Stand with Docherty

July 17, 2014

There has been a series of comments in THE since March about the situation of Thomas Docherty, a professor suspended by the University of Warwick. The comments have been elliptical, because it appears that he has been required by his university to have no contact with colleagues and students while a case against him is being processed.

As a previous correspondent has pointed out (“A little less conversation”, Letters, 26 June), the constraints on Docherty are extraordinarily stringent. What is the role of such fierce conditions of silence in this case? And what is their justification?

One element in the case is Docherty’s public profile. He is a frequent, and admired, contributor to the debate on the nature of higher education. His stance on various issues is characterised by a fierce concern for equality, for the needs and demands of the disadvantaged in the present system, and by a searching critique of just how the system fails to consider how to tackle inequality deep down.

In March, the University of Warwick denied that Docherty’s “activism” was the grounds of the claim against him: “the disciplinary allegations in no way relate to the content of the individual’s academic views or their views on HE policy”. The university’s approach to questions from the press has promoted its own position at the expense of Docherty’s by means of the rhetoric of silence. They know that he may not respond, for fear of dismissal. So they fail to explain what is at issue; and their response carries the implication that somehow the “offence” deserved it.

On the contrary; the extremity of the university’s gag on Docherty, and the long period of irresolution of the issue, along with the expense of legal representation, points to the inference that in the case of someone who is a courageous critic of the sector’s managerial culture, the university needs to destroy first, and account for it after. Following the event, apologising for these measures will be easy enough; at the time, it exploits his silence to end his career.

Those of us who care about universities and the role of academics in critical assessment of how they are run and what they aim to do, should be standing at Docherty’s side, when eventually his university finds a date to hear his case. Silence is a clear and present danger.

Mary Margaret McCabe
Professor of ancient philosophy
King’s College London

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

man with frozen beard, Lake Louise, Canada

Australia also makes gains in list of most attractive English-speaking nations as US slips