Thursday, 4 March 2010

Deathly silence.

The complete lack of response by the administration of King’s to protests about its proposed cuts in the humanities is deeply interesting. It suggests that they had not the slightest idea that the proposals would cause such a furore and do not know what to do. They seem to have been anticipating imposing their will under cover of financial necessity with only internal grumbling.

They got that one badly wrong and seem now to be hunkering down, trying to salvage what they can without actually giving up the ultimate goal of reshaping departments in their own image. The likely response will be to toss a bone to the protestors(oh, look, we've found some money...) while preserving the essence of the scheme to impose central direction on what research is done. This, at least, is standard practice.

But the outcry has been impressive, and very hopeful for the future when even more cuts are proposed in even more universities. Palaeography, after all, is not the only victim; the rallying of support for Dr Meyer-Viol and Professor Lappin has also been widespread.

Letters sent to the King’s managers about computational linguistics are on and make good reading. There are so many signatories that I do not reproduce them: suffice it to say that they come from pretty much every major university and academic organisation in the world.

The vitriol poured onto the head of Professor Trainor is in eloquent contrast to the obscure managerialist garbage that comes from the king’s administration. Some extracts are here:

“Dismissing senior researchers held in such high esteem by their peers will be disastrous for KCL's international reputation. In addition, all the reports we have received indicate that the people targeted were misled before these events and that some have been treated dishonorably since. We are aghast…”

“…To give the boot to a scholar like Lappin is an act of madness for an institution that, according to your website, aims to be a “prestigious university” offering “an intellectually rigorous environment supported by welcoming and caring traditions.” I hope that you will reconsider this rash and self‐damaging action.”

“With the retention policies you are introducing what sort of faculty will you attract? I'm betting just those that can't find jobs elsewhere, and they will be a bit of a laughing stock”

“From what I have been told, the above or similar scenarios are being played out with respect to some 22 posts in the Humanities at King's, in order to save money. I am sure that I need not explain that there are other ways to balance budgets than by sacking Professors... Who would take a job in Britain if such dismissals are possible? And who would not seek to leave Britain for a place (like the USA, but not only there) where they are off the table if not downright illegal?”

“In particular, the treatment meted out to Professor Shalom Lappin and Dr Wilfried Meyer-Viol of the Philosophy Department, on the grounds that "Computational Linguistics would cease as an activity in the School", seems to be shabby, high-handed and unethical. As senior managers at a Russell Group University, charged with upholding standards of educational excellence and with a responsibility to support senior academics in their teaching and research, you should be ashamed of yourselves.”

“The recent decisions… reflect so badly on King's College that, if they are carried out, it will take many years to restore your credibility and make King's College an attractive option for academics and students.”

“But the extreme and targeted nature of the cuts proposed is hardly with precedents. It would be met with sustained protests in the U.S. Academic rights and minimal professional commitments to honesty, fair treatment, respect for contractual duties, collegiality, and civilities have been violated or their violation is in the works. The damage to the deservedly high reputation of KCL is severe and it will be far worse if the plan is realized.”

“Silence encourages the belief that the College was deliberately violating its own procedures, deliberately acting with no concern for academic excellence, and that the supposed consultation document was a sham, registering a fait accompli. This belief, growing more widespread every day, is highly detrimental to the College’s reputation. I am speaking of its reputation well beyond philosophy and closely linked disciplines, and well beyond the UK.”

“I urge you to think again: not only for all the reasons that others have already pointed out, but so that you may in future be able to look in the mirror without shame.The issue is being watched all over the world by students and academics with a wide range of different interests.”

“.. if these measures are carried through, they will taint the reputation of KCL for many years to come, in view of its apparent disregard not only for excellence but also for a decent treatment of its academic staff.”

“...difficulties should not be used by management as cover for the imposition of central direction on research in the humanities. If you really need to make staff savings amongst the front line teaching staff (rather than within the College's administrative apparatus) you should do so in the way that elite institutions in the USA have recently done. No respectable institution in the USA has proposed sacking staff who are found not to be pursuing research goals determined by management. Were management at Sheffield to attempt this, I am confident my colleagues and I would refuse to cooperate with such a procedure. Nor would I consider applying for a position at KCL again until these proposals are permanently set aside.”

-- Iain Pears

No comments:

Post a Comment