notes on the discipline and governance of academic/student labour

Two members of staff have been sacked by the University of Bolton for allegedly leaking information to the press about the vice-chancellor, George Holmes… UCU said many staff are angry, confused and frightened after the extraordinary dismissal of two of their colleagues and the shock resignation of the pro-vice-chancellor.

Universities and Colleges Union, 26 March 2015


“This shows you what we’re dealing with – these [students] are just yobs.” [A] spokesperson from Warwick for Free Education… said: “His comment distills the patronising and dismissive attitude sustained by management throughout the entire summit and demonstrates the total contempt they feel for their students. “It seems that objecting to being CS gassed and threatened with tasers makes us ‘yobs’. “If that is the case, we’d rather be yobs than authoritarian managers who run universities like businesses and treat angry students like an irrelevant inconvenience.”

Lauren Clarke, Warwick University Vice-Chancellor overheard calling student protesters ‘yobs’, 17 March 2015


In my book Tenir Tête I quoted philosophy professor Christian Nadeau, who speaks of the emergence, in the spring of 2012, of a phenomenon of media brutality directed towards students. Incendiary columns and statements progressively ostracized, cursed, ridiculed and scorned the young demonstrators, stripping them of their rights as citizens and political actors. That phenomenon is being reproduced in front of our eyes today, with renewed speed and redoubled venom. Now, faced with an enemy who has been symbolically criminalized, only one approach is possible: total war. When a social group is isolated and ostracized in this way it is no surprise that the police feel more empowered to deal with them violently. Police officers don’t live in a bubble: they are exposed to the same media messages as the rest of the population. The officers of the SPVQ are no exception. They heard, along with many others, the calls to violence from the hosts of talk radio. What state of mind do you imagine that puts them in, when it comes time to don their armour?

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, Quebec police don’t live in a bubble, 30 March 2015


The argument against this is that the constitutional view isolates the [University] from its social environment: it attributes to the [University] an autonomy of action that it just does not have. In reality, what the [University] does is limited and shaped by the fact that it exists as just one node in a web of social relations. Crucially, this web of social relations centres on the way in which work is organised. The fact that work is organised on a capitalist basis means that what the [University] does and can do is limited and shaped by the need to maintain the system of capitalist organisation of which it is a part. Concretely, this means that any [University] that takes significant action directed against the interests of capital will find that an economic crisis will result and that capital will flee from the [University] territory.

Pace John Holloway, How to Change the World Without Taking Power


Nearly £3 million was invested by the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Strathclyde and Aberdeen-based Robert Gordon in companies linked to the arms trade. The largest sum was the £1.3m invested by Glasgow University in a number of firms including BAE Systems, Europe’s largest arms firm. [A] spokeswoman for Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, said the oil and gas, alcohol and defence industries all had a significant presence in Scotland with a large export contribution to the country’s economy.

Andrew Denholm, Scottish universities investing millions in arms companies, 6 April 2015


For Universities, trust is a necessary and, in my opinion, critical formula. The right environment for academics whether primarily focused on research or on learning requires “permissive” cultures. That does not mean anarchic but it does mean oxygenated without the dead hand which can so easily be played out with a regulatory “club”. So the best governing bodies use governance as a foundation stone but then help University leadership build from there to create a vibrant, innovative, stimulating and successful physical and cultural edifice. As peripatetics of the University, we must listen to the noises inside and outside. Those inputs to our “sonar” system reinforce or refute what we hear through the formal channels. When the two are broadly in harmony, it reinforces the organisational tone which Council expects to be set to create and deliver University purpose. When there is more than a little dissonance (there is always some), it is very likely that Council will see the University come up short in delivering that purpose.

Ed Smith, Governance in the HE sector – ingredients for success.


Harriet Bergman, a first-year research master graduate student in philosophy at UvA also studying economics at the undergraduate level, told Truthout attempts to put a price on everything, maximize output and run the university like a company have had disastrous results. She said the rule of rendementsdenken devalues important areas of inquiry – like language studies – not easily translatable into profit, while education at the university now tends to be treated in a merely instrumental way. “It’s becoming a degree factory,” she said about UvA. Natalie Scholz, professor of history at the university, wrote that struggling “to keep up with the output expectations in everything we do,” as demanded by the existing university structure, “we are quickly paralyzed by the thought, ‘You are not good enough.’ “ She said this culture of fear and shame is tied to the university’s obsession with reputation and public image.

James Anderson, Occupation at University of Amsterdam Challenges the Logic of Market-Driven Education, 9 April 2015


Demand #4: Free education The building in which we are occupying epitomises the notion that our university now feels and behaves more like a business than an art school. We are sitting in a fish-bowl room, with floor-to-ceiling windows, round glass conference table and chrome swivel chairs. UAL rents this building from Argent, a property developer who ‘make places for people’. Argent’s owner is one of the major donors to the Conservative Party. Their security, wearing the infamous red beanie hats branded with ‘King’s Cross’ have already notified the police, and are circling the site with sniffer dogs.

So, Demand #5: We have the right to protest This university should first and foremost be an establishment for education, not for money-making. Students should have the right not only to move in and out of this occupation as they wish, but should always have free access to the university buildings.

UAL students: Why We’re Occupying Our Art School, 21 March 2015


We organize against the marketization of our education, which subjects us to extortionate accommodation and tuition fees, our lecturers to continual real wage cuts and precarious, casualized contracts whilst VC pay continually rises, which circumscribes bursaries and diminishes access to education for minorities and structurally disadvantaged groups, which proposes cuts to Disabled Student’s Allowance and NHS fees for international students, which conceptualizes us as ‘stakeholders’ and our education as an ‘investment’, which deems us resources from which to extract profit in soaring Warwick retail prices and sports fees, as graduate employment statistics and data points to vaunt on league tables and student satisfaction surveys, which functionalises our education not as a social and public good, not as an inspiring, empowering and transformative experience through which to pursue our passions and nourish our artistic, creative and critical capacities, but rather as a conduit into industrial placements and unpaid internships with GSK, Shell and BAE systems, as a commodity with specified utility in the labour market.

Warwick for Free Education


the new regime has been all about putting students and the value of the experience they receive at the heart of the system, where it ought to be. It’s been about increasing information to inform choice; driving up the quality of higher education; freeing you from the restrictive student number controls and helping students to get their first choice of university. you will want to ensure the story is one of a sector delivering the highest value for students and in research – and as Professor Diamond has said, “scaling the twin peaks of excellence and efficiency”.

Greg Clark, Higher education: strength in diversity, Speech given at the annual gathering of university leaders at the Universities UK ‘Strength in Diversity’ conference, 10 September 2014.


If we are serious about academic freedom for academics, then institutional governance needs overhauling. But it has to be done by academics. No HE legislation in 2015/16 is going to undo chronic managerialism with its bullying and incompetence.

Andrew McGettigan, Academic Freedom: for Institutions or Academics? 4 April 2015


One Response to notes on the discipline and governance of academic/student labour

  1. Thanks Richard – just thanks – for helping us to try to avoid sleepwalking in our horrible present and into our near future and hoping that things can be different.
    The modern HE institution devours itself in its devotion to the market – and the apparent freedom of the market is contradicted by increasing (and ineffective) internal control. What does it all signify? So many wonderful staff and students trying to be a university.

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