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Campaign for the Public University
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In a recent blog, David Browne, Senior Associate on the Employment Team for SGH Martineau, Legal firm with clients in Higher Education argued that universities face the problem that ‘high performing’ academics can damage their ‘university’s brand’ by their ‘outspoken opinions or general insubordination’.
[Readers searching for the blog will discover that it has been changed and clarified, without providing an explanation of what was at issue – the original blog is no longer available - UPDATE 15.21 - we have screenshots of the original blog here and here!]
The blog drew an analogy with the Suarez biting incident, but seemed to show an ignorance about ‘value’ both in football and in the academy. A partner at the same firm and head of education, Smita Jamdar, joined the debate on Twitter, to suggest that the blog was intended as metaphorical exploration of ‘what happens when people stray outside the freedoms permitted by their respective positions’.
What is at issue is precisely what is permitted by virtue of academic position and how that is being been re-interpreted in the new managerial regimes now governing universities. As Adam Hedgecoe suggested in another tweet, academic freedom is specified in the Education Reform Act 1988, Section 202 (2). The clause, setting out the role of a new body of University Commissioners, is quite specific: “to ensure that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at their institutions”
The relevant test is within the ‘law’, not within the managerial definition of ‘brand protection’. It is significant, but also worrying, that Smita Jamdar left the twitter exchange with the comment that we will ‘just have to agree to differ’. The relevant clause does not permit her interpretation and seems quite specifically to require that academic staff’s freedom of expression should be protected against the actions of employers. Her colleague, David Browne, subsequently changed his blog to allow that ‘lawful exercise of academic freedom does not amount to misconduct’.
Notwithstanding, the original version of the blog and the trope of ‘damaging the brand interest’ remains. This is, of course part of the new marketised regime of higher education where reputation, rank orders and market position are all-consuming concerns of senior managers. As I have argued elsewhere, Vice Chancellors have been very keen to argue for the autonomy of universities. ‘Autonomy’ is a powerful signifier in the academic community, it is also a shifting one. For scholars, autonomy stands for the academic vocation and academic freedom. However, for today’s university leaders, it usually stands for something else: the right to manage their university in a higher education market.
This isn’t the vision of autonomy previously embedded in collegiate organisation or in the idea of academic vocation. However, as soon as ‘brand’ trumps the commitment to knowledge and its critical engagements, the very idea of a university is at issue. In this context, it is not merely that academics have a right to speak out, they have a duty to do so, since what is at stake is so crucial.
In a powerful essay on the embroilment of LSE in the scandal of Libyan money, Craig Calhoun, subsequently to become Director of LSE, argued that the problem was that universities had become corporations just like any other. But the point was that they weren’t like any other and had an academic mission associated with public values. The problem is that senior managers no longer think it necessary to express those values.
Academic freedom is precisely what is necessary to protect the corporate university from the very threats to its integrity that derive from market freedom. It is not simply that universities should tolerate outspoken academics. The present situation requires them.
Students support the call for a national student demonstration on 19 November calling for learning to be free. This demonstration is planned as part of an autumn of protests and direct action in coalition with trade unions and workers. See letter in The Guardian.
Published in The Guardian on 10/6/14
To: General Prayuth Chan-ocha, leader of the coup in Thailand
From: UK academics and university staff and students
We note the military coup d’état in Thailand (22 May 2014) – the 13th since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. We stand with those protesters who are calling for a return to constitutional rule by a civilian government.
As academics and university staff and students, we also wish to express particular concern at the surveillance, harassment, and round-up of academics and students calling for democracy and the reinstatement of civilian rule. Academics and students who have been critics of the lèse-majesté law have been summonsed and we understand that some have gone into hiding as a result. We join with all others who have also called upon the Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army to immediately release politicians, activists, journalists, academics and others who have been harassed and imprisoned following the military summons to stop making any political criticism or comment. We condemn the move ordering universities to monitor the political activities of staff and students on campuses, and are also concerned that some universities have issued orders to their staff and students to refrain from making any political comment in the public sphere.
We support and admire the courage of university staff and students who continue to gather at Thammasat University and other protest sites. Intellectual freedom and freedom of speech are fundamental tenets of a democratic society and functioning university system alike and we urge their restoration.
Professor Gurminder K Bhambra, University of Warwick
Professor John Holmwood, University of Nottingham
Professor Les Back, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr Ipek Demir, University of Leicester
Dr Kirsten Forkert, Birmingham City University
Dr Robbie Shilliam, Queen Mary University of London
Dr Lee Jones, Queen Mary University of London
Mark Carrigan, University of Warwick
Dr John Narayan, University of Warwick
Dr Madhumita Lahiri, University of Warwick
Dr Peo Hansen, Linköping University
Dr Daniel Orrells, University of Warwick
Professor Luke Martell, University of Sussex
Professor Andrew Sayer, Lancaster University
Dr Malcolm MacLean, University of Gloucestershire
Emeritus Professor Gavin Edwards, University of South Wales
Professor Raphael Salkie, University of Brighton
Dr Nessa Cronin, National University of Ireland, Galway
Professor Jonathan S. Davies, De Montfort University
Dr Jo Ingold, University of Leeds
Professor William Outhwaite, University of Newcastle
Lauren Tooker, University of Warwick
Professor Larry Ray, University of Kent
Dr Justin Cruickshank, University of Birmingham
Professor Robert Fine, University of Warwick
Dr Rosa Vasilaki, University of Bristol
Dr Carole Jones, University of Edinburgh
Bernard Sufrin (Emeritus Fellow, Worcester College) University of Oxford
Professor Nickie Charles, University of Warwick
Dr Luke Yates, University of Manchester
Claire Blencowe, University of Warwick
Professor Patrick Ainley, University of Greenwich
Dr Kevin McSorley, University of Portsmouth
Gabriel Newfield (retired Pro-Director), University of Hertfordshire
Professor Mick Carpenter, University of Warwick
Dr Andrea Hajek, University of Glasgow
Lisa Tilley, University of Warwick
Dr Nicola Pratt, University of Warwick
Dr J. Sanchez Taylor, University of Leicester
Dr David Featherstone, University of Glasgow
Dr Angela Last, University of Glasgow
Dr Bryn Jones, University of Bath
Simon Dawes (independent scholar)
Prof Chris Jones, Liverpool John Moores University
Dr Vivienne Jackson
Chrysi Papaioannou, University of Leeds
Lee Mackinnon, Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr Goldie Osuri, University of Warwick
Dr Geoff Williams, University College London
Dr Hannah Jones, University of Warwick
Open Letter to Board of Governors of the University of Saskatchewan from Hundreds of Canadian Academics, May 19, 2014
A letter initiated by professors at the University of Alberta has, within 24 hours, and on a holiday weekend, obtained almost 850 signatures from academics across Canada. More signatures continue to come in. For updates, see here.
The letter’s signatories, coming from more than 15 different universities, are deeply concerned about the anti-democratic trends in university governance that are accompanying austerity measures in post-secondary institutions across the country. The recent events at the University of Saskatchewan reveal a form of governance that is hierarchical, disciplinary, and detached from the priorities of instructors, students, and support staff.
The reversal on May 15th of the decision to fire Professor Robert Buckingham, Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan, from his position as a tenured professor is a necessary step, but does not resolve all of the problems which led to the decision in the first place and that are causing deep malaise among professors, staff and students.
The signatories of the open letter to the Chair of the Board of Governors at the U of S, Susan Milburn, wish to draw attention to the governance approach which led to Professor Buckingham’s dismissal and which discourages open, informed, collective decision-making. While the gasket has blown in spectacular style at the University of Saskatchewan, frustration with executive-style (rather than collegial) governance is brewing at campus everywhere in Canada.
The letter was sent by email on May 19th 2014 to Ms. Susan Milburn, Chair of the Board of Governors of the University of Saskatchewan, with the request that she make its contents available to all members of the Board. It was copied to the Secretary of the Board, Ms. Elizabeth Williamson. We have not yet had confirmation of receipt of the letter from the Chair of the Board.
Laurie Adkin, Associate Professor, University of Alberta
Carolyn Sale, Associate Professor, University of Alberta
on behalf of the signatories
In England and in Ireland one of the consequences of the politics of austerity is the privatisation of higher education and its marketisation as a commodity. Fintan O’Toole, literary editor of the Irish Times, sets out the ‘Culture Shock’ that this involves. As he writes, higher education “is not a consumer product but a social, economic and democratic imperative.” As in England, so in Ireland, the policies are self-defeating in terms of their aim to reduce the cost of higher education, but the consequences for democracy and political culture will be much more serious.