✍ Warwick University Ltd. Industry, Management and the Universities [1970]

por Teoría de la historia

WarwickSmlNext year the University of Warwick celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of its incorporation. It is the most upwardly mobile of the English universities built in the 1960s (the number includes Lancaster, York, East Anglia, Sussex, Kent and Essex). Pre-empting that semicentennial celebration, Spokesman Press has reissued the book – long out of print – that recounts the most infamous episode of its early years. Warwick University Ltd was produced by an anonymous collective of students in 1970 under the editorship of E.P. Thompson, then professor at Warwick, though shortly to resign in protest at what transpired. The book documents the events of February of that year, which centred on the repeatedly delayed provision of student facilities on the ‘sprawling, fragmented campus’ a couple of miles outside Coventry. J.B. ‘Jack’ Butterworth, the inaugural vice chancellor, had reportedly stated that ‘The Student’s Union shall never have its own building.’ Matters came to a head after students occupying the Registry building discovered confidential ‘political’ files kept in the vice chancellor’s office. Although occupiers had an injunction imposed preventing the circulation and publication of material unearthed, eventually The Times, Guardian and Birmingham Post printed reports on what was contained within, including the surveillance of a visiting professor by a governor, frank discussion of the ‘growing student menace’, and a letter from a headmaster in North London advising the vice chancellor of the political activities of an applicant: ‘Reject this man’ was Butterworth’s instruction to the admissions team. Following an article by Thompson in New Society (‘The Business University’, 19 February 1970) Penguin made the approach which saw an instant book produced: drafted in one week, edited in another and published at the end of March. Its chapters cover: the background to Warwick’s founding; the issues faced by staff and students on the campus; the unusual governance structure and practices; the relation to the local car industry; and an account of the events and subsequent injunction. It concludes with a dossier of relevant documents and a ‘personal conclusion’ from Thompson. The reissue opens with an introduction by Hugo Radice, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Leeds and one of the original authors as well as coordinator for the book’s reappearance. Also new are personal recollections from original protagonists Ivor Gaber, Jude Conlon and Ron Rose. Two of them reveal that they had suffered unsuccessful and unenjoyable starts at more established universities before thriving at Warwick; Rose tells us that he went to Warwick because it was the only university not to demand Latin O-level and that his grant of £12 per week was more than his father made as a delivery man on a 48-hour week. At this point I should declare my interest: I am a more recent graduate of Warwick and also played a tiny part in the reissue. The story had little relevance for me in the 1990s; arguably it is the recent gusts of privatization that give the book renewed timeliness today. Commencing in the late 1950s, a plan was formed to bring a university to Coventry that could have seen ‘co-ordination and co-operation’ with the city, including a mooted merger with Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University). It was, though, in the words of one councillor, ‘swamped by [the] dominating business interests’ of the local car industry. Readers under 40 may need to search online for the histories of Rootes, Riley, Healey and Siddeley, but at the time these were some of the largest employers in the country, who sought new kinds of graduates and were keen to fund academics investigating operations research, business economics, applied psychology and the relatively new field of management theory. Butterworth, who had been bursar at New College, Oxford, was appointed in 1963. He began planning and fund-raising along the lines that ‘no one would want a new university in Warwickshire to be a liberal arts college’. Visions of an MIT in the English Midlands led to the launch in Britain of the first business undergraduate degrees – Management Sciences in 1967 – and the first full graduate school of Business Management. Thompson saves some acerbic asides for the presence of these subjects in a university and the passing off of training for job-ready loyalty as higher education. He is affronted by the notion that a piecemeal undergraduate degree would be sufficient to see middle-class youngsters placed in charge of skilled workers. The main charge, however, is that the presence of eight businessman on the university’s Council (out of nine co-opted members), and the influence they exerted on key committees, had compromised the governance of the institution. The first full chapter contains biographies of three governors, the most prominent being Gilbert Hunt (Rootes) and Arnold Hall (Hawker Siddeley), the pro-chancellor and chair of Council. The backdrop, then, is the changing place of manufacturing in the British economy: Hunt’s company, Rootes, had been taken over by Chrysler in 1969; Hall had been implicated in a public procurement scandal in 1967; Hunt also appears to have been connected to the activities of the Economic League, an organization whose legacy today is the continuing scandal of blacklisting. The League had been founded to ‘foster free enterprise’ and to oppose ‘all subversive forces … that would seek to undermine the security of Britain in general and British industry in particular’. It maintained files on union activists, especially in the building trade. After its demise in the early 1990s, it sold its database to successor organizations such as the Consulting Association, a Midlands-based firm backed by construction companies. Allegations persist that the databases continue and are implicated in hiring practices at recent projects such as the Olympic Stadium and Crossrail. In 2013, eight firms, including Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, admitted their involvement, apologized and offered compensation to those affected. Two documents from the League found in Butterworth’s files had been passed to him by Hall: they focused on the ‘growth of extreme leftwing activity amongst students’. Gaber reports being banned from the USA and the BBC after graduating, owing to membership of a revolutionary socialist group at Warwick. In the preceding years, Butterworth had sought powers to make it easier to sack ‘radical staff’, while those on administrative contracts could lose their jobs for ‘impertinence or insubordination’. It is in this context that ‘Gilbert’ (Hunt) wrote to ‘My dear Jack’ (Butterworth) with something that ‘I felt it would be advisable for you to have for your confidential files’. Hunt had sent a Mr Catchpole, the Rootes Motors director of legal affairs, along with a ‘security officer’ to a meeting of the Coventry Labour Party. The assignment was to report on a talk by a visiting professor at Warwick, David Montgomery, who was over from the USA; he had a knowledge of shift patterns and automation in American factories. Michael Shattock, then the newly appointed registrar at Warwick, indicates in a recent letter to Times Higher Education (1 May 2014) that Montgomery had been observed at a trade union meeting at a Rootes plant by security staff, ‘who reported his attendance to Hunt’. This is not described in Warwick University Ltd, is not supported by its dossier, and is denied by the authors. Catchpole’s even-handed account of the address to eight local members noted that Montgomery ‘was careful not to associate himself with’ suggestions made by members present from the All Trades Union Alliance, but that he could be considered to show ‘bias’ against employers in general and that this might manifest as the ‘undesirable indoctrination’ of his students. Hunt seemed intent on catching Montgomery ‘promoting industrial action’, illegal under the terms of the Aliens Restriction Act. Catchpole’s document, kept by Butterworth, was the first found by student occupiers. They phoned Thompson, who in turn contacted Montgomery, then back in his home country and never informed by Warwick of these ‘files’. Thompson oversaw the copying of the letter and ensured that it was circulated to every academic employed by the university by the next morning. Students systematically worked through the files available. It is hypothesized that these were only a small portion of Butterworth’s ‘intelligence’: porters had removed boxes when the students entered and there was evidence of a separate cache located in the vice chancellor’s lodge on campus. On Thursday, 12 February at 5 p.m. a mass meeting of staff and students was held in the ‘Airport Lounge’ at Rootes Hall. Over 1,000 attended, even though the student body at the time amounted to only 2,000. Although they called for a public inquiry, what they received was one conducted by the chancellor, Lord Radcliffe. His terms of reference were narrow, inviting submissions of evidence on the ‘receiving and retaining of political information’ by the university. The first edition of Warwick University Ltd appeared before Radcliffe’s findings were published. It is a regrettable omission of the new edition that what happened next is not recounted. Radcliffe found there was no systematic wrongdoing and Butterworth remained vice chancellor until 1985. The book’s authors concluded at a recent launch event in London that the immediate repercussions of this episode for Warwick was an improvement in governance, more transparent relations with business and greater academic involvement in decision-making, which returned Warwick to something closer to ‘sector norms’. At the same event, David Davis MP pointed out that Radcliffe, a law lord, had overseen an inquiry into offences under the Official Secrets Act a decade earlier. On a similar note, Thompson’s original New Society article would have made a welcome supplement to his concluding chapter. That said, what is contained therein speaks to today, in particular when certain transformations of finance are taken into account. Even in 1980 universities received 80 per cent of their annual funding from public coffers. That figure may now be below 40 per cent depending on how one counts tuition fees funded by student loans with their larger than anticipated public subsidy. The relations between business and universities are far more complex, with ‘supply chains’ and all manner of contracts, not just funded chairs and governors. That ‘enmeshing’, in Thompson’s phrase, includes new forms of transnational and domestic competition plus strategies premissed on larger capital expenditure. All these increase demands on the generation of surpluses and add emphasis to Thompson’s final question: what will universities inflict on themselves before abandoning the current pledge to untruth, ‘serviamus’? The faultline is still governance and the idea of ‘self-governing academic institutions’. Thompson was appointed by Butterworth as professor at Warwick after seventeen years teaching in ‘extramural’ education. His scorn is palpable for his colleagues – Academicus superciliosus, ‘the most divisable and rulable creature in this country’ – and, indeed, himself (Butterworth’s cabinets also held a sheaf of Thompson’s ‘fatuous and long-winded’ attempts to resign): Collectively, all of us – all we liberal academics – were struck with a paralysis of will as the system not only grew round us, but built us into its own body-walls. Once inside there it looked as if we were running our bit of the show: but the show itself was being directed towards other ends. Warwick’s Academic Senate voted in support of the injunction and demanded internal disciplinary action against the occupiers. It had repeatedly delegated or deferred to Council decisions that were meant to rest with itself. As Thompson notes, the ludicrous sense of propriety and institutional loyalty displayed by Warwick academics ‘would have astonished medieval Oxbridge undergraduates’. The patronage and pistonage underpinning Butterworth’s activities echoed the ‘log rolling’ sustaining their own academic careers (further atomized now by PhD and research culture, we might add). Here he invokes the trahison des clercs and asserts that it was left to students to defend the university’s ‘intellectual integrity’ with the means available to them. Although today’s readers might see this as the take-home message of the book, the lessons of Warwick University Ltd lie elsewhere: in the ‘operative’ journalism its form and content evinces. The pace and collaboration of production, the telling of the tale and the informative mappings of governors, their backgrounds and their place within the university, all still give a steer to the kind of activity largely lacking today. More complex dossiers are required and a different level of activity: reading accounts, Freedom of Information requests, cataloguing the industry and business press for deals, financing and off-balance sheet activity, and so on. When universities will act to suppress evidence and protest, rather than justify their actions, there is still power in getting the truth out, but that requires investigative activity – ‘militant’ rather than REF-able research. From that perspective, the governance initiative run by the UCU branch at Royal Holloway deserves much more attention. Thompson jibed at the ‘pomp’ of academics. Here, for some, operative, investigative under-labour may resemble too closely the administrative chores already levied in the name of efficiency and administration. Instead, the advantages offered by new media and communications technology are squandered: we get the more familiar, more ambiguous activity of moral and existential position-taking, which offers very little for politics: too many opinions, not enough ‘ammunition’. Thompson believed that the outcome of the Warwick episode might shape not only the role of universities within society but also the ‘next British future’. He sought a dynamic renewal that would end a ‘subordinate relation’ to industrial capitalism, to profits and giant firms seeking controlled environments in which to operate. It may be hard to sustain such claims for today’s university and college struggles, but any opposition to the creation of new asset classes from out of higher education may be central to the resistance against generalized financialization. Shares in universities – charitable status is increasingly seen as an impediment by university heads – and ‘investment grade products’ concocted from graduate earnings securitized give an inkling of what that might mean.

[Andrew McGETTIGAN. “Student as producer”. Reseña bibliográfica de E.P. Thompson, ed., Warwick University Ltd: Industry, Management and the Universities, Spokesman Press, Nottingham, 2014, in Radical Philosophy, nº 186, julio-agosto de 2014, pp. 49-51]