In lieu of February Tales

Wading through the usual guff of this month’s Newsletter from the VC — fashion, football, memorandum of understanding — readers may well have been startled and perhaps rather moved by his personal revelation linked to the recent commemorations of the liberation of Auschwitz. He also refers to the killings in France and properly insists that the University should be a haven for free speech and civilised debate. Authoritarian regimes, he goes on to say, first ban dissent and the satirist.

There is no shortage of satire on this blog but it would not seem right to apply the usual “corrections” to the Newsletter in view of the personal content. So this month we will just note the apparent enlightenment of the middle passages. Dissenter might even draw encouragement, were any needed, from the VC’s emphasis that “It is important that we question, and that we make fun of those in power (including me!)” Has he read this blog by any chance?

But just a minute. Readers may have felt a sharp pang of irony over the VC’s implicit attack on authoritarian regimes. Many staff at Kingston feel that he is the most authoritarian of vice-chancellors; recall the consultation exercises following which he did exactly what he wanted to all along; recall the summary treatment of the Head of Surveying, grade 10 demotions and Business and Law’s proposed performance measures, all the early retirements (at the insistence of bullying deans) of those who would have preferred to stay, the threats to schools that don’t pull their socks up (or at least improve their NSS scores). Nobody gets shot, true, but there are a good few people who feel the metaphorical knives being thrust in.

If the VC really wishes to create an enlightened university in which staff and students are happy and relaxed, truly have the freedom to think and freedom to speak without fear of retribution or job loss, he will need to do more than offer a few platitudes, even if they were heartfelt at the time. In the meantime he can look forward to (and welcome?) more dissent and satire. For the moment, though, Dissenter will not be soliciting or accepting any invitation to a “Dissenter’s Dinner”.

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