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
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Marketing Campaigns Officer

University Of Chichester

Professor or Associate Professor in Structural Engineering

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

School and College Engagement Officer

University Of Chichester

PhD Position in Computional Biology

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Analyst

Greenwich School Of Management Ltd
See all jobs

Most Commented

Doctoral study can seem like a 24-7 endeavour, but don't ignore these other opportunities, advise Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman

Matthew Brazier illustration (9 February 2017)

How do you defeat Nazis and liars? Focus on the people in earshot, says eminent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt

Improvement, performance, rankings, success

Phil Baty sets out why the World University Rankings are here to stay – and why that's a good thing

Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft on why his university reluctantly joined the ‘flawed’ teaching excellence framework

people dressed in game of thrones costume

Old Germanic languages are back in vogue, but what value are they to a modern-day graduate? Alice Durrans writes