“Jeff has been the most recognisable face of UCU at the University for many years, and has been instrumental in many of the union’s successes at local level. He inspired me to get involved in the work of the committee” says Susan Hunt, the Branch Chair of Sunderland University UCU. “He is a real trade union stalwart and I feel privileged to have learned from him.”
Jeff Fowler first joined the union’s Branch Committee at Sunderland Polytechnic in 1990, and since then has remained a constant representative of the union. First for NATFHE, and then for UCU, following the merger of NATFHE and the AUT in 2006. A lot of changes have taken place over that time: the institution became a University; buildings and campuses have changed; and tuition fees for University were introduced – and then raised considerably. Showing solidarity with students, Jeff has consistently opposed fees, including taking the local MP (Chris Mullin) to task when he spoke in favour of them at the end of the 1990s as Tony Blair’s Labour government was introducing tuition fees for University.
“There are a lot of members still working at the University who have much to thank Jeff for”, says Jon Bryan, Regional Support Official, “And many who have left on terms which they would not have done without Jeff’s intervention”, he says. Jeff has always represented members interests to the best of his ability collective meetings where Jeff continually argued on behalf of the membership, making improvements in terms and conditions, or minimising any detriments, sometimes getting things taken off the table altogether.
Jeff has never simply sat in his Branch and just dealt with the local issues affecting members at Sunderland University. He has always been involved with the union at a wider level, including the union’s regional and national committees. He has represented the union at the Regional TUC, has been active in a number of campaigns, and is often to be seen on marches and demonstrations.
“I first met Jeff when I was elected onto the union’s National Executive”, says Jon Bryan, “that was with NATFHE, where he always spoke up for his beliefs, even when he was in a minority.” Continually saying what he thinks, has been one of his trademarks.
Jeff has put himself forward on a number of occasions to represent members on the union’s National Committees, and finishes his term of office as a NEC member for UCU at the start of June 2018, one of many terms of office where he has put himself forward to members for election.
“I doubt anyone could have done more to support the membership here in Sunderland – and he always did so with a curious mixture of gravitas and good humour” says Diane Stevens, who has worked with Jeff on the Branch Committee for the last few years, and has recently been re-elected as Vice-Chair. She says: “The new Committee certainly have a lot to live up to, but we have learned at the feet of a master. Jeff will be sorely missed by all.”
Jeff leaves the UCU Branch at Sunderland University with much to thank him for, and there are a number of representatives who are picking up the reins. One of them is Steve Cannon, who joined the union Branch Committee when Jeff did, and has now been elected as Branch Secretary for the coming academic year. At the AGM, Steve led a vote of thanks from the Branch and has this to say about Jeff:
“Jeff Fowler is the model of a principled trade unionist. I hope to follow in his footsteps as the new Branch Secretary, and if I get halfway there, I’ll still be doing a good job.”
We wish him well, and thank him for his long service and dedication to UCU and NATFHE.