Warwick suspends prominent critic of higher education policy

But university rejects claim suspension relates to activism

March 11, 2014

Source: Ben Firshman

An academic who has been a prominent critic of higher education leadership and policy has been suspended by his university, although it has rejected claims the move is related to his politics.

Thomas Docherty, professor of English and comparative literature at Warwick and former head of the English department, is a member of the steering group of the Council for the Defence of British Universities and has written opinion pieces for Times Higher Education.

One academic suggested on Twitter that he had heard Professor Docherty had been “suspended indefinitely for anti-cuts activism”.

A spokeswoman for Warwick said: “The university would not normally comment on internal staffing issues. In this case however, given inaccurate reports elsewhere, we would wish to confirm that a member of academic staff has been suspended pending formal disciplinary process.

“Contrary to those inaccurate reports elsewhere, the disciplinary allegations in no way relate to the content of the individual’s academic views or their views on HE policy.”

Professor Docherty could not be contacted for comment.

His articles for THE have criticised what he sees as the marketisation and bureaucratisation of higher education.

A 2013 article on mission groups described the Russell Group, of which Warwick is a member, as “a self-declared elite…even exerting a negative influence over others”.

He called mission groups “a polite version of a kind of gang warfare…The already strong have failed to defend those they deem weak.”

In 2011, he wrote of the “Clandestine University” in which “we find scholars and students who hold on to the idea of what a university is for, while the Official University…shows no concern for those fundamental values or principles”.

He continued: “In the laboratory or library, when our experiments or readings lead away from a simple rehearsal of what the grant application said we would do, then we divert from the terms of the grant and we engage, properly, in research. We do not find what we said we would. But we cannot officially say this.”

Also in 2011, he published For the University: Democracy and the Future of the Institution, described by Stefan Collini, professor of English literature and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge and another high profile critic of the higher education reforms, as “an avowed polemic… but none the worse for that”.

“If it helps to make more people aware of the contradictory and short-sighted way that universities are now discussed and managed in Britain (he mostly confines his attention to Britain), then it will more than earn its keep,” Professor Collini said in his review of the book.


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Reader's comments (5)

The news are deeply distressing. http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2012/09/the-attack-on-knowledge/ I have never met personally Professor Thomas Docherty and yet he took an interest when I was dismissed with one day notice from QML (sic) because I oppose(d) the direction imposed on this institution by its detached and mostly unaccountable management team. He wrote: "My attention has been drawn to the case of Dr Missirlis, a colleague whom you have declared redundant with effect from today (29 June 2012), having only informed him of this decision yesterday (28 June 2012). The case gives cause for concern, in my view; and I am therefore taking the liberty of writing to you, as a senior colleague in one of your partner institutions. For the moment, as an outsider to the facts of the case, I may have nothing significant at this stage to add to issues of substance. However, I find it disturbing that Dr Missirlis has been given notice of one day, despite the fact that he has until 12 July to lodge an appeal. I wonder if you can clarify the propriety of this: is it the case that legislation permits you to require an immediate vacation of office and termination of access to infrastructure (such as email access or internal documentation that may be needed to present an appeals case) prior to the process being completed (assuming that appeal is a legitimate part of the process)? It appears to me that your course of action is prejudicial to the appeal process itself." I cannot be as polite, educated and generous in my own reaction to Warwick University's decision.
There can be no question, absent evidence to the contrary, that a ruse has been concocted and employed to both ensure the dismissal of Prof Docherty and the further intimidation of others in the sector who would consider speaking out or acting to oppose their institutions policies. Higher education, especially in the UK, has become like the corporate world -- entirely anti-democratic, rather than collegial.
At the same time, I would call your attention to the case of Prof Sarah Sayce, Head of School of the School of Planning and Surveying at Kingston University, who was, at the end of February, suspended from her post by the VC for having sent an email to students informing them of the University's plan to shut the School, which would have an immediate effect on students' education, and asking for their support. Once again, any act of challenging wisdom and policy of management is being met with a heavy hand. Why has THE failed to report on this case?
It is entirely characteristic of Prof. Docherty to have reacted effectively and courteously to the difficulties of others, as Dr. Missirlis reports. Thomas Docherty has spoken out courageously and tirelessly in recent years against the damage that is currently being done to HE by a lethal mixture of factors. It is worth noting that whatever the content of the allegations made against him, which the university does not disclose, that is quite distinct from the reasons that those allegations have been made, which the university dare not admit.
Thomas Docherty is by no means the first academic to be victimised for radical activity in the academy. Once upon a time, there existed an academy ethos that positively welcomed dissent and critique, and the ensuing battle of ideas (Blake; "Without contraries is no progression...") - but the current power elite are so terrified of being exposed for the violence they're perpetrating on higher education, that eloquent, effective critics like Professor Docherty must be silenced. Make no mistake, bureaucratic neo-liberal functionaries and apologists for the privatised corporatised academy , history will look back with utter contempt on what you're doing to the university - and even more important, many of us are comprehensively on your case. Make no mistake, it is Foucault's 'fearless speech' that will win this war, not your shameful betrayal of the academy. Dr Richard House (retired HE senior lecturer)