Letter to my MP

*I am very happy for anyone who wishes to use all or part of this to write to their MP

Dear Paul Blomfield,

I accept that the role of Parliament is to implement the democratic will of the people in this country. If I had voted Leave in the referendum on 23 June, it might have been because

– I care about my local area and I fear for its future (jobs, housing, hospitals, schools …)

– I care about the NHS

– I worry about “sovereignty”

I understand that the negotiations to Leave the EU are now likely to go ahead on “the Norway model”. This is what George Osborne seems to be saying, and what Boris Johnson seems to be saying.

Can you please ask the government on my behalf what arrangements are being made in the negotiations to protect

– the EU’s investment in deprived areas (I understand Cornwall and Wales have already asked to keep their EU money – how will this work on the Norway model?)

– the immigration rules that bring the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals we need to run the NHS now

– “sovereignty” if we are going to be “rule takers” in the EEA rather than “rule makers” in the EU

Please keep asking these questions until we get clear answers. And please think about how you are representing the will of those in your constituency. It is your responsibility to make sure our voices are heard.

If as the representative of your constituency, you become convinced that it is the best reflection of the will of the people that the UK remain within the EU, then please use your vote accordingly.


Tamara Hervey

Healthier ever after?


My long-time collaborator and friend, Martin McKee, saw it before I did.

“I’m getting a few people together on the health aspects of the EU referendum debate”, he explained, back in January. (“A few people” for Martin tends to mean, say, members of the House of Lords, or the Royal College of Physicians, or in the World Health Organisation.) “We could do with a lawyer who understands the EU and health – would you join us?”

And so my involvement in the EU referendum debates began. A small contribution, in the grand scheme of things. I spent an entire weekend reading, re-reading and decoding the negotiating texts of the TTIP. I nervously prepared to speak on Radio 4, appear in a panel for Sheffield Law School, address a group of interested people at CoVi with Craig Bennett of Friends of the Earth and Lord Andrew Lansley, the former Health Secretary. I learned more about how social media works from Mike Galsworthy of ScientistsForEU. I reluctantly deleted a post on Facebook, because someone in another law school dubbed the post as ‘smug’ for its claim of expertise.

My daughter searched the internet for a quotation from the late MP Jo Cox, and painstakingly wrote it on our front window, as a small act of solidarity.

This one

And, even by 22 June, there was still a part of me that simply could not believe that the NHS could be such a central part of the EU referendum debate.

Because the way health systems are organised and financed is not an EU competence. Because EU migration isn’t the main migration issue when it comes to health. Because governments have a great deal of discretion on how they implement EU law involving health (even public health). Because EU governments have negotiated health system opt outs from TTIP.

But these were all nuances that became lost, in the way the discussions unfolded.

When you’ve spent your entire career, as I have, learning about and teaching EU law, and trying, in any small way possible, to use that knowledge to pursue socially progressive agendas, it does feel odd to be arguing for the EU. After all, as I have often observed to my students, the EU may be understood as a “nasty capitalist organisation”. Trade deals (like the TTIP) can have similar unpleasant – and sometimes devastating – effects on those without power.

But the UK referendum on EU membership forced us all into a yes/no debate. There’s no room for the conditional  in such a choice. So, at least to begin with, I found myself explaining the potential of the EU for change for the better, with illustrations of those things that the EU has done (for women, for workers, for impoverished regions, for the environment, to constrain the global tobacco industry, and so on) as evidence of the promise of more.

But as time went on, I found myself spending a great deal of time simply correcting gross factual inaccuracies as they emerged. And trying to use legal arguments to stop misleading uses of the NHS logo.  I had not appreciated the ways in which the media, in an age of ‘instant news’, simply reproduce each other’s stories, without checking their veracity. Parts of the media from which I expect more disappointed me hugely. I will never buy the Guardian again (though they did publish a later letter).

And it wasn’t enough.

For me, as perhaps for others in universities, the ways in which “experts” were depicted by the media as untrustworthy became impossible to ignore. Scientists, economists, academics were all branded as equivalent to power-driven politicians. As my former colleague Rebecca Sanders observed, it is hugely insulting to assert that the general public are not interested in the views of experts, or too stupid to understand those views.

One thing the EU referendum has taught me is that the claim of authority that comes from the kind of knowledge built on deep reflection and learning, valued within the academy, is much more fragile than I hoped.

But equally, I was reminded, over and over, of the generosity of the academic communities to which I am privileged to belong. In Twitter conversations, emails, Facebook, videos, infographics, and in face-to-face encounters – people were giving up their time and energy to inform and assist. Some were ‘big names’ – known to me only through reading their published work. We were all still doing our ‘day jobs’ – teaching students, marking their work, writing papers, running labs, engaging with collaborators, going to meetings. But no one was ‘too busy’ or ‘too important’ to opt out. And in all of this, the disciplinary distinctions that sometimes beset universities were irrelevant. This was the academy at its best.

I can’t name everyone here. I lost count of the times Steve PeersPaul James Cardwell and Jo Shaw helped me out. I couldn’t have got on top of TTIP without Gabriel Siles-Brügge.

Simon Hix (by Twitter) and Lisa McKenzie (by email) reminded me that, while overall immigration is a net benefit to the economy and creates jobs, we mustn’t ignore its geographical dimensions. The localized effects of migration are an important part of the lived experiences of many in the UK today. Rather than demonising immigrants, we need redistributive policies that bring more local services – including health services – to those parts of the UK directly affected. Now the UK has to renegotiate its agreements with the EU and the rest of the world. The details of these agreements will affect the NHS, public health, education, and social welfare both indirectly through their effects on the economy, and in some cases directly. Where global (or European) trade is underpinned by law that supports the interests of capital, there’s a job to be done to secure a better deal for those who need it most. Law professors have a small part to play.

I shall be carrying on, until we are all ‘healthier ever after’.


“Experts” Facebook Discussion June 2016

I am posting all of this, partly so that I can hyperlink to it easily, but also because it illustrates the best of the way the virtual EU referendum debate went for me. These are all people I know in real life, but they would never all be present in the same room. I know some professionally, some personally; some since I was a child (hey, this is a blended life blog!). And yet here they are, on my “wall” (in my imagination, around our virtual dining table) talking about things that matter, and sharing their, er, expertise.

Tammy Hervey

So – I’ve just posted this in a discussion – but it’s worth posting here too: This is one of the things I genuinely don’t understand about the EU referendum debate – let me see if I can explain. I would NEVER try to cut my own hair, or fix my car, or many other things which might (or might not) be associated with “working class” skills. I always get an expert – someone who knows about it – to do those things. I work in a University – I get that lots of people don’t know exactly what goes on in universities and that we could do more to explain that – but actually I feel that my University (Sheffield) does a lot to open its doors to local people, so that they can get a better idea. So it’s often hard to explain to people why what I do is of value – it’s much easier for a hairdresser, or a car mechanic, or many other people, to explain that. And now – for once in my life – what I do – what I actually know about – is REALLY relevant – I’ve spent my whole life studying and teaching about EU Law, and right now the insights that I have matter. And yet – the whole debate has become about “don’t trust the experts, they are lying, just trust your feelings”. I would listen to and respect the views of a hairdresser, and a car mechanic, and so on, about the things they know about. So why isn’t the same happening to those of us who do know about the EU? That’s the thing that I just don’t understand – I’m really sorry if that’s my fault for not understanding.

Jonty Este Jonty Este I entirely sympathise with your point of view on this Tammy. I’ve often quoted experts such as yourself (ie: qualified university researchers who write in The Conversation) to my group of Brexit-inclined friends in my local pub only to be told that they are either “mistaken” or “making it up”. V frustrating!
Alan Campbell Alan Campbell It is a sad reflection of our anti-intellectual anti-professional culture propagated by the tabloids and trashy media commentators. The hypocrisy of whom is breathtaking
Guy Wyatt Guy Wyatt Unlike you Tammy, I do cut my own hair, but we all know how that turned out. I absolutely agree with you.
Oisin Suttle Oisin Suttle I agree that this is very much the tone of the Brexit debate, and as a shift I think it worries me at least as much as the substantive issue. If we refuse to place trust in expertise, whether that be academic, bureaucratic or any other variety, then we’re in serious trouble. If we similarly refuse to place any trust in the bona fides of those in authority – and that’s similarly been a huge aspect of the Brexit case – not just refusing to place blind trust, but refusing to grant any credibility – then the prospects for legitimate government start to look pretty dim. 

That said, I wonder if this is just long-developing feature of our public discourse that is just feeling particularly relevant to you right now. Think about the way climate change discussion has for years included huge elements of ‘don’t trust the experts, they’re confused / lying / just in it for the money’. You could make similar points about telling economists to shut up about austerity and debt over the past eight years. And perhaps, although its probably somewhat different, efforts to limits the medical professions’ voice in NHS management.

What’s funny (?) is that a huge amount of this more general anti-intellectualism has been promoted by the same elements of the tory establishment that are now desperately trying to invoke expertise to oppose brexit. Reaping what they sowed. And dragging the rest of us down with them 

Frank Pasquale Frank Pasquale I sympathize with your concerns–and I blame, in part, the relentless attacks on the legal profession and the academy, oft abetted by tech and finance interests. 

Check out the #legaltech hashtag on twitter (or talks by Susskind, whose recent book I review below), and you get an endless stream of commentary dripping with contempt for professions as guardians of expertise and disinterested analysis.

Michael Szollosy Michael Szollosy I saw this yesterday, which is helping me make sense of exactly the point you are making (accepting that I am nowhere near as qualified as you are): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/…/michael-goves-guide-to…/
Kim Balmer Kim Balmer A few months ago it never occurred to me that people would actually vote leave. Stunned that we’re being told the polls are close. It’s very scary what we seem to have become as a nation.
Aliali Boom Aliali Boom Do any EU lawyers favour Brexit? If people perceive the experts as disagreeing with each other then they will be more inclined to pick a side (for any reason) and think the other side is lying. Eg the economics posts I’ve seen on remain/leave seem to involve plausible experts invoking economics principles beyond my understanding – on either side. So I wouldn’t know what to believe. This seems less likely to be the case for law, but maybe that’s because I’m a lawyer so it all seems clearer to me already.
Celia Wells Celia Wells Well said but I don’t think brexit is so much about dismissing experts as about a visceral emotional reaction to the woes various of life in 21st century UK. Of course hardly any (none) of those are to do with the EU. Many can be laid at the door of the very Tories who have launched this idiotic referendum but the schadenfreude is not going to be at all satisfying. (Sorry I didn’t study German so sp cd be wrong). It also shows, if we didn’t already know it, how easy it is to whip up xenophobia with some handy slogans such as ‘we want our country back.’ Who is the ‘we’ and what is ‘our’ entitlement?
Jo Shaw Jo Shaw The people who wrote Revolt on the Right would suggest that “we” (i.e. the mainstream) have completely misunderstood the political movements going on here, and this is a major contributing factor. Dismissing experts is a by product, not a causal factor. I think it’s important to keep that straight in our heads.
Tammy Hervey Tammy Hervey Yup, I’m sure you’re right Jo.
Tammy Hervey And Celia is right too – see the AA Gill piece in the Times that is doing the rounds
Alph Thomas Alph Thomas Well said that woman
Steve Peers Steve Peers I pointed out an ‘EU tax plot story’ was silly since the UK has a veto. Someone said I was wrong. I pointed them to the Treaty articles which set out the veto. They said I was trying to tell them that black was white – (not the other way around!). And today’s Sun says that stocks are soaring, whereas they collapsed. This really is a post-truth environment.
Michael Szollosy Michael Szollosy I agree. But it’s so sad. I don’t think that this was supposed to be the consequences of the once-revolutionary hermeneutics of suspicion, or of the postmodern dissolution of the metanarrarive – believing rich white men will over expertise and truth. 


Frank Pasquale's photo.
Steve Peers Steve Peers He knows more than the entire medical profession, of course!
Michael Szollosy Michael Szollosy Is that true? 

I can’t tell what’s real and what’s satire any more…

Mike Shilson Mike Shilson Tammy Hervey An interesting analogy with hairdressers and car mechanics, but we have all had different experiences of even the same hairdresser or car mechanic. Even the World’s leading authority and most qualified “expert” on Obstetrics will have no experience and knowledge of childbirth, if the doctor/Professor is a “he”.
So often it is a question of perception and perspective.
So I respect the views of Fishermen whose experience of the EU may differ; especially considering the contrast in the fishing industry, and fish stocks, in Norway (which technically is still applying,as an EEC member, to the EU).

Few people under 50 can recall a time when Britain had Europe’s largest fishing fleet, writes Christopher Booker.
Michael Szollosy Michael Szollosy But personal, anecdotal narratives – though vital in establishing the bigger picture – should not alone determine our course of action, outside the informed opinion of experts, you would agree? 

My wife has had a wealth of first-hand experience and knowledge of childbirth, but she would still defer on most issues regarding childbirth to qualified midwives and doctors

Tammy Hervey Tammy Hervey I think that’s my point, really.
Steve Peers Steve Peers Well, here’s an alternative expert view of the EU’s fisheries policy and the UK: https://theconversation.com/what-would-brexit-really-mean…
Tammy Hervey Thanks Steve Peers – any use to you Mike Shilson?
Mike Shilson Mike Shilson Thanks Tammy Hervey. The “hot brain” and “cool brain” research may add an interesting twist to the referendum debate:

Lion and wolf cubs, when they learn to stalk prey, learn fairly quickly that they must delay the urge…
Mike Shilson Mike Shilson The Government fishery report makes interesting reading, so can see where both sides can find statistics to support their case: 
“Which groups + organisations do Leave supporters trust on #EURef? Generally none. Academics most trusted for…
Michael Szollosy Michael Szollosy Wow. That’s really instructive. And depressing. And scary.
Rebecca Armour Rebecca Armour Nick Armour – a conversation you might find interesting xx
Mike Shilson Mike Shilson Tammy Hervey The main reason why the population is “confused” and no longer “trusts” is highlighted, at 15 minutes into David Cameron’s speech to the CBI in November 2015:
Tammy Hervey Tammy Hervey “the argument is how are we going to be best off” Is that the bit you mean Mike Shilson?
Mike Shilson Mike Shilson Yes Tammy. “Best off” is interesting and can be interpreted in a number of ways. Earlier on in his speech, he stresses the importance of devolution to local authorities to set business rates, and though all seem to agree on the “Common Market”, he stresses the importance of “flexibility” within it, but expressed grave concern about closer political and monetary union (25:45 minutes into the speech).
Tammy, I would value your view that as he didn’t succeed in his aspirations, his concern is more likely to happen. Especially as indicated by Guy Verhofstad: (“…and he has promised not to make obstacles for the deepening of the Union.”)
Thanks, Mike Shilson
Tammy HerveyTammy HerveyCraig Bennett of FoE told me that their analysis was that without the EU the North Sea would have been fished dry.
John Green John Green I am reluctant to enter into a debate on this, but in the first referendum I voted ‘in’ because I believe in fair trade and that it would benefit our exporting businesses, and help Europe trade with us. I was nervous of what it would do to Commonwealth trade, and to family members who live outside Europe. For the economic reasons, if you ask 100 economists you will get 100 different answers – and yes I studied Politics, Economics and the British Constitution before David Cameron was born. The ‘experts’ called to support ‘remain’ are in general big businesses, or are organisations like the BBC, CBI and so on, all of whom receive funding from the EU. I spent quite a while working, at the beginning of my career, with small businesses as a supplier, and towards the end of my career as an adviser to start up businesses as well as periods in between in business training and development. Most of them do not trade with the EU, but have to obey EU laws. I have seen our fishing industry decimated, and the amount of paperwork imposed on agriculture is unbelievable. I used to see colleagues from the Civil Service go off to Brussels to agree legislation which our elected members have no say over. Unlike our House of Commons, MEPs cannot propose or reject laws. It is the total lack of democratic control and influence over the EU that has led me to the opposite view and I will be voting to leave.
Tammy Hervey Tammy Hervey John Green thanks for your post – obviously you know that I do not agree with your analysis and I am also reluctant to let this get in the way of our friendship which I value greatly. But it isn’t true that MEPs cannot reject laws – they can, and do.
Sorcha MacLeod Sorcha MacLeod And even if we leave the EU and stay within the EEA (as seems to be being proposed, although it’s incredibly unclear) we will continue to be bound by EU law, still be required to contribute financially BUT we’d have no input into lawmaking or policy in the way that we do now. How is that an improvement? 

Here’s my personal, non-economic take on it:https://www.facebook.com/sorcha.macleod/posts/1048781065187493

Letter to the Guardian April 2016

Just written to the Guardian for the first time in my life. Had to wait until daughters asleep and not using their iPads so I could do so, as I only have my phone with me on holiday.

But I am so cross about this – and disappointed.

Letter says –

It’s disappointing to find the Guardian repeating the view that Brexit is required to save the NHS because of TTIP. The piece by Lord Owen in the online edition cites (as so many others have) the UNITE legal advice based on the TTIP texts from 8 months ago. These do not represent the current position. UNITE themselves want the UK to remain in the EU. EU democratic processes (which are not perfect, but neither are the UK’s) have secured significant changes to the proposed dispute settlement system. Protections for public services are embedded in the TTIP text. The European Commission has formally assured our House of Commons Health Committee that they apply to the NHS, even a future NHS brought fully back into public ownership. This is true for public services in EU law in general – as for instance the Services Directive (which excludes health services altogether) demonstrates. The European Parliament, in particular, has made sure the EU’s TTIP negotiating texts are freely available, securing unprecedented transparency for an agreement of this type. . The greatest threat to the NHS remains the policy of successive British governments, based on the idea that a market is the best approach to efficiency, and undermining the historic approach to the NHS as a service based on need and dignity, with no place for austerity narratives. The contrast with what Obama has managed to achieve at US federal level could not be starker. Staying in the EU keeps us within that kind of vision for a public national health service.

Letter was not published.

Letter to NHS Identity Helpline May 2016

Dear NHS Identity helpline

(I tried calling first 020 7972 5250 or 020 7972 5261 as your website advises but no one answers)

Please can you advise on the action you are taking with regard to the use of your logo on the Brexit campaign bus as evidenced by the images circulating today such as this one: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/…/60add4d6-908c-430c-bb62-9d23b5…

I note that your guidelines, eg here

mean that use of the logo in this way suggest that the NHS is the “lead partner” in the Brexit campaign.

I find this difficult to believe.


Professor Tamara Herve

NHS Safer Within EU

Picture1‘Major leak from Brussels reveals NHS will be ‘KILLED OFF’ if Britain remains in the EU’ screams the headline.

Sounds terrifying, right? And may even sound beguilingly persuasive. I mean, the EU stands for free trade, and entitlements of private companies (and the shareholders that hold the power) to capitalise on the huge market of the EU. And we know, from for instance the World Health Organisation, that the US health system is utterly inefficient. Significant reliance on private enterprise is no way to run a national health system.

But let’s take this claim apart, and have a look at what is being said.

“Major leak”. That sounds like something is being kept secret, and it also sounds like it is new information. But actually what is being reported here is existing information, which is already in the public domain. And part of the reason is precisely because of the EU. The huge grassroots and civil society campaigns against TTIP have effectively deployed the EU’s legal rules on transparency, as well as the politics of the situation. The European Parliament, for instance, has done a great deal to make sure that we have unprecedented amounts of information about the negotiating texts of TTIP, compared to other trade agreements in the past. And the European Parliament has the power to reject the TTIP altogether.

“Killed off”. This is a myth that has been perpetuated throughout the campaign. The legal position is clear (though doesn’t make for interesting headlines). The legal competence (power) to make decisions about national health systems lies with governments of the EU Member States, not with the EU. This is true for the UK, and for all other EU countries. And let’s not forget that our own national analysis of the balance of competences between the EU and the Member States found that it’s about right, overall, and that specifically in this area it is the right balance. The EU is not about to take more power to decide on things like the NHS. It cannot do so legally – or politically for that matter.

So if there is any threat to the NHS, and many of us think so, it’s from our government, not from the EU. That’s the legal position. It’s also the politics of the situation. The EU institutions cannot legally – or politically – tell our government, or our NHS managers, or anyone else, how to organise our NHS, or how to fund it.

What’s more, even the bits of EU law that might affect small aspects of the NHS, where it is run on a market basis, have legal exceptions, and are interpreted in ways that respect shared European values about how to run health services.

But all that said, the stop-TTIP campaigners are right to be concerned about this and other things (for instance, the environment, labour rights). The TTIP negotiating text (remember, no agreement has been reached, and may never be) does cover investment of private US-based companies within the EU. The underlying idea of the TTIP is indeed to open up markets to that kind of investment. And the deal is likely to include some protection for that investment from governmental action, by making sure investors are compensated if governments take away their property. There’s nothing particularly sinister about that in principle – after all, if you invested in something and then government policy took away your expected benefits, you would expect some compensation. But there are ways in which it can be designed to give more, or less, power to governments as opposed to private capital.

So if we are concerned about the effects of TTIP on the NHS, the question is, what’s the best bet to make these concerns heard, and, ideally, have protections for the NHS put into the TTIP final text? Or you might be wondering what is the best way to stop TTIP altogether?

There’s much more detail on this here, and here. But in brief, the other EU countries have got ‘opt outs’ for their health systems within the EU TTIP text. It looks as if David Cameron may be forced to negotiate one for us too. It’s true that if we were to leave the EU, there would be no need for that. But the Leave campaign claims that we will have better trading relations – including with the US – outside of the EU. I would rather be within a context where there are pressures on our government to do what other governments have done to protect the European way of organising health systems. Remember that the Leave leaders are on record as pro-NHS privatisation.

Finally, why should you believe me? Why not believe the people cited in the Express article? I will be voting Remain, though I have been critical of the EU, and tried to argue for ways of using EU law to advance socially progressive agendas, for all of my career. My salary is not paid by the EU, although universities are indeed beneficiaries of EU funding. If I publish (including this blog) things that are demonstrably wrong, my professional reputation will suffer.

Contrast the Express – they can requote the same (small) number of health professionals and policy people (eg Louise Bours) without any lasting consequence for the paper or its editors. They can leave invisible the hundreds of health professionals and policy people who have put their names to Remain (including those who have publicly changed their minds, like Sarah Wollaston). Think about what those people have to lose by giving anything other than impartial advice – their very professionalism and professional identity.

I’m very happy to answer any more questions people have. On balance, my analysis, shared by many others in the health sector, is that the NHS is better off if we Remain in the EU.

Learning … doing … difference (edited)

As promised, an update from our Law&Diversity project. These reflections also concern the other things I’ve been doing this week (the EU referendum debate; a LERN workshop (thanks Paul McHarg for teaching me what WordPress can do); my ‘day job‘; my family). This is a blended life blog.

What have I learned this week? Or, better, what I have I been reminded of?

  1. sometimes, patient reasoned discussion makes a difference
  2. communities of learning can be extraordinarily generous
  3. universities can be places where power and knowledge are used to perpetuate inequality
  4. despite themselves, universities can be places where power is disrupted
  5. students (young adults) are amazing – resilient, cheerful, focused, committed, energetic, optimistic.

A quick story for each:

  1. Patient reasoned discussion makes a difference. I’m heartened to see so many of my colleagues giving their time and energy for free to explain the things about the EU about which people in the UK would like to know before they vote on Thursday. And I’m truly heartened to see that sometimes these (mainly virtual) discussions have helped people to make up their minds. As I said on Facebook (15 June 12:58), I would never cut my own hair, or fix my own car: I ask an expert. In this, we are the experts. I could name the people I have in mind here, but the blog post is probably long enough already.
  2. Communities of learning are generous. The Law&Diversity project students (James, Nazma, Nellie, Sabrina, Sarah) have been inspired and helped by over 20 members of staff and other students (remember Laura?) in the University of Sheffield this week, who gave up time to talk with them about the project. Thank you. And thank you to Lisa McKenzie, Simon Hix, and Nicola Royan, for taking time (via online journalism, email, Twitter, and Facebook) to remind me about how class, gender, and immigration interact in very localised ways (and what we should do about it).
  3. Universities perpetuate inequality. This idea is all over the literature that the students have been reading and responding to throughout the project. It’s something for me to be mindful of always – I’m white, I’m a professor,  I’m pretty old these days, I’m (currently) healthy, I’m middle class. The Law&Diversity project students have different experiences and identities. (Yes, before you ask, they are also getting into the intersectionality literature too.) We talked about power imbalances, respect and communication on Monday, during the initial team building. I’m looking forward to hearing what they think we should do about knowledge, inequality and power, within the very specific context of this project. For sure, we owe it to our students to equip them with knowledge and understanding of how universities, and the world they occupy, perpetuate inequality. We owe it to them to introduce them to ideas of ‘the white curriculum’, neo-colonialist curricula, ablist curricula, and so on. We owe it to them to help them think about how certain groups dominate discussions (even in universities – or perhaps especially in universities). We owe it to them to help them think about how apparently benign notions of ‘merit’ hide assumptions based on a host of differences and privileges: sex, race, class, and so on … And we owe it to them to be honest that, when we teach them in ways that ignore these understandings, we are continuing the patterns of inequality. But – here’s the thing – if we do not teach them in that way, we don’t equip them as effectively as we could to get on in the university, and the world, given that it is based on these hidden and implicit inequalities.  When I was able to discuss this puzzle with the students on the project – and I’m afraid that this was not as directly as I would have preferred – we agreed that what is best is a ‘both/and’ approach. So we do need to teach them ‘appropriate’ modes and registers of communication – written and verbal. At the same time as teaching them how assumptions made about someone’s merit based on their written or verbal communication skills are just that – assumptions, and assumptions that may well be problematic in terms of equality and diversity.
  4. Despite that, universities can be a place of change for the better. The students have been reading up on our history, as well as current developments, here, and in other jurisdictions. They are discovering how anti-segregation policies; affirmative action hiring processes; “diversity champions”; curriculum design; all have potential to have effects on classroom learning experiences, and to make positive changes to patterns of power distribution in universities and elsewhere.
  5. Young adults are resilient, cheerful, focused, committed, energetic, optimistic. I’m not going to embarrass the Law&Diversity project students with too much praise on here (yet!) – although all those adjectives apply to them. But I am pleased that another young adult, closer to home, felt well and strong enough to take some positive steps towards her future this week. And she’s now as inspired by Goldsmiths as I was when reading Les Beck’s Academic Diary.

In the Law&Diversity project, we’re in a phase of learning. Soon, we will have to begin answering the question “but what are we going to do?” When a problem is “wicked”, in the Rittel and Webber sense, such as “how should we best help law students learn about equality and diversity?”, there isn’t a right answer to it. But there are better, and less good things to do. And do nothing is one of the latter.

Above all, I’ve remembered one really important thing, for when we learn, and for when we do:

  • difference makes a difference.