Monday, 14 June 2010

Strange Defeat

So, it is over, more or less. King’s College has issued a few statements, backtracked on a few trivialities, and everyone is happy, judging by the posts. The union seems pleased, and all is at peace.

Except, of course that it isn’t. The management of King’s has got its way in all essentials. It has won the right to reshape departments at its pleasure. It has adopted the shoddy tactic of forcing people out of their jobs at will and got away with it. The only difference now is that it operates through a committee with helpful academics who are prepared to “redefine” a post in order to force incumbents out. So much for academic solidarity.

So the stage is now set for the next round, for the real cuts, the ones that really hurt. The next time a head of department wishes to transfer resources from mainstream subjects into modish and unproven initiatives like the “digital humanities,” there will be a precedent and a model.

The next time a colleague of distinction doesn't quite fit in, the way will be open for his job to be redefined -- History of France changed, perhaps, to History of the French. That is all that is required, and then the job can be readvertised in a way which forces the offending clerk into voluntary redundancy.

Or perhaps, rather like Sussex, the management will decide that all of European history is of no importance and axe it. Or like Middlesex get rid of philosophy in its entirety. They can do so, now, whenever they want. And there won’t be an international outcry next time. Such a chance comes only once.

It is a pity. The Academics of King’s had a opportunity to defend more than themselves, more than their own jobs. Not enough wanted to. Some saw advantage for themselves. Some did not care. Some senior academics whose opinion counted preferred to make life easy for the management. Others felt that there was no point in carrying on, and gave up.

I fear they will regret it, senior and junior, not least because the management now has the measure of them, and knows how to get its way.

But all is well. No-one responsible for making King’s a laughing stock has been fired; indeed they will probably be rewarded for taking tough decisions.

The last Professor of Palaeography in Britain will lose his job.

Professor Trainor gets a knighthood for services to higher education.

No further comment is necessary.

-- Iain Pears


  1. We now know the price of knighthood. What price a life peerage? Closure of a University?. Middlesex? Metropolitan? Greenwich? Any V.C coming up for retirement will be looking for opportunities to please that Cove(Gove) and his missus with a gong to sound the knell of his institution.

  2. You are completely on target.
    But...have there ever been heroic Academics with backbone, or at least an understanding of enlightened self-interest? (For the record I am an Academic.) If so, I would welcome illumination on what can be done to change things for the better.

  3. It has been clear for a while now that many of the cuts already announced (before cuts are really necessary - that comes after the budget) were all about testing the metal of the opposition. So far the UCU has come up short. Be clear the only thing that hurts universities is not marking final papers without which students cannot graduate. Taking a day of action is pointless.

  4. Cathy Crawford14 June 2010 at 15:38

    Thanks Iain

  5. Thank you for this important -- and oh so depressing -- article. As an academic at King's, I have been horrified as it has gradually dawned on me just how many of my colleagues were prepared to turn a blind eye, make things easy for management, refuse to see what was going on with the offer of the so-called 'Voluntary' Leaving Scheme. It makes me ashamed to be an academic.

  6. And another King's academic agreeing wholeheartedly with the above.

  7. And another, likewise.

  8. And they won at Middlesex, too: the fact that Kingston is taking over 4/6 of the staff is coincidental. What are some practical steps that the UCU could take to mount some effective opposition? External examiner boycotts, exam board strikes... what else?

    -concerned academic

  9. No one should be surprised if their is craven behavior among academics. A more interesting question is whether one finds more or less such behavior among academics than the general population...

  10. I'm afraid your post is not clear to people who do not already know the details of what is going. Last I heard there were not going to be anyone sacked. Please clarify.

    I can't believe Trainor is getting a knighthood...

  11. Heroic academics: We have to go back to 1985, Denis Noble CBE, then a Professor of Physiology in Oxford succeeded in preventing Mrs T from receiving an honorary doctorate from that University in response to her swingeing cuts to higher education. Maybe the current generation could do likewise perhaps expunging Cameron et al from the list of honorary members of the Bullingdon Club?