Barnes: why I resigned

21 January 1969

This is the dramatic front page of Guild Gazette today – leading with the headline of the resignation of the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Winston Barnes, but with a white space where the story would have appeared.  Instead, this note to the reader appears:  distribution of Gazette would have been prevented if the story which was to have appeared here had been printed.  Alongside, in a letter to the Vice-Chancellor, the editor of Gazette, Tony Charlwood, tenders his resignation after his decision to accept the imposition of a ban on publishing a verbatim report  of the Vice Chancellor’s address to students last week had been opposed by the paper’s editorial board.

This statement by the Gazette editorial board appears on the front page:

A matter of principle

Gazette’s” front page lead story does not appear today. It was to have been a normal account of the meeting, last Thursday, at which the Vice Chancellor, Dr Winston Barnes, addressed students of this University on the exam chaos last summer, and his recent resignation as Vice-Chancellor.

The report does not appear because President Richard Davies and Gazette’ editor Tony Charlwood gave assurances to Dr Barnes that the Press would be excluded from the meeting. Guild Gazette, while permitted to report that the meeting had taken place, was not to be allowed to report anything Doctor Barnes had actually said.  The Vice Chancellor made it quite clear that unless these assurances were given, he would not address the student body.

The reasons for Dr Barnes’ request are obvious. His resignation over the Prices and Incomes Board report generated nationwide publicity on a scale he had never expected, as he told us last Thursday.

He resigned, he made his point.  Dr Barnes spoke to Senate in private; he he spoke to the non-professional staff on the same condition; and so it was natural for him to want to speak to the students in private.

On this point Gazette sympathises and agrees with Dr Barnes. But Gazette too was not allowed to report the meeting; we suppose because copies of Gazette are sent to the various national newspapers, and in this or some other way publicity would have leaked out. It is here the editorial board of Gazette wish to take issue with the Vice-Chancellor.

Firstly, it is unlikely that any unwanted publicity would have resulted from the Gazette report, as on the subject of his resignation Dr Barnes said nothing he had not said before.

It is possible, however, that the story of the meeting would have reached the national press. But Gazette feels very strongly that this is not sufficient excuse for preventing our paper from reporting, to all students, the reasons which our Vice-Chancellor gave for his resignation, and no less important, a University statement on the exam chaos last summer.

‘I’hese are subjects which matter to us all. Many students could not be present because of lunch-time lectures, and for other reasons. At the very most only a third of the 7000 students at this University were in the Mountford Hall last Thursday. Gazette would have reached them all.

And after Dr Barnes had spoken on his resignation and the exams, he threw the meeting open to the floor. Many important topics were brought up, such as ineffective teaching, houses in Melville Place, and so on. Even fewer students were present as it was by now nearly 2 pm and time for lectures. Gazette feels that all students in the University have a right to know what our Vice-Chancellor’s replies to these questions were.

This seems to us a basic freedom. After all, we do not often have the chance of asking him. It is possible to attack Dr Barnes for his political views. We wish to make it quite clear that here we are not doing this. This is a matter of principle. Should the Vice-Chancellor of this University be able to speak to his students and yet make it a condition of his speaking that no report of what he says be published in Gazette?  Leaving aside the general question of the right of veto, does Mr Barnes think, in this particular case, that he has acted justly towards his students?

The editorial staff of Gazette feel that he has not, and that this is a serious encroachment on the freedom of the press.

Inside, the editorial comments on Barnes’ resignation, pointing out the irony of his resigning on the principle of university autonomy whilst advocating the establishment of a ‘free university’, financed by private industry and charging student fees of around £1500 a year:

Decision sincere – motive misguided

Dr W HF Barnes’ decision, taken over the Christmas vacation, to resign from his post as Vice Chancellor of this University came as a shock, not only to the national press, which gave  the move full publicity, but also to students here in Liverpool.

Dr Barnes felt, he said, that he could no longer tolerate the increasing government control over university finance and more specifically the standing reference the Prices and Incomes Board had been given to (as the government order put it) “keep under continuous review the remuneration of the academic staff of universities in Great Britain.”

Dr Barnes’ sincerity in taking this decision must be respected by us all. It is rare that a man of Dr Barnes’ standing is prepared to sacrifice his job on a matter of principle. So often people in high office are ready to continue about their work in the full knowledge that every act they perform is contrary to their own beliefs. However, Dr Barnes’ principles do appear to be rather short-sighted.

Dr Barnes said in the statement he made at the time of his resignation: “By assuming without argument that since the universities have become more reliant on State finance, therefore they must be more closely subject to governmental control in their expenditure, the report (of the Prices and Incomes Board) makes a mockery of university autonomy.”

The resigning Vice Chancellor seems to think that the government should give the universities a carte blanche. They should provide the universities with as much money as they want and then sit back and let academics like Dr Barnes decide how this money is to be spent. From the academics’ point of view this would be excellent, yet from the government’s viewpoint it would be ridiculous.

No one, least of all the government, is going to give money without having any say in how it is to be spent. So far the government has relied upon bodies such as the University Grants Committee to decide how the money it gives to universities is to be spent. Now, through the Prices and Incomes Board, it is keeping a closer eye on its investments. To expect that it could ever totally relinquish this control is naive. As Anthony Crosland, when he was the Minister of Education said, “The universities have always been responsive to the needs of the government.”

Dr Barnes has, since his resignation was announced, signed the report of the Institute of Economic Affairs advocating what has (not without some note of irony) been called a “free university”. If this institution ever came about, as is quite possible, students would pay their own fees (about £1,500 a year some estimates say) and the rest of the necessary finance (estimated at between £5,000,000 and £30,000,000) would have to be supplied by industry.

This institution (the public school of universities) would indeed be free  from government control. But it would still be subject to the control of those who finance it. Surely it is less likely that private industry, whose main concern must be with its profits, would allow more of the sort of freedom Dr Barnes has in mind than does the government at present.

Academics cannot afford to finance their own work. The money must come from somewhere and wherever it comes from those who pay “the piper” will inevitably want to “call the tune”. To expect otherwise is unrealistic.

On one specific proposal of the Prices and Incomes Board’ report, namely that students should fill in a questionnaire concerning the teaching abilities of their lecturers, Dr Barnes’ fears are justified. They are justified, however, not so much for the reason Dr Barnes gives – that is, that it is “an affront to the self-respect of  lecturers”,  but because a situation in which students depend upon lecturers to assess them for their degrees and lecturers depend upon students to determine their bonuses is scarcely one to encourage co-operation in learning rather than a confrontation between teacher and taught. If the recommendation of the P.I.B. was implemented (as now fortunately seems unlikely because of the government’s veto of this section of the report) it could only serve to undo the understanding between staff and students which the emergence of staff-student committees last term was attempting to build up.

For his own sake it is unfortunate Dr Barnes had to resign. However, his resignation will not have been in vain if it at least prompts further discussion on the role of the university in modern society.

Alongside is a letter from Gerry Cordon, which picks up on some other issues raised by Barnes’ resignation:

To listen to our distinguished academics this last month, you’d think they were a lot of spoiled kids getting a first scolding. When headmaster Aubrey Jones made a few quite reasonable suggestions, professors, lecturers, anyone with a cosy nook in our ivory towers threw the most remarkable tantrums.  Our  own Vice Chancellor  squealed  the loudest.

You can imagine them, reading their Telegraphs and turning  blue with rage when they saw what the nasty Prices and Incomes Board had done. They had asked for an extraordinarily large pay rise. The Board gave them an ordinarily small one – and then added some interesting suggestions. As they saw   it  universities were inefficient organisations. They saw the carrot of research being dangled far too often before the noses of the proud owners of  first class degrees.

So they suggested that certain considerations   of   productivity be applied to university teaching. The best teachers, the ones with the most   teaching   ability, should be rewarded. Ask  any student and he’ll tell you teaching is an art.

I myself haven’t been intellectually stimulated, made to really think about the implications of a fact   or   comment,   since   the   sixth form at  school. That was because at school our teachers really were teachers: they had been taught teaching. They weren’t  just researchers doing a bit of  part-time teaching on the side.

The teaching  and research aspects of  university should be completely divorced.  Teachers should be teachers. (And teaching doesn’t  mean  forcing  pre-programmed   facts    down   the   throats of gaa-gaa students; it means acting the role of guide and stimulator in a process of growing understanding).

Holders of firsts should be encouraged to teach, not delve into some mysterious subject, of interest only to themselves.

The PIB suggested that students should have a say in the wage-scales of their teachers, insofar as they gave indications as to which lecturers, tutors, they thought most effective and those lecturers received pay bonuses.

This was probably a bit nasty (but could be experimented with like in the US and Sweden). The point is, that despite the deliberate distortions made to this part of the report by some members of the university elite in order to get the common man and the Daily Express on their side (eg ‘Students to decide professors’ pay’), the report suggested that only a small percentage of a lecturer’s pay-packet should be subjected to the results of a questionnaire amongst students.

Now we hear that Dr Barnes and several others of his disgruntled colleagues are to found a new university. It will be private, free from government interference (whatever that means – universities are at present the most pampered part of the education process) and students will be aided by Industry, not state grants.

It’s easy to see from this what the academics’ real grievances were: universities were no longer what they wanted them to be. Instead of being monastic hideouts in which they could poke at some murky subject, occasionally to emerge and pontificate on TV, they had become places where people expected to understand their own lives, not take part in an elitist game called academic snobbery.

Yours faithfully, Gerry Cordon,  Faculty of Arts


Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

2 thoughts on “Barnes: why I resigned”

  1. So Winston Barnes was just another far-right ideologue. The IEA was then, and would be moreso under Thatcher a decade later, the leading ‘think-tank’ for the radical Right. It has long advocated the full privatisation of universities. Indeed it was at the forefront of the general privatisation initiatives of the 1980s and since.

    I hadn’t realised until reading through these archives just how deeply and formally embedded the University’s hierarchy had been in far-right Conservative Party politics. We certainly picked a determined adversary.

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