Gestures

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.

This is not a `brand new commitment’: the `new study centre’ was opened at the end of January by Princess Sarvath, an honorary graduate of the University of Bath.

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.


The meaning of our NO

From National Association of Partisans of Italy

The Germans told me “sign and you will be free”, the Nazis reiterated “sign and you can go home”, certain Italians who declared themselves brothers without being such, added “sign and you will live our apotheosis.”

I said NO, I will not sign. I repeated NO, I will not sign. I did not surrender to flattery, I did not fear threats, I peacefully made my gesture and I said NO, I will not sign. I said NO when no meant being enmeshed and yes meant transitory freedom, I said NO when no was the looming tragic unknown, while yes was the tempting pause in my torment; I said NO when no meant death and holocaust while yes was the sporadic return to living a life; I said NO because no was a soldier and yes meant a mercenary. I said NO because no was rebellion against Nazi-Fascism because no was duty, no was fatherland, no was Italy.

And I said: NO, I will not sign.

(Prisoner IMI 151 AZ, unknown)


The great streets thrown upon the little: Strumpet City

Strumpet City is a novel of Dublin in the early twentieth century: between the royal visit of 1907 and the hero’s departure for Flanders in 1914, a servant girl marries her sweetheart; the slum of her employer collapses; three priests contend for hegemony over the allegiance of Dublin’s poor; an ageing rake finds a cause; a labourer falls in love with a prostitute; a raggedy-arsed chorus of beggars are Godoted into comment by the shambles they see about them.
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Antonio Gramsci: The Turin factory council movement

A new translation of Gramsci from L’ordine nuovo, 14 March 1921.

One of the members of the Italian delegation, lately returned from Soviet Russia, recounted to the Turin workers that the stage to be used to welcome the delegation from Kronstadt was emblazoned with the following inscription: “Long live the Turin general strike of April 1920.”

The workers heard this news with much pleasure and great satisfaction. The major part of the members of the Italian delegation sent to Russia had been against the April general strike. They held in their articles against the strike that the Turin workers had been victims of an illusion and had overvalued the importance of the strike.

The Turin workers thus learned with pleasure of the act of sympathy of the Kronstadt comrades and said to themselves: “Our Russian communist comrades have better understood and valued the importance of the April strike than the Italian opportunists, thus giving the latter a good lesson.”

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Antonio Gramsci: Workers and peasants

A new translation of Gramsci’s Workers and peasants from L’ordine nuovo, 3 January 1920.

Industrial production must be controlled directly by the workers organized by company; the activity of control must be unified and coordinated through purely worker trade union organisms; the workers and socialists cannot consider useful to their interests and to their aspirations a control of industry exercised by the (corrupt, venal, unaccountable) functionaries of the capitalist state, which can only signify a resurgence of the committees for industrial mobilization, useful only to capitalist parasitism.
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Convention for Higher Education: II

This is the second part of a summary of talks at the Convention for Higher Education, following part I.

The second plenary session was opened by Gill Scott who spoke on twenty five years of the BA in Humanities at Brighton, a successful interdisciplinary (carefully distinguished from multidisciplinary) programme bringing students into critical engagement with the disciplines. The video on the programme’s site gives a better flavour than my account.

The panel for the rest of the session was Thomas Docherty from Warwick, Priya Gopal from Cambridge, and Will Hutton, journalist and now principal of Hertford College Oxford.

Thomas Docherty spoke on the relation of forces (circumstance and nature) in the university, saying that on current trends the university will not even be a marketplace, with all the hubbub and argument that would imply. Finally, he quoted Eisenhower on the military-industrial complex taking over the university.

Priya Gopal spoke on the neoliberal university, making the point that businessmen have replaced intellectuals as the providers of universal wisdom. (This is the stand-out talk of the convention for the combination of style and content.)

After declaring his interest as chair of the Independent Commission on Fees, Will Hutton spoke provocatively on university reforms, claiming that fees have been good for the autonomy of universities. He described George Osborne’s introduction to the government’s new aerospace policy document as something Tony Benn could have written forty years ago. He was heard respectfully.


Vice-Chancellors’ pay

This is a speech I made at the recent Congress of the University and College Union. It went down well, so I have tried to reconstruct it. If anyone has some notes of it, I’d be grateful for a look to get closer to what I actually said.

Michael Carley, University of Bath, moving Motion 12.

I have in my hand a piece of paper. It’s a great piece of work. I can say this, because I didn’t write it. It’s an analysis of the pay of our Vice-Chancellor. You can get a copy over there, where the South West delegation is sitting. We carefully used the figures in such a way as to show our Vice-Chancellor in the worst possible light. I recommend you try doing the same.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath is paid two hundred and eighty four thousand pounds per year, figures two, eight, four, and a pension contribution of sixty five thousand. She is paid more per member of staff than even the head of Harvard. She is paid one hundred and fifty pounds per member of staff, which is, oddly enough, last year’s pay rise for the rest of us.

This motion is not about cutting Vice-Chancellors down to size–that’s a happy side effect. It is a motion which aims to restore some balance to universities. Universities essentially run themselves: “whilst the performance of a university may be `moulded’ by the characteristics of its leader, most of the variability is explained by non-leadership factors.” We know this because, ironically, our Vice-Chancellor carries out research on university leadership [pause for hysterical laughter to die down] and she said so in a recent paper. In other words, the Vice-Chancellor makes very little difference.

But we know this. The one thing you can guarantee in a university is that most of the staff are smarter than the boss. All you need to do with most academics is slide a pizza under the door now and again, keep us fed and watered, and let us get on with doing what we love doing. Most of us are eternal students: we went to university because we loved learning and scholarship and we stayed there to work because we still do. We want to do research, develop knowledge, and pass that knowledge on to students. But universities are run by CEOs, by people who think that Alan Sugar is good management.

The aim of this motion is to restore the idea that a Vice-Chancellor is one of us, primus inter pares amongst the academics (only the second use of Latin today, standards are obviously slipping). A Vice-Chancellor, and indeed other senior staff, should be elected by the staff of the university. They should be respected scholars, prepared to take on the job of chairing the committee that does the essential work required for the administration of the university. They should have the same interest as the rest of us in seeing a university run well for the benefit of learning. What we want are the people who are almost reluctant to give up their scholarly work. We want them to be elected because that makes them legitimate–they command the respect of their peers.

We propose that Vice-Chancellors’ pay be capped at ten times that of the lowest paid member of staff [which would still be a salary of about £150,000]. A large difference in pay and incentives leads to a difference in interests: leaders disconnected from the university’s academics do not act in the interest of scholarship. We want to restore the idea of a university being a community of scholars who want to do scholarship. We want our universities run by people like us, not by a bunch of jumped-up Alan Sugars.