A reflection on Marina Warner · Diary: Why I Quit · LRB 11 September 2014

I have now read for the second time Marina Warner’s essay published by the London Review of Books. You can read it here.

Another UK University, this time in Essex, is in disgrace.

Marina exposes beautifully the march of the morons against human culture, science, letters, civilisation. Endless thanks to the author, who is present and an advocate of the University of Essex she joined:

Essex was organised co-operatively between students and teachers… English literature would be read alongside Russian and American, North and South, all in their original languages… [Albert Sloman, the first vice-chancellor] insisted on the importance and independence of academia: ‘A professor can speak out on national issues of science and scholarship,’ Sloman said, ‘as a scientist in a government research centre cannot. So universities must go on being places of scholarly investigation.’”

The drive to make money and command other people’s lives is a cancer growing within universities. Education is put aside; freedom to research and expressions of dissent are enemies of the corporation, of the brand. An intolerate, ruthless environment is being built on terror, the fear of losing one’s position if one holds to collegiality. If you make the mistake to believe that you belong to a College.

A Tariff of Expectations would be imposed across the university, with 17 targets to be met, and success in doing so assessed twice a year. I received mine from the executive dean for humanities. (I met her only once. She was appointed last year, a young lawyer specialising in housing. When I tried to talk to her about the history of the university, its hopes, its ‘radical innovation’, she didn’t want to know. I told her why I admired the place, why I felt in tune with Essex and its founding ideas. ‘That is all changing now,’ she said quickly. ‘That is over.’) My ‘workload allocation’, which she would ‘instruct’ my head of department to implement, was impossible to reconcile with the commitments which I had been encouraged – urged – to accept… Eventually, after a protracted rigmarole, I resigned. I felt I had been pushed.

Was there another way to oppose these changes? I think Marina suggests action from within and before it is too late and no one able to stand up has survived the purge.

I am told that the tick of the deathwatch beetle is heard only when it is too late. I should have heard the tick tick ticking when… I heard the tick again when… I heard it once more when… (These Nobel Prize winners – they don’t earn their keep) And I heard it when… I could go on, about the cases of colleagues and their experience of managers’ ‘instructions’, arrogance and ignorance, and the devices they adopt to impose their will, but individuals like Anthony Forster and the executive dean for humanities are not single spies. They’re minor but willing operatives in a larger mechanics of power.”

Her concluding remarks are a powerful critique and exposure of the UK academy’s decline. The option to move elsewhere will be taken by many worthy, pushed away. If good citizenry and higher education are still present within UK universities, then resistance to the very existence of managers must spring from within the sector. This is not easy to achieve, but should be a guiding principle for those who care about the future of education in this country.

9 thoughts on “A reflection on Marina Warner · Diary: Why I Quit · LRB 11 September 2014

  1. 2 weeks on, and Essex remains silent. UK universities are now run by people far too proud to defend or even explain their actions. They have decided we are too stupid to have any share in their conversations. The consultation process, required by employment law, is no such thing.

  2. Thank you. I wrote once about this type of silence:

    Marina has also spoken to the Times Higher Education:

    Commonplace attempts to gag and silence academics succeed all to often. One wonders whether this is how we would like to build our university communities and, for those who still believe in freedom of expression, what should be done next.

  3. Dear Fanismis, Thank you very much for your publication. I maximally agree with Marina Warner’s article and her evaluation of the situation at the University of Essex. I have just won an automatically unfair dismissal case against the University of Essex very recently. I was dismissed, because I submitted a claim for permanency and as a reaction to pursuing my case an HR Officer wrote the following to the Head of my Department about me: “X is pursuing her claim for permanent employment… Was the intention that she would teach modules again in the next academic year? I would advise against this if possible, as ongoing teaching of modules each academic year can lead to claims for permanent employment.” The Judge declared that this email was the reason why the Head of my Department did not offer me work for the following academic year. As it is known, if an employee is dismissed for submitting or pursuing a claim for permanency, then the dismissal is automatically unfair. I was not informed about any right in relation to my dismissal either, there was no consultation and when I asked about the reasons for my dismissal, HR just did not reply at all. My photo was removed from the departmental photo board over a week before my contract expired and noone said good-bye or acknowledged that I was leaving after over 5 years working at the University and I was not granted any right of any nature in relation to my dismissal and no procedure was carried out.

  4. From the Poppletonian:

    “Poems wot I like

    Our vice-chancellor has rushed to the defence of the University of Essex. In a statement, he described the much publicised departures of Marina Warner as its Professor of Literature, poet Derek Walcott as visiting professor and poet Glyn Maxwell as part-time lecturer as “the sort of occurrence that would hardly have caused a ripple if those leaving the campus had been from the Department of Accounting”.

    He also defended Essex vice-chancellor Anthony Forster from the “pedantic literary types” who had criticised a letter he’d written to Professor Walcott in which he’d referred to the privilege of having a “Noble Laureate on campus”.

    “There are far more substantial aspects to the modern university than knowing how to spell,” our vice-chancellor declared. “Indeed, from everything I’ve read recently about Essex, it strikes me as a campus with its white stilettos firmly planted on the ground.”

    Thought for the week

    (contributed by Jennifer Doubleday, Head of Personal Development)

    This week’s lecture by our poet-in residence, William Wordsworth, has been cancelled following our vice-chancellor’s decision to dismiss Mr Wordsworth for his failure to produce anything more substantial than a Prelude.”

  5. A student from Essex speaks out! Well done. I copy his letter here and original link below

    Who is the priority?

    23 OCTOBER 2014

    As a student at the University of Essex, I’ve had the pleasure of being mentored by Marina Warner, Glyn Maxwell and Derek Walcott. Statements from the university that portray students’ education and experience as the university’s priority in response to Warner and Maxwell’s comments on leaving Essex (“Attempts to ‘gag and silence’ academics are commonplace”, News, 11 September; “Nobel laureates ‘lost on Essex’”, News, 9 October) have left me with no choice but to respond with a student’s perspective.

    The university might not want students to get involved, but they’ve placed students at the centre with the promises they’ve made to them, and to those who teach them. For example, while the institution was aware of these “changing contracts”, the marketing department was still happy to promote Warner, Maxwell and Walcott to prospective students, alongside campaigns for “excellence in education and research”, beginning the new academic year with false promises.

    Essex’s vice-chancellor Anthony Forster declined to speak to Times Higher Education. Instead, there was a generic statement from an anonymous university spokesperson, stating: “Students are our priority and we are committed to delivering a transformational educational experience, where students are taught by the leading thinkers in their field and have the opportunity to undertake research. Excellence in education and research are our two priorities and they enjoy equal esteem.”

    Warner, Maxwell and Walcott were my transformational educational experience: they allowed me to undertake research and achieve excellence in education under their devoted guidance. If students are Essex’s priority then why were they not notified by management of this loss? Why was student opinion not consulted when the university decided they didn’t need “research stars”? Like me, students from all over the world have chosen Essex because of the likes of Warner.

    There are many ways in which all three “research stars” have contributed to the lives and education of their students, but all their students got from the university’s senior management was another quote from another anonymous spokesperson: “While we cannot comment on individual contracts, we continue to work closely with academic colleagues in literature, film and theatre studies to ensure we place student benefit at the heart of all we do.”

    In this statement the university comes across as concerned about students’ educational welfare, but this student finds that hard to believe. The only parties who care about the students are the department of literature, film and theatre studies, and the recently departed high-profile academics. The department was mentioned in the articles in both the London Review of Books and THE, but it is blameless. The department was responsible for ensuring that all those who lost their supervisors were taken care of, and for dealing with the mess caused by the management’s brutal approach, but not for the loss of these treasured academics, and not for the loss of their students’ transformational experience. It is because of this department and its more-than-dedicated staff and administrators that I didn’t follow my supervisors out of Essex.

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