30 May 2006
'Truth: lies open to all'
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CONTENTS: editorial, news in brief, Senate report, LAUT response to the VC's letter to all staff, history of protest at Lancaster: the Craig affair (ii), letters
The Action Short of a Strike continues at the time of writing. The arguments about who did what and to whom and when continue to be rehearsed and performed, and will no doubt continue afterwards. Negotiations continue, and any specific comments here will almost inevitably be superseded by events. The time for reflection upon our specific situation and the learning of lessons is probably after the dust has died down. (Though one is reminded of Zhou Enlai's comment when asked what he thought of the historical importance of the Paris Commune, 100 years before: 'It is too soon to tell'.) It is, perhaps, not too early to start compiling a list of subjects for discussion in the future. The thorny issue of what sort(s) of industrial action are most suitable to a dispute in a University might be one. The question 'how did we get here?' will need to be asked as well. The line has been approached and drawn back from on a number of previous occasions, why was it crossed this time? We need to ensure that, once the dispute is over, all sides do not merely withdraw to previously-prepared positions and wait for the next time. As always subtext will occupy the moral high ground and maintain a balance (not BBC balance, where any time that a position is discussed, the counter position must be given equal time, but taking each issue on its merits without prejudice). It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it. We could use your help.
This issue contains a report of the recent Senate meeting at which a series of issues including the University response to effects on marking of the Action Short of a Strike, and the continuing consequences of the George Fox Six, were constructively debated. No doubt major differences on important matters remain, but it is encouraging that the tone of exchanges – and in particular, of the approach by management to contentious issues – has much improved. Perhaps we have learned, collectively, from the George Fox Six episode.
This issue also contains the LAUT response to the VC's letter to all staff. This is run as a service to our readers, as the VC's letter would have been seen by most employees of the University, whereas the LAUT response is by definition restricted to members. We hope that in future that LAUT letters would be carried in the University's own newsletter.
We also carry an article by David Craig in the latest part of our 'History of Dissent at Lancaster' series. subtext 8 carried the story of what has been called The First David Craig Affair, involving student accommodation. The article below gives Dr Craig's personal perspective on what is therefore The Second David Craig Affair, which centred around ideas of academic freedom and the idea and purpose of a University. In the light of recent events, looking back thirty years is a salutary experience.
Finally, subtext has been asked to think about how it reports (or fails to report) on the often invisible contribution to the work of the University by technical, administrative and support staff. The point is well taken, and we'll pick this up in subsequent issues – hopefully with your participation and contributions. Please remember that subtext in large measure reflects the material it receives from its readers – so do keep your thoughts and your comments flowing!
2. NEWS IN BRIEF
Action Short of a Strike.
As subtext goes to press talks are continuing. In the meantime, academic AUT and NATFHE readers may be interested to know that The Guardian has been debating with itself whether it is legal for the university to dock pay. Legal advice published in the Work section on Sat May 20th (page 2) said that it was not. Further legal advice published under Corrections and Clarifications on May 24th says that it is. It seems that you pays your money and you chooses your lawyer.
The Autonomous University of Lancaster
The AUL is a concept, not an organisation, that is based on the idea that everyone can learn from everyone else, and that the division between teacher and student is unhelpful. Its Thursday Lecture series is now running at the Friends Meeting House, with the next lecture on Science and Public Policy by Dr Stuart Parkinson of Scientists for Global Responsibility and Dr Jasber Singh at 7.30 on June 8th (and thereafter fortnightly).
Medical Research Council
The next chairman of the Medical Research Council (MRC) has been announced as John Chisholm. Currently chairman of QinetiQ, Chisholm will take over from Anthony Cleaver on 1 October. See http://www.mrc.ac.uk/public-press_07_may_2006
3. SENATE REPORT
The meeting of Senate on 24th May considered a number of important and potentially controversial proposals. The note from the Academic Registrar stated that business was unlikely to be completed in a couple of hours, although there was 'not thought to be a need for supper or other special catering'. In the event, it lasted just over three hours. On the whole, the discussions were conducted with good humour and in a largely conciliatory spirit. The discussion items began with two relatively uncontentious items relating to the Manual of Academic Regulations and Procedures and the draft of the University's strategic plan for 2006-11.
These were followed by discussions of the drafts for two of the three codes of practice which had been commissioned in the wake of the controversy surrounding the prosecution of the George Fox Six. The first was the code of practice on protests, produced by a group chaired by Bob McKinlay. This outlines a set of procedures formulated in light of the University's commitment to the law, to the humanist tradition and to the University's strongly developed sense of community. On the whole, this was warmly received by Senators as a sensible and well-written document. In cases where police action is taken, the Vice-Chancellor will now be required to consult at least one member of Senate in addition to the senior officers of the University. There was some discussion as to whether this member of Senate ought to be specified, but ultimately it was decided that this should be left open. The second was the code of practice on research ethics. Mike Hannis, representing graduate students, was concerned that the document's understanding of what constitutes 'ethical research' was too loose; no attempt was made to define this. In reply, Trevor McMillan stated that the ethics research group was concerned to respect the fact that different researchers will have different beliefs about what is ethical. The concern of the document was not so much to define 'ethical research', but rather to ensure that a mechanism is in place to subject proposed research to an appropriate ethical scrutiny. On this basis, this code was approved, although one Senator voted against. Senate is still waiting to receive the third code of practice on freedom of speech. It is understood that this was also to be presented, but was withdrawn and will be presented at a later Senate meeting.
The bulk of the meeting, however, was occupied with the proposals for temporary adjustments to the University requirements for progression and graduation in response to the current ongoing AUT strike action. In presenting the proposals, Bob McKinlay stated that any such proposals needed to strike a balance between mitigating the effects of strike action on students on the one hand and preserving the integrity of academic standards on the other. As far as Part II students are concerned, it was proposed that those with more than 75% of final marks would be awarded a classified provisional degree, while those with less than 75% of final marks would get an unclassified provisional degree. If the array of available marks casts doubt on the possibility of an honours degree, then no provisional degree can be decided on. The subsequent discussions centred around questions arising from the detailed implementation of the proposals rather than intrinsic objections to the proposals themselves. Certainly, objections were raised against specific aspects of the proposals but the discussions revealed that, on the whole, Senators felt that the proposals had struck an appropriate balance between the two primary considerations mentioned, and constituted a more measured response compared with equivalent proposals emerging from some other institutions. This was reflected in the final vote, which gave a substantial majority approval. An informal count suggests that seven Senators abstained and one voted against.
This item over, the remaining ones were dealt with fairly swiftly. Senate approved, in principle, moves to establish a LUSU sabbatical position dedicated specifically to postgraduate affairs. A document proposing the incorporation of e-learning as an integral part of Lancaster undergraduate degree programmes was presented. This involved the setting up of five-year development plans to ensure that concrete progress was made in this respect. In the course of the discussions, however, it was revealed that at least two of the Faculty Associate Deans for teaching had not before seen the document in question. An alternative proposal that the document be withdrawn pending scrutiny by the faculty teaching committees was put forward by Alan Thompson and approved.
The final items approved revised regulations for taught Masters programmes, postgraduate diplomas and certificates and also a proposal for the development of a collaborative partnership with Sunway University College, Kuala Lumpur, which would make it an affiliated college of the University.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Vice-Chancellor paid tribute to Marion McClintock, who was attending her last full meeting of Senate in her capacity as Academic Registrar. She was given a sustained and enthusiastic round of applause. In reply, she paid tribute to the training she had received from her two predecessors and expressed the hope that such continuity would be extended into the future. She also affirmed her desire that Senate would continue to be a well-spring of academic life in the University.
4. LAUT RESPONSE TO THE VC'S LETTER TO ALL STAFF
[The Vice Chancellor's letter on the dispute was sent to all staff. subtext therefore publishes this AUT response to that letter (which went to LAUT members only on 22nd May) as a news matter of general interest for LU staff. subtext does not necessarily endorse the AUT position]
'LAUT's response to the VC's recent communiqué on the national pay dispute - the offer and the effects of the action
Staff will know that UCEA first made an insulting offer of 6%. Industrial action then forced UCEA to come back with an improved offer. Moreover, the VC's suggestion that 'the current offer goes some way towards meeting the "catch up" element' of the AUT's claim is clearly not credible. Many AUT members will be retired before a pay rise of approximately 1% above inflation per year results in anything that can meaningfully be considered to be catching up.
As far as we are aware, the other campus unions did not 'welcome the offer', as the VC's letter stated.
We will not insult our members' intelligence with claims about calculating the exact magnitude of the pay increase: we leave our members to decide whether or not the VC and UCEA are misinterpreting the pay deal.
The VC's commitment to the plight of the low paid seems rather hollow - 'For the low paid, the offer provides a pay increase of the greater of £515 or 3% from August 2006 and the greater of £200 or 1% from February 2008.' This figure is barely above inflation and is unlikely to be greeted with much enthusiasm by the University's army of low paid workers.
LAUT finds it odd that in most industrial relations disputes over pay, the employers ritually claim poverty - we dare say the initial 6% was presented as 'at the limit of affordability' but somehow the limit of affordability slipped a few percentage points higher. We want it to keep slipping in the same direction.
Lancaster University is not a poor university. True, Lancaster University is a research orientated establishment, and so will not benefit from increases in tuition fees to the extent that teaching orientated universities will. But teaching orientated universities do not benefit from the research income that Lancaster receives. Let us not focus entirely on the swings and ignore the roundabouts.
All universities have always varied in their financial position, yet this has never been used as an excuse to duck out of pay deals struck at a national level. All lecturers, for example, at the top of grade 7 will be paid the same wage in all Universities across the UK: they always have been, and they will be tomorrow. No individual university can legitimately claim that its peculiar financial situation means it cannot afford this, and so is going to pay lecturers at the top of grade 7, three quarters of the going rate.
Once again the VC is muddying the waters by referring to the pay modernisation package as if it is part of the current pay claim. The University has already been paid for implementing the pay modernisation package. Moreover, the whole pay modernisation exercise was initiated at the employers' request, not ours.
On industrial action short of a strike, the VC is right to say that 'none of us want to be in the position we are in, and that staff are trying to ensure that we do the right thing by students.' But it was not staff who got us into this situation, was it?
The University's response to partial performance may well be the docking of pay - although we have not reached this stage yet. Pay docking introduces a whole series of legal uncertainties about identifying staff who are partially performing, and then ascertaining what proportion of pay can be legitimately docked and so on. At this stage, no-one really knows the legal state of play. Irrespective of the legality, any docking of pay will be seen by our members as an escalation of the dispute. Our members will not, of course, simply accept this passively, but will respond by escalating our action. We urge the VC to proceed with caution over the coming days and weeks on this matter.
We are sure the VC is 'grateful to all the staff and postgraduates who are assisting us [i.e. management] in this, beyond their normal duties.' We see matters differently. Staff who take on extra duties because they are not being done by AUT members, are actually weakening our action and should be left in no doubt that this is divisive. We do recognise that some staff are simply responding to pressure being exerted on them. In this case, we urge them to join the AUT or one of the other campus unions and support the action rather than undermining it. We call upon all employees, to recognise that so far, the actions of AUT members have already obtained a pay offer almost double what they were offered a few weeks ago and that any subsequent pay rise , will have been paid for by the actions of AUT members but ALL STAFF will receive this same pay rise. We ask other staff only to carry on their normal duties and to contact their union if they feel pressured into taking on extra work. Do not do the management's work for them.
Finally, if Lancaster 'staff are our greatest asset' then surely it is time to pay them properly.
5. HISTORY OF PROTEST AT LANCASTER: THE CRAIG AFFAIR (II): THE BAILRIGG WITCH HUNT
This article, written by David Craig, follows the piece in subtext 8 on the furore over student accommodation at Lancaster.
'The Craig Affair' in its second phase (1971-72) was not a Craig affair, it was a witch-hunt aimed at the radicals in the English department. I say 'radicals'. Call us left-wingers, socialists, free-thinkers, whatever. There were seven of us, all appointed on the strength of our qualifications and talents. There was no ring-leader, no organisation whatsoever. By the early 70s, as a natural result of 'the Sixties' with their belief in re-thinking social arrangements and freeing ourselves from cramping and time-dishonoured practices, we were proposing that staff meetings should be regular, with agendas; that headship of the department should be elective and rotating; that students should be represented on the departmental committee - all violent, heretical stuff, as you can see.
What matters at least as much, perhaps more, is that we were working towards more democracy and up-to-dateness in the very grain of our literary teaching and study. We sometimes offered students on the Modern Literature course (the most popular one) the option of choosing poems, say, from current magazines as the topic of their essays. We brought the content of the course right up to the previous year. One 'lecture' was turned into a session in which the senior Medieval Literature specialist tried to date anonymous passages in front of the 100-plus students, to show that, so far from being infallible and all-knowing judges, we too were in the position of readers alone with pieces of unknown writing, to make of them what we could according to whatever knowledge and insight we had. We also started Creative Writing (in the same term as it started at East Anglia), this being the most democratic of all literary studies since it gives free rein to the talent and experience of students, both as makers of their own works and as critics of their fellows'.
All this was to liberate the study of literature from hidebound orthodoxy. We felt the same about the academic system. We argued for more projects and fewer exams - say, a proportion of 4/3 in the seven Major Finals. (1 think we managed to get 2/5.) We introduced the bringing in of set books to exams, so that students could quote meaningfully from novels, plays, and poems instead of regurgitating a few bits they'd mugged up to fit the questions they'd 'spotted'. We even proposed that staff should sit some of the same exams as the students. This was greeted with incredulous or hostile grimaces and not even voted on or minuted.
Everything was done in the open, and sometimes conceded by our bosses - the professors, Board of Studies chairs, Senate members, and above or behind them all the Vice-Chancellor. Bosses don't really work that way. Unknown to us, our boss, Prof. Bill Murray (who had appointed me in 1964 knowing I went to Cambridge to study with the Leavises, and who himself once proposed the Selected Letters of Marx and Engels as Victorian background reading) had been for a swim with the British ambassador to Prague in the embassy pool. He had been entertained with horror stories (many of them true, I'm sure) about how the Communists - I prefer the term Stalinists - had subverted democracy in Czechoslovakia. From this point on (some time in 1969 or 1970) things degenerated into a mixture of tragedy and farce.
Suspecting that our teaching was being skewed by our socialism, the bosses acted against the Modern Literature course. They sent all 100-plus Finals scripts to the external examiner, a renowned and venerated scholar in London, instead of the usual sample. He ratified all our marks. But 'I'll be judge, I'll be jury, Said cunning old Fury'. Some time in the summer of 1971, at the time when most academics are away and only the spooks are at their desks, the scripts were burgled from a cupboard in Bowland College and spirited across the campus to Educational Research. There a dutiful stooge duly opined that there was an 'undue proportion' of 'biased' expressions, of a leftwing nature, in a number of the scripts. Measured by what standard of normal usage? And I wonder which words should not be allowed to taint the language of literature students - class? capitalism? imperialist? revolution? Should we not have been helping students to see that Conrad's Nostromo, for example, deals integrally with the effects of foreign capital on an under-developed country? or that some of the best mid-17th-century poems have a special weight and resonance when they deal with drastic political change?
At all events the bosses now began to sack us, 'constructively dismiss' us, or kick us sideways. Probationary lecturers were warned to toe the line or else. Others discovered they were temporary when they'd thought they were permanent. Modern Literature was thoroughly smoked out (as in 'wasps' nest') and some of us had to oil up our rusty Brontes and Tennysons and Dickenses when we were moved off the dangerous moderns and onto the (supposedly) safe Victorians.
At this point we did a foolish, utopian thing: we tried to set up a sort of alternative university. I was suspended for 'bringing the University into disrepute'. The pipe-dream failed to come true, in spite of valiant efforts by colleagues and students in Sociology, Religious Studies, and other areas. Big meetings were held, on our own campus and also, for example, at Warwick, where they had experience of the bosses' barring admission to students who had been fingered by their headmasters as trouble-makers. And here occurred another of those squalid ploys favoured by managements. One of our perfectly open mass meetings was secretly bugged by a technician from English, on management orders. This skilled and likeable man owned up to it later, in a state of distress. Who, I wonder, was likewise suborned when those scripts were burgled? The department's administrative officer was similarly upset when, on orders, he had to deny me access to departmental minutes when I needed them to defend myself at the hearing to dismiss me.
Personal humiliation - the subverting of friendships - outright tears when a lecturer was bullied into voting against one of our proposals and later blurted 'What could I do? I'm a first-generation university person' - such are the immediate costs of a witch-hunt. A Conradian ordeal was devised for a visiting American linguistics lecturer, as he told us afterwards. Our boss flew to New York to see him before he came here for a year, warned him that he would be entering a nest of subversives, and asked him to befriend us and report back. So does the system deform, humiliate, and torment its employees when under pressure to reform itself.
When I was finally saved from dismissal - by the persuasiveness of a London barrister, paid for in part by a benefit night at the Liverpool Everyman organised by Adrian Mitchell, that excellent poet and true friend, and sent off to what they hoped was the limbo of a Lectureship Without Departmental Duties, my books and files had to be wheeled across to Lonsdale by the porters. A little later I found I'd lost my key to a steel cabinet and got a man from maintenance to open it. 'Oh,' he said, looking intrigued and amused, 'someone's been at this before,' and he showed me two neat holes above and to one side of the lock. With a paperclip he demonstrated how the lock could be sprung by prodding with the straightened clip. So some spook (a decent, low-paid employee, no doubt) had been getting access to my papers. I'm afraid they would have found only Senate, Board D, Cartmel College minutes and sheaves and sheaves of prose and poetry for dating and other exercises.
My comrades fared less well than I did. I was able to set up 'Free Ninth' courses in 'Modern Life and the Media' and 'Literature and Social Change' - both quite popular - and presently to start the M.A. in Creative Writing, the forerunner of the present department. Four fellow-lecturers left English, perforce or in disgust. Two Ph.D. students, graduates of ours, who already had teaching duties, also left Lancaster. All this did irreversible damage. At that time the English department was in full and open discussion with two other departments in order to set up joint courses, including seminar teaching: with Sociology, under the heading of Culture, and Religious Studies, under Myth. This crossing of subject boundaries, at natural points, had been one of our ideals for Lancaster from its start in 1964. These initiatives were never heard of again. Several of our postgraduates were doing ground-breaking research on lines that linked literature integrally with history: coalfield novelists of the north-east, the grass roots literature (including a now-forgotten writer of short pieces whose journalism was as good as Dickens's), the social history of Anglo-Irish literature in the 19th century, and the literature and art of the General Strike. We more and more conceived of it as a programme to link the growth and quality of literature with the trend of society as a whole, in the spirit of Raymond Williams, among others, and of Richard Hoggart, who had been external examiner for some of our first M.A. students.
After the witch-hunt, all these people went away. Most of them have had decent careers elsewhere, in Keele, York, Birmingham, Warwick, and Amherst, Massachusetts, among other places. The point is that they were dispersed, instead of belonging to a group that could have transformed a whole institution. And wider, perhaps, than that. Cultural Studies were now to be penetrated by the growth of Theory, by the involved ideas and opaque prose of Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, Eagleton, and goodness knows who else. Literary studies were sidetracked into a form of philosophy. Sensitivity to what is written, and through that to the inscape and quality of daily life, was usurped by a branch of the history of ideas. (I know that this view needs far more argument than there is space for here.) My belief - which is partial, and possibly hubristic - is that we were on the way to taking things beyond Leavis and Williams and establishing literature as prime evidence for the general human history. We might even (becoming more hubristic by the minute) have put literary studies on a humane footing which would have held good to this day.
The moral of all this may be, as one of my M.A. students put it, that 'You can never buck the system.' It may also be that unless you try to do so, you lose your self-respect and unbend the springs of action.
I thought this might be of interest to you as an exercise (perhaps to be implemented into the grading/promotion strategy of the Uni as well, after all, shouldn't we all want the right people at the top in management??? ;-)
I understand that you are on the lookout for an entrepreneurial idea for the new atrium in University house. I suggest a paintball arcade. Presumably the atrium is some sort of grandiose passageway to and from meeting rooms? Members of the administration could be fitted out with goggles and head protectors before going to meetings, and the atrium could be fitted out with a modicum of cover. Those paying to take part would score according to the seniority of their target, and the part of the body hit. The administrators could develop strategies to thwart the customers - a less senior member of senate could sacrifice him or herself in order to distract attention from a break for a meeting room from the Vice-Chancellor, for example. This might be a shrewd career move for the cannon fodder.
I feel that this enterprise could become quite a moneyspinner for the University. It might seem a little hard on the administrators, but I reckon that even with the inconvenience of being shot at on the way to and from meetings and covered with paint, they'd still have a better chance of doing their jobs than our group does in our cramped, noisy offices.
Subject: Suggestion for use of the 'atrium'
Apparently one of the principal performance indicators for Vice-Chancellors is the number of cranes currently operating on their campus. Therefore, I propose that the big new space in University House be used as a crane-assembly workshop. This would boost our VC's standing in UCEA and possibly encourage even more 'vital' PFI construction projects on campus. Perhaps we could invite Jarvis to run the workshop?
J W Unger
The editorial collective of subtext currently consists (in alphabetical
order) of: Lenny Baer, Steve Fleetwood, George Green, Patrick Hagopian,
Gavin Hyman, John Law, Maggie Mort, Rhona O'Brien, Ian Reader and Bronislaw