Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Of Colleges and Colleagues

One of the interesting, (though no doubt trivial) aspects of the Principal of King’s response to the vote on strike action is his ambiguous use of language. He writes “the College has stated…” “We believe…” and addresses the recipients of the letter as “colleagues.”

This is very curious, and the way the use of the terms evolves illuminates a certain haziness of definition which is a contributory cause of the current problems.

The word colleague, after all, derives from the latin collega, partner in office, one chosen to work with another -- not for another. By addressing the would-be strikers as colleagues, Professor Trainor is appealing to the bond that exists between equals. It is a reference to the spirit of the confraternity which stresses that he also is a member of that body. It is not a term of address used between master and servant, or between employer and employee.

Similarly the letter uses the word “college” on several occasions but in different ways. the term derives from collegium, meaning a community, society or guild, an “an endowed, self-governing association of scholars incorporated within a university or a similar corporation outside a university.” Again, at one point the reference is to an organic whole, a collection of equals, not to an hierarchical body.

But the use of both words is ambiguous: the letter slips from using college in a general sense, to using it to mean the management: “the college has stated that…” In the proper sense of the term, of course, the college has done nothing of the sort: the “association of scholars,” if it has spoken at all, has spoken to go on strike, not to condemn a strike as premature.

The usage here is a stealthy act of appropriation. The shifting definitions, which also show up in the use of “we” to identify management as the college itself, mean that the management becomes by implication a sort of rousseauian expression of the general will: a peculiarly Leninist touch in the circumstances.

Those who disagree, therefore, do not merely have a dispute with management, they expel themselves from the college as a whole by going against its wishes: “the college does not accept...” Indeed, at that point he stops addressing them as colleagues: those who even contemplate going on strike suddenly become “staff” -- "a group of assistants to a manager, executive, or other person in authority."

Such people, of course, are not considered members of the college, and cannot expect the consideration due to equals…

-- Iain Pears

1 comment:

  1. Staff at King's will be on strike next Tuesday unless "management/the College" or whatever banner they wish to be seen beneath decide to engage with the Union.