Serfs up, bring down quasi-feudal practices (1 of 2)

October 20, 2011

What an extraordinary, scarcely believable world we live in when a "senior academic" feels the need to remain anonymous when blowing the whistle on vice-chancellors' increasingly bizarre behaviour when they remain in their entrenched positions of power for longer than is in anybody's interest ("The madness of kings", 13 October).

Tragically, in recent times we have all lived under modern political fiefdoms. We have witnessed the unedifying spectacle of those who are addicted to power and its trappings becoming so mesmerised by their own self-importance that it becomes virtually impossible to remove them - certainly not until major (and sometimes irreparable) damage has been done to their own "kingdoms", and often further afield, too.

Any quasi-feudal system that produces such outcomes is a disgrace in a "democratic" society, and we desperately need people of courage to speak truth to power and expose such abuses. Yet with the academy now being comprehensively colonised by neoliberal capitalistic values, it is little surprise that our leaders' "remuneration packages" are mimicking the worst excesses of a private sector in which leaders typically pay themselves virtually whatever they wish, without any democratic accountability or checks and balances to moderate them. Under this system, any possibility of democratic control over "blank-cheque" leadership virtually vanishes.

There is an urgent need for a debate about the parlous state of what used to be called "public service" in this country to shine an unerring light on current mores (or rather the lack of them) under the ascendant ideology of "marketisation"; and some of us, at least, are determined to initiate it.

Richard House, University of Roehampton

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