Action that harms the innocent 1

March 19, 2004

The action of university teachers in boycotting everything to do with student assessment is morally contemptible. The AUT (aka the Association for Useless Tactics) has a long and inglorious history of making futile gestures at the expense of its members and the student body.

The present action, however, is grotesque, even by its own standards. Of course, the argument is: what else can we do? But is it really necessary to have an advanced grasp of ethics to understand that a sense of despair does not make it right to promote a cause by inflicting harm on the innocent? In the present case, this is also imprudent. The Association of University Teachers' "action short of strike" serves merely to foster the image of a profession in its death throes, lashing out at the nearest available targets (students) while salving its conscience by employing euphemisms ("disruption", for example) to describe its effects upon them.

None of this is to deny that university staff, who are overinspected, underpaid and for the most part forced to endure conditions that do not bear even a family resemblance to those enjoyed by earlier generations of lecturers, do not have an immensely strong case for an improvement in their treatment. What is needed to advance this is an imaginative and sustained publicity campaign, not the kind of divisive, counterproductive and, above all, morally indefensible action in which the AUT is currently engaged.

G. R. Berridge
Emeritus professor of international politics
University of Leicester

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