Striking university staff in Canada found an unlikely ally this week as a prominent Oxford professor refused to accept an invitation to give a lecture until an ongoing labour dispute is resolved.
Diarmaid MacCulloch, a Theology Professor at St Cross College who has recently presented TV programmes for the BBC, was expected to appear as a guest lecturer at McGill University on 1 December after winning their prestigious Cundill book prize last year.
MacCulloch said: “I was looking forward to returning to Montreal to lecture and to celebrate the far-sighted generosity of Peter Cundill and his family in creating this major award for historians.
“But I expect a University, as an institution committed to the disinterested pursuit of teaching and research, to do its best to maintain a respectful, rational and co-operative relationship between executive, administrative staff and teaching staff.
“What I have read about the present state of affairs at McGill suggests that that is currently not the case there. It would not be right for me to ignore that.”
In a letter to McGill University Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, MacCulloch wrote: “I write this letter with extreme reluctance… I have been reading reports of what is going on, which cause me considerable concern… Since I am a member of the University and College Union in the United Kingdom, I feel that it would be impossible for me to come as a guest lecturer under the auspices of McGill while the dispute continues.”
He added that he would attend if a resolution to the strike can be found in time and that he will attend a ceremony in London where this year’s recipient will be announced.
The Professor’s support was welcomed by the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA), whose 1700 members have been on strike since 1st September over wages, pensions and benefits.
A spokesperson said: “We truly appreciate Prof. MacCulloch taking a stand and choosing not to cross our picket lines. His refusal to give a lecture shows that our support is not only within the university community but also internationally. It certainly puts pressure on McGill to find a fair resolution to the strike.
McGill’s Dean of Arts, Christopher Manfredi, still hopes MacCulloch will make the lecture. He said: “McGill University respects Professor MacCulloch’s position and looks forward to his delivering the Cundill Lecture at McGill either on 1st December or another date if necessary. I would not characterize him as having refused to speak.”
Professor MacCulloch was awarded the Cundill Prize for his book, A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, which was made into an award-winning BBC series last year. The Prize is the largest non-fiction history book award in the world, with a US $75000 prize, recognising outstanding works which are accessible to the wider public. McGill University was founded 190 years ago and has 215,000 living alumni.