share her knowledge with us. We need someone of this caliber to lead UCU.

I’m excited to see how the energy Jo brings to the role of General Secretary will manifest. She was an important voice during the strike and I believe we will benefit from her leadership.

Jo listens. She adapts quickly. She seeks advice. She asks questions before responding with sincerity, decisiveness and authority. What more do we want from a leader?