SocSoc discussion document:The liberal myths of the ‘academic community’

This discussion document – ‘for Socialist Society members only’ – dates from April 1970.

The liberal myths of the ‘academic community’ and ‘academic freedom’ must now be dead.

‘The community’

The discipline (and the manner in which it was meted out) have exposed the nature of hierarchy within Liverpool University. The V-C informed his staff of the decision to discipline after it had been taken. It is local lunacy to discipline to this extent,as any good careerist can see (he is a good one). The Vice-Chancellors’  Committee, of which he is a member,met 5 weeks ago. The Warwick letters, etc, demonstrated that tho V-Cs are coordinated and do act as a corporate body. The discipline is a national change of policy. This makes one point clear: we must have no illusions. WE CANNOT REDUCE THE SENTENCES.

‘The freedom’

The myth of free investigation has never had much credibility but at Liverpool we have at least one concrete example of this ‘tolerance’ – Martin Yarnitt was removed from teaching first year Politics students because, among other faults, he worked students ‘too hard’. He suggested they read articles from New Left Review.

The Future

The first aim must be to avoid the waves of liberal indignation. The Bishop of Whitby has already stated,”the key to this problem is communications”. Sounds just like the V-C’s idea of a staff-student newspaper. It is not just a lack of communication or merely a temporary breakdown; it is a definite conflict of interests. The administration see the university functioning to one end,we see another. It is a political confrontation.

It must be clearly pointed out that not only do tho academic community and academic freedom not exist here (or elsewhere) BUT THAT THEY ARE UNATTAINABLE IN THIS SOCIETY. The sources of finance (remember CBW), the social relations of the top hierarchy,and the (subject) perceptions of academic excellence all delineate the direction of research. This applies to both students and staff in science and arts.

But above all we must remember that the university is not afraid of 10 individuals. For the first time at Liverpool, a supposedly conservative university,1,500 students have challenged their politics. The university reacted in tho only way it was capable, ignoring petitions and attempting to smash those who took part. It must not be forgotten that discipline is a diversion; we must not be diverted from the original campaign: RACISM.

We must not reduce our activity to mere propaganda – the dreary circus of mass meetings in the Mountford. Posters, leaflets, slogans, but also interrogating reactionary lecturers during their lectures (and even in Bedford House), mini mass meetings in ‘backward’ departments,mass seminars and teach-ins.

But at a second level, at a vindictive level,the authorities must be made to pay for their crimes. Individual terrorism – in the States they even blow up buildings – and mass action are two tactics available. A second occupation would also serve the purpose of collecting comrades together. In the Senate our efficiency reached a zenith – even without touching ‘their’ paper or duplicators.

Have no illusions, we cannot bring about the return of the 10,and we must not let their disciplining divert us from the original campaign.

A cautionary note

We must not let the initiative be taken from us by either the Guild bureaucrats or NUS.  The role of Macmillan – he sat on the advisory board of discipline – is already infamous.  Jack Straw, the V-Cs’ student wonder will probably arrive on the scene soon.  Remember how he cooled down Leeds?  He must not do it here.


One thought on “SocSoc discussion document:The liberal myths of the ‘academic community’”

  1. ‘Individual terrorism – in the States they even blow up buildings’ – signs that the Seventies were upon us, bringing the attraction – for some – of violent action (Weathermen, Angry Brigade, Red Army Faction).

    The reference here to Martin Yarnit – a postgraduate student at the time, working on a Phd study of the Cuban revolution – is interesting. Sifting through the files of the Registrar, HH Burchnall, I found a memo to heads of faculties asking them to withold the summer term grant from postgrad students who had participated in the occupation. I thought perhaps this was another punitive measure not implemented (like the idea of fining the 174 who had signed the ‘equal responsibility’ statement).

    However, in conversation with Martin recently I discovered that his grant was actually stopped – though whether this was victimisation or because he hadn’t actually done much work – we may never know. Let Martin take up the tale:

    “I was fascinated to hear that you’d been rummaging through the Registrar’s drawers and found a plan to cut off the grants of the occupying forces. At the time, I was enrolled as a PhD student – Cuban politics was the theme – but I was perilously distracted by politics closer to home and made little progress on the research. When I was summoned to a meeting with my head of department my only defence was a list of books I’d read about Cuba written on the side of an envelope. Shortly afterwards, the ESRC or some such wrote to tell me my grant was withdrawn. So, at Easter 1970 I withdrew from the University.

    I’d always assumed that the reasons this happened were
    a) I’d seriously embarrassed the department – and in retrospect myself – by suggesting to the students I tutored as a graduate student that they didn’t need to worry themselves too much about exam preparation
    b) my lack of dedication as a PhD student made me an easy target
    c) Robert Kilroy-Silk and Michael Parkinson – both lecturers in the politics department at that time and fervent exponents of the benefits of rightward movement – were keen to see me go.

    It never occurred to me that I was getting my come uppance because of the occupation.

    There was a sequel in 1972.

    I’d just been appointed to a lectureship in the Institute of Extension Studies – the university’s extramural department – when the News of the World chose to run a full page on the revolutionary left, featuring Tariq Ali and me (‘The brains behind Big Flame’). I was pictured, heavily bearded and carrying a sinister black bag. Actually, I was on the way to the launderette when the man from the press caught me on film. That Sunday morning the Vice Chancellor, hearing about this on a press review on the radio, spluttered over his bran flakes and rang the director of Extension Studies to demand an explanation. My previous form with the politics department was quickly called into play and a serious but unsuccessful attempt was made to rescind my contract.

    My career in the Institute was dogged by this incident. One Friday night, about two years later, my boss, the notoriously absent-minded Keith Jackson, put his coat on, turned out the light, then tapped out his pipe into a metal litter bin in his office that also contained a piece of exposed and discarded film – I’m confident that people of a certain age will be familiar with this almost outmoded technology – and all but set the building on fire.* The prime suspect for this failed arson attack was inevitably me. Until Keith remembered his pipe.”

    *A Canadian government website notes that
    Historically, many fires occurred in government buildings due to the careless disposal of smoking material into wastepaper baskets. As a result of the no-smoking ban inside government buildings, such fires have become very uncommon.

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