This is a response to Liz Morrish’s article on whether universities “are meaningful to the academics who work within them“. You should read the whole article, but the crux of it is here:
In the McCarthyite era it was the army and Hollywood which were in the front line of political persecution. This time it is scientists who are finding that their notions of working in an objective, apolitical enclosure have been disrupted by Donald Trump’s attacks on their right to report valid climate change research. Scientists are now being drawn into political action committees to face down potential threats to funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and, perhaps, to the teaching of evolution in publicly funded schools.
While we stand with beleaguered scientists, I hope we can also defend experts in nuclear and apocalyptic literature in austerity Britain, and a new scholarship of authoritarianism because we must all be vigilant to make sure universities continue to be sites of resistance to the rollback of the enlightenment.
This is a quick response, following the engineering practice that good enough today is better than perfect tomorrow.
In the fuss over Sajid Javid’s support for an oath of loyalty to `British values’ to be taken by public servants, it is worth having a look at what the Casey Review actually proposes. It has recommendations for two oaths. One would be taken by public servants:
We expect the highest standards in all civic leaders in selflessness and integrity, so too we should expect all in public office to uphold the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith. The Government should work with the Committee for Standards in Public life to ensure these values are enshrined in the principles of public life, including a new oath for holders of public office.
Quite rightly, this has raised objections, though Diane Abbot is missing the point when she says that “I have nothing against it in principle, but it will not make a difference to the problems of radicalisation, or integration. I don’t think the oath will make any verifiable difference.” It is wrong in principle, and should be objected to on principle. Nothing more should be demanded of any office holder than that they do their job competently and honestly. Anything else is a matter for the law, and not for some performance of acquiescence to the state. Of course, such an oath will make a verifiable difference, like loyalty oaths everywhere: it will intimidate the dissident and produce a climate in which people will fear for their livelihoods if they say the wrong thing. Incidentally, given that members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines do not swear an oath of allegiance, this would be setting a higher bar for “elected officials, civil servants, council workers, and BBC and NHS employees” than for an Admiral of the Fleet.
The second recommendation has been less-widely discussed but is equally disturbing. It would require newly arrived immigrants to swear an oath on arrival, merely in order to remain in the country.
The Government should also review the route to full British Citizenship, which is of huge national, cultural and symbolic value. The Government should look at what is required for British citizenship, as opposed to leave to remain, and
separately consider an Oath of Integration with British Values and Society on arrival, rather than awaiting a final citizenship test.
A citizen of another country would be required to swear an oath merely to live in the United Kingdom. This goes beyond any undertaking to obey the laws of their country of residence, or to learn the language, or know something of the culture. It is a demand for a performance of loyalty and acquiescence which can only have the effect of insulting and demeaning people newly arrived in this country and intimidating them into renouncing the exercise of basic civil and human rights.
There is a long-running lie that the Irish were slaves and got over it, so African Americans should do too. The lie and its spread have been most thoroughly dissected by the historian Liam Hogan, but this is Frederick Douglass on the subject in the 1840s, via the Project Gutenberg edition of My Bondage and My Freedom. He does not refer to exactly the same lie, that of Irish slaves in the Americas, but clearly there was a similar lie flying around in the 1840s, and he had an answer to it.
It is often said, by the opponents of the anti-slavery cause, that the condition of the people of Ireland is more deplorable than that of the American slaves. Far be it from me to underrate the sufferings of the Irish people. They have been long oppressed; and the same heart that prompts me to plead the cause of the American bondman, makes it impossible for me not to sympathize with the oppressed of all lands. Yet I must say that there is no analogy between the two cases. The Irishman is poor, but he is not a slave. He may be in rags, but he is not a slave. He is still the master of his own body, and can say with the poet, “The hand of Douglass is his own.” “The world is all before him, where to choose;” and poor as may be my opinion of the British parliament, I cannot believe that it will ever sink to such a depth of infamy as to pass a law for the recapture of fugitive Irishmen! The shame and scandal of kidnapping will long remain wholly monopolized by the American congress. The Irishman has not only the liberty to emigrate from his country, but he has liberty at home. He can write, and speak, and cooperate for the attainment of his rights and the redress of his wrongs.
The multitude can assemble upon all the green hills and fertile plains of the Emerald Isle; they can pour out their grievances, and proclaim their wants without molestation; and the press, that “swift-winged messenger,” can bear the tidings of their doings to the extreme bounds of the civilized world. They have their “Conciliation Hall,” on the banks of the Liffey, their reform clubs, and their newspapers; they pass resolutions, send forth addresses, and enjoy the right of petition. But how is it with the American slave? Where may he assemble? Where is his Conciliation Hall? Where are his newspapers? Where is his right of petition? Where is his freedom of speech? his liberty of the press? and his right of locomotion? He is said to be happy; happy men can speak. But ask the slave what is his condition—what his state of mind—what he thinks of enslavement? and you had as well address your inquiries to the silent dead. There comes no voice from the enslaved. We are left to gather his feelings by imagining what ours would be, were our souls in his soul’s stead.
Incidentally, he also compares the singing of slaves in the United States to what he heard in Ireland during the Famine:
In the most boisterous outbursts of rapturous sentiment, there was ever a tinge of deep melancholy. I have never heard any songs like those anywhere since I left slavery, except when in Ireland. There I heard the same wailing notes, and was much affected by them. It was during the famine of 1845-6.
We are being told that the present state of chassis is #notnormal, and that we should not normalize it. Zoe Williams in the Guardian talks of what is now being accepted as `normal’, whether under Trump or after the Brexit vote, and lays the blame where it belongs:
Normalising is not anything the rightwing extremists do, and they do not try: they don’t look for acceptable labels for themselves. It is the mainstream that twists itself into conciliatory pretzel knots finding nicer words for “fascist”, such as “alt-right”.
Democrats try to find the fault within themselves: ask not whether a racist hates; ask what made the racist so angry in the first place. Once we have found the right member of the liberal elite to pin it on, the hate maybe won’t sound so frightening.
The reason things seem `normal’ or `normalized’ is that they have been treated as normal for years, certainly within higher education. For example,
So the UK is leaving the European Union and it is time for the Vice-Chancellors to panic. Before `university leaders’ tell university staff, students, and the public who pay their inflated salaries that “we’re all in this together” or some variation thereon, begging us to help get them out of this mess, they might like to think on their own conduct.
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James Plunkett was one of Ireland’s greatest writers, author of the great Irish novel, Strumpet City. This extract is from The Gems She Wore (1972), his account of some Irish places and his travels to and in them.
We set out from Castletownbere by helicopter, filmed here and there for some hours and were, from my amateur grasp of navigational matters, firmly in the middle of nowhere when the pilot asked me if there was any place near in which we could get morning coffee. I looked down. There was a great lump of uninhabited mountain below, forbidding cliffs ahead and the rolling sea beyond. The most I knew about our whereabouts was that we were certainly not over the Phoenix Park, but being the only Irishman at hand I had to pretend to be knowledgeable. Seawards, the nearest coffee shop would be in New York, so we turned inland. Stony fields, narrow tracks and an occasional cottage with hens and domestic animals scattering in all directions at the noise of our approach were the only signs of organised society, until we passed over an isolated building which from the air looked very much like the others, except that it was larger and there were three cars parked fairly near it. I pointed down and said: `There’. We circled, saw a possible landing place about half a mile away and descended near a beach, where a party of men were packing up some land-sea rescue equipment with which they had been practising. They were speaking Irish, but answered the pilot’s inquiry about coffee in English. The pilot, Peter Peckowski, speaks with a slight Polish accent. By all means they said, but doubtfully. Coffee is not very usual in remote Ireland. They led us over ditches and by tracks to the roadway and there, in front of us, was the building I had spotted from the air. It was a public house.
`Tell me’, said one of the men, `did youse ever drink tea?’
I assured him we had.
Inside the women of the house went off to make coffee without fuss, while Peter asked where we were.
`In Ballydavid’, said the owner, `if you go by the map, but the right name is Baile na nGall’.
I was sitting at one of the tables and said: `The town of the Strangers’.
He hadn’t expected that and came over to scrutinise me.
`You’re not foreign’, he said.
`I am not’, I said.
He looked more closely.
`You have the look of a Dublin man?’
`Now you have it’.
`A writer maybe?’
It was embarassing. It was also, quite unexpectedly, deeply moving to be recognised in my own country so far away from my own small world.
`Pleased to meet you’, I said.
If he had presented me with the Freedom of Dingle I wouldn’t have been so genuinely honoured and I felt, not for the first time, that before I die I will speak my native language adequately enough to talk with those of my countrymen who have it from birth, so that they won’t shame me by having to change to English on my account.
Following lobbying from members of the University of Bath asking that the university provide funded studentships for refugees from Syria, the senior management team has laid out a response under the title `Partnership, not gesture: Jordan commitment‘. The substance of the management plan is outlined below, with a response.
Following our discussions in Amman two weeks ago we now undertake to make a range of brand new commitments in Jordan to build that resilience:
1. Working with a local University in Amman with a focus on STEM we will support the training of faculty to doctoral level in areas such as engineering and mathematical innovation, essential for the development of resilient systems.
Laudable though this contribution to Jordanian Higher Education might be, it is not a proposal to offer any chance of higher education to Syrian, or other, refugees. There is an additional impediment: according to a report on the status of Syrian students who have sought refuge in Jordan, Jordanian universities require Syrian students to produce documentation on their previous studies:
students reported to us that although in some cases documentary requirements have been eased, some Jordanian universities continue to require documentation. Since many Syrian refugee students were forced to leave home without this paper work, failure to waive these requirements creates an effective bar to accessing higher education in Jordan.
For obvious reasons the Syrian embassy in Jordan is not helpful to Syrian refugees looking for copies of their educational qualifications, so in practice Syrian refugees find it almost impossible to enter a Jordanian university.
2. We will commit to partner with the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan to conduct research in areas of national priority.
Again, this is a laudable proposal, although it does require some detail. For example, is this to be funded by the University of Bath, or does it depend on external funding? If the latter, it is simply a strategic internationalization decision, and not an act of generosity or solidarity by the university. In neither case is it an offer of assistance to refugees fleeing war in Syria: it is cooperation on work of national importance to Jordan.
3. We have now launched a Study Centre in partnership with the Amman Baccalaureate School where we will deliver our MA in Education. We will teach the teachers to provide future leadership in education.
4. We will strengthen our partnership with the British Institute in Amman to develop research which can inform how governments, NGOs and other parties might more effectively respond to the long-term impacts of the crisis.
Neither is this.
5. And we will provide scholarships on our postgraduate MA Education programme in Amman to refugees displaced by the crisis. These scholarships will complement work being undertaken by the British Council, whose EU-funded LASER (Language, Academic skills and E-learning Resources) Project is developing English language skills with refugees and host communities in Jordan and Lebanon.
This is a very limited offer. The MA in Education programme is open to `qualified educators‘. This translates into a requirement that students on the programme be `qualified teachers‘. At best, this is an offer of scholarships (of what value?) to refugees who already hold a teaching qualification: it offers nothing to those who hold a qualification in any other discipline, and nothing to those who have not started or completed a qualification.
These are all new initiatives for the University. Together, they form a multi-layered commitment to Jordan in its vital stabilisation efforts in this deeply troubled region.
On a charitable reading, some of these initiatives are new `for the University’. They are not, however, a response to the humanitarian crisis of refugees fleeing Syria: they were in place long before the issue of aiding people fleeing war was even raised. Indeed, the word `Syrian’ does not appear in the proposals, and there is absolutely no proposal to offer assistance to Syrian refugees in the United Kingdom.
Our community started out with a call for support for refugees. We are going far beyond what was sought.
It is true that `our community started out with a call for support for refugees’. This plan is not a response to that call but the passing off of existing initiatives as aid for refugees. It does not go `far beyond what was sought’; it is not even movement in the same direction.