Politics, power and location

Like many people I have been following events at Warwick University very closely over the past couple of days.  Whilst not condoning an form of violent protest I always cheer inside (and sometimes on the outside) when I see student protests. Partly this is due to the lack of political engagement in society in general, and the slow demise of student activism. But this isn’t going to be a diatribe about that.

I was struck about the Warwick situation, can be summed up by this tweet.

The students were part of a series of protests across England about tuition fees. At this point I could rant about how angry it makes me that so many of our political leaders (present and recent past) benefited from free higher education, with state funding for living expenses, yet seemed to be more than happy to abolish that system and apart from the Scottish Government haven’t abolished them – but I won’t.

The other thing that struck me was where the protest and “incident” took place – in the university’s “corridors of power” – Senate House.  If my experience is anything to go by, the offices of the VC and senior management of most universities are places where students, and indeed most “everyday” academic and support staff are rarely seen.  In this age of student engagement isn’t it ironic that incidents like this can pave the way for more physical barriers to be put between senior management and students.  After a similar incident in my former institution a security guard is now permanently on duty in the corridor leading to the Principal’s office.

But why does it have to be this way?  We are at the beginning of a major new redevelopment of our campus.  A major part of this is the creation of a new central student experience/ services area.  I know this is a crazy, madcap, Friday afternoon idea,  but wouldn’t it be great if the Senior Executive offices were also there, or near there. Then they would actually see and hear students all the time you never know they might actually engage with them in new, perhaps even innovative ways . . .

4 comments

  1. funnily enough, Senate is no longer the home of senior management, they were relocated some years ago. I happened to stroll through this “incident” as it happened on my way to the Arts centre, there were more police and security than students present at the time but I had never seen a group of students so outraged.Good to see the solidarity they are getting from others as clearly they are aggrieved. I would have expected greater understanding from a police force which is also under pressure from cuts in public spending.

    • Thanks for your comment Teresa – apologies I got Senate House from the Chanel 4 article. Lots of complex issues in this “incident” we are all living through cuts but they seem to strike out at junctions that actually could be avoided if organisations and people just had a little more space to think and act a bit more proactively instead of reactionary

  2. I agree very much with what you have written, Sheila, and you make an important and interesting point about the physical separation of students and teaching staff from senior management. But is this physical separation, I wonder, just a reflection of increasing economic separation? Students rack up increasing debt and teaching staff have their wages cut, yet the remuneration of vice-chancellors goes up and up (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.aspx?storyCode=2012381)

    And how do students and their learning benefit from the third of a million pounds per annum that seems to be the going rate for a vice-chancellor? In the absence of a convincing answer to this question one might be forced to the rather bizarre conclusion that senior managers are not there for the benefit of the university at all, but rather that the university exists for their benefit.

    Are Deborah Withers & Alex Wardrop perhaps correct when they write in The Para-academic Handbook(http://www.hammeronpress.net/PHA_PDF_SPREADS.pdf):

    “Scoundrels have infiltrated the academy—bureaucrats, managers and marketing ‘experts’—some of whom know very little, or even care about, education.”?

    • Thanks for your comment Terry. Yes many questions need to be asked about the cost benefit of university VCs – I suspect most most people – particularly the squeezed middle classes – as well as students would be astonished at their salaries and apparent lack of accountability

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