A suspended professor was prevented from speaking at a conference about the increasingly “authoritarian” nature of universities by his own institution, Times Higher Education understands.
Thomas Docherty, a prominent critic of the direction of universities and government policy, was suspended in March for reasons the University of Warwick has still not revealed, although it has denied that the decision was connected to his views. The University and College Union has called for his “immediate” reinstatement.
Professor Docherty, professor of English and comparative literature, had been scheduled to speak at the Warwick University Ltd: Lessons from 1970 and the Higher Education Sector Today conference held on 6 June.
The event discussed the book, Warwick University Ltd: Industry, Management and the Universities (2013), edited by the historian E. P. Thompson, which took aim at Warwick’s links at that time with business and argued that universities might be “reduced to the function of providing, with increasing authoritarian efficiency, pre-packed intellectual commodities which meet the requirements of management”.
It is understood that the organiser of the event, the UCU, was told that Professor Docherty could not attend the conference or address it by Skype. Warwick also initially refused a request to have Professor Docherty’s presentation read out by someone else, THE has been told, but ultimately a letter from him was presented.
The conference was held at Warwick Arts Centre on the university’s main campus. It is understood that as a condition of Professor Docherty’s suspension he is not allowed any contact with his students or colleagues, nor is he allowed on to the campus.
A spokesman for Warwick, asked about the reasons for Professor Docherty’s non-attendance, said: “We have no particular view on that conference. It was an externally organised event that booked some of our facilities, which we understand was looking at a point in history.”
Dennis Leech, president of Warwick’s UCU branch, said that many themes of the book, such as “curbs on academic freedom on behalf of business interests, surveillance of staff and students, secret files” had become “almost a normal part of accepted higher education in Britain”.