The absurdities at Warwick University that led to the suspension of Professor Thomas Docherty for — can you believe? — making “ironic comments”, sighing, and projecting negative body language have made the High Principals section of Private Eye. After 9 months suspension, he was cleared by a university tribunal and returned to work in September. Despite preventing Docherty from contributing to an academic conference and book during that period, Warwick boasts in an advert that “We’re not afraid to upset the apple cart or put the cat among the pigeons.” Plainly that does not apply to those of its academic employees who hold controversial views (Docherty is a critic of the commercialisation of universities). The pigeons here are now their own staff.
We might reassure ourselves for a moment that we don’t have these Thought Police at Kingston, but only for a moment until we remember that Dr Sarah Sayce, last head of Surveying and Planning, was suspended for the crime of informing her students about the “consultation” on the future of their school.
Not all the management at Warwick, or even Kingston, is assembled from professional managers or military cast-offs; many have academic pedigrees and would therefore, one assumes, be in favour of independent views and thought and against the persecution of other academic staff for their opinions or inclinations to sigh. Universities are supposed to be important institutions for the preservation and enhancement of civilisation, the dissemination of knowledge and understanding, upholders of freedom and truth.
But the fools who now run Warwick and other universities are turning them into graduate mills and technology research machines to suit the new economy — one that employs the population on falling incomes for the benefit of the few. And they are prepared to bully and abuse their staff who don’t toe their narrow line. From this it is clear that academics — the kind who become managers anyway — cannot be trusted to preserve the old ethos of universities. Nor can governors be relied on: they appoint the VCs, who have become the arch enemies of academia and friends of this reactionary government.
Currently Professor Docherty, although reinstated, faces a legal bill of £50,000 because he felt obliged to hire a barrister when Warwick informed him that barristers would represent the university in the case against him. He is thought to be negotiating with Warwick for the payment of his costs, although the university originally said it would not pay these bills, despite failing to follow its own disciplinary procedure in its Kafkaesque harassment of a senior member of its staff.
So when you send your ideas to the Kingston VC, be sure to keep them bland.